The Space Station has caught the Dragon by the tail. It’s the first instance of the success of the new NASA policy.
A long time ago some of us said that NASA shouldn’t be running operations, it should create markets and let the industry take care of the rest. The government doesn’t operate the railroads, or the airlines, or the trucking industry. Even though a great deal of rail, airline freight and passenger, and highway freight is government stuff.
Fort Hood doesn’t operate trucking lines to go out and bring food to the mess halls.
It pays for delivery. Thus should it be with NASA.
In 1980 outfits such as The Citizens Advisory Council on National Space Policy – sometimes known as one of Reagan’s “kitchen cabinet groups” — wrote the transition team papers on space policy for the then incoming Reagan administration in 1980-81.
One of the papers in that report was “How to save civilization and make a little money,” by Art Dula and Larry Niven. It resulted after a discussion with the full panel.
It outlined how to create a commercial space policy. Way back then at the dawn of the 1980s.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Congress passed the Commercial Space Act of 1988 with the purpose of encouraging commercial space development.
It was followed by other Commercial Space Acts, and the transfer of commercial space regulation to a special section of the FAA, and over time a generally more favorable atmosphere for commercial space.
Henry Vanderbilt’s Space Access Society and other such outfits have annual meetings. SpaceX, X Corp, Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites, Kistler Aerospace, Carmack’s Armadillo Aerospace, and a whole raft of private space companies, some big, some small, some successful and some not so much so have sprung up.
The engines of capitalism were turned on, and the successful docking of the Dragon is a major step in the renewal of interest in space.
Government arsenals can do great things. Projects organized to implement a strategy of technology can be very successful, as witness the X projects, and for that matter Apollo; but projects don’t build industries.
The best thing government can do to build industries is to provide certain markets, or in the absence of markets, prizes. Of course we’ve said all this before, and many times. See Access to Space.
This is just the first step, but it’s a big one. I have been asked by a colleague why this is different.
NASA paid for this, didn’t it?
Yes, but not in the old NASA way, with cost-plus contracts and with NASA trying to run things as they did with Space Station. Dragon wasn’t designed at Marshall or in Houston, and NASA inspectors weren’t wandering around the factory floor and insisting in “testing” components (as Marshall did with the tanks for DC/X, which they managed to break and had to weld back together – it was the failure of the weld that caused DC/X to burn up, thus ending the DC/X threat to NASA’s plans). J
ust as NASA doesn’t operate the trucks that deliver the chow to Fort Hood mess halls, it’s not NASA’s job to build and fly the Falcon and Dragon. It just collects the cargo. And that cargo was delivered.
It’s a first step but it’s a big one.