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BB: SpaceX Versus Senator Shelby's Rocket to Nowhere


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Synopsis:  Senator Richard Shelby, ® Alabama want's to impose a massive red tape burden on private space efforts.    The same sort of bureaucratic burdens which have helped SAP NASA's once world famous initiative.






SpaceX Versus Senator Shelby's Rocket to Nowhere
Should Elon Musk and the engineers at Space Exploration Technologies Corp., do more paperwork? Senator Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama, thinks so. He has inserted language into a Senate appropriations bill to force private space entrepreneurs such as Musk to navigate the kind of red tape that has transformed NASA into a directionless, sclerotic bureaucracy. Even worse, the provision guarantees to perpetuate U.S. dependence on Russian rockets to deliver Americans into space at a cost of $70 million per astronaut.

As far back as the mid-2000s, NASA began planning for its own "space taxi" to replace the shuttle after its final launch in 2011. Funding issues, congressional meddling, policy differences between the George W. Bush and the Barack Obama administrations, and bureaucratic roadblocks, caused that goal to be missed by years. Nonetheless, there remained reason for hope. In 2010, Congress created the Commercial Crew Development program to promote the development of technology and companies capable of delivering crews to low Earth orbit by 2015 (due to funding concerns, this deadline was extended to 2017).




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Some observations:

1) I like the "fixed price" notion of ordering these things. And I really believe that these missions (delivering cargo to the station, and delivering people to the station) are exactly the kinds of missions that ought to be done this way.

Recall once reading an editorial in a sci fi magazine, discussing something like this. The topic of whether further space explaoration should be a private, commercial venture, or a NASA one, was being hotly debated, at the time. And the author of this column had what I thought was a really good argument.

The author was arguing that, in the early days of aviation, the government decided to stimulate this new technology through the mechanism of passing a law. The law basically stated that if any person could deliver an airplane to the government, which could meet certain basic specs (something along the lines of being able to deliver 150 lbs of cargo, 200 miles, or some such), then the government guaranteed this person that they would buy a certain number of flights (like, several hundred flights), at a certain price. (I don't remember what it was, but it was specified in advance). Even if somebody else showed up with a different airplane which could do it better.


The author was arguing that this was the perfect way to stimulate a new technology.  The risk taking entrepreneurs took all the risk on themselves.  (The government only paid if the thing worked.)  but, what the government did to, for the risk takers, was it gave them a specified mission to aim for, and it gave them a guarantee that if their airplane worked, then they would have a known customer at a known price.  It took the uncertainty out of the question of "Will we have any customers?  (And at what price?)"


To me, delivering cargo/people to the space station is a similar target to point private companies at.  It's a known mission, which we know we're going to have a need for. 


2)  Having said that?  I think we should be going with what the author calls the "rocket to nowhere", too. 


I think that, if we're actually going to do anything significant in space, (and, in case you can't tell, I really, strongly, think we should), then we're going to need the ability to launch large payloads.  The shuttle used to be the vehicle we used for that.  (For it's last several years, that was the only thing we used it for.) 


The ISS couldn't have been built, without the shuttle's ability to deliver really large "building blocks" to orbit.  We need to replace that capability. 


I'm gonna be really disappointed if we don't need that capability, again.  Hopefully soon. 

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