The ongoing federal budget crisis continues to stir discussion on fostering more commercial space activity so NASA can do more with less, with the latest call coming from a January 27 Wall Street Journal editorial written by a former Republican Congressman and recent NASA Senior Advisor for Commercial Space in the Obama Administration's first term.
"Commercial Space Exploration Needs an Obama Relaunch" by Robert Walker and Charles Miller briefly reviews the history of using NASA to promote commercial space from the Reagan era through today, highlighting the recent political battle on NASA being directed by Congress to build a heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS).
Walker and Miller call for the "complete privatization" of all U.S. space transportation. "Just as the government does not design or build automobiles, ships, trains or airplanes, NASA should not be designing, building or launching rockets to go to low Earth orbit," state Walker and Miller in the WSJ piece.
Walker served for 23 years as a Congressman from Pennsylvania, and is a former chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee and Chairman of the Republican Leadership. He is now is chairman of Wexler & Walker, a lobbying firm and was a supporter of Newt Gingrich's president campaign.
Miller served as NASA senior advisor for commercial space between 2009 and 2012, and is now president of NexGen Space LLC, a space policy consulting firm. When Gingrich blurted out his desire for a permanent Moon base during the 2012 Republican Presidential primary debates, Miller was defending the idea on CNN, MSNBC and in the New York Times.
Miller isn't the only former Obama Administration official who has touted the virtues of commercialized space. Jim Kohlenberger (News - Alert), a senior policy advisor to Vice President Al Gore and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) chief of staff from 2009 through 2011, was an advocate for more commercial space activities.
"Space is hard, one of the hardest domains," Kohlenberger told me a couple of weeks ago. "It's always been the province of governments, but now we're getting to the spot here where it is possible with [commercial efforts.] ... It's just like the early Internet. We haven't seen what is possible. Now that we have an innovative area, people can innovate. I think that's something every American should be for."
Kohlenberger cited the success of SpaceX (News - Alert) delivering cargo to the International Space Station and NASA's ongoing efforts to establish commercial manned spaceflight services.
"My sense is Congress is coming to recognize that [commercial space] is working," Kohlenberger said. "When they watched Space X, the first private company to build and launch a capsule, it's something very few countries can do; it was a real wakeup call. This is working."
With allies in both political parties and the federal government facing a significant budget squeeze, commercial space advocates may now see a widening opportunity to realistically promote cost-effective alternatives to a SLS program that will cost NASA $4 billion to $5 billion per year for R&D over the next five to six years, as well as an estimated $500 million or more per launch when it is finally starts conducting missions.
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Edited by Allison Boccamazzo