Just like most everyone else, budget cuts are forcing the federal government to outsource projects currently handled within. I’m sure there are plenty of examples of this in President Obama’s proposed budget, but the one that caught my eye (and a lot of other folks’) is the administration’s decision to cut the manned flight space program, known as the Constellation Program—at least, to cut the federal government’s control, design, build and operation of it. Instead, Obama wants NASA to outsource spaceflight to the moon and elsewhere in low Earth orbit to the aerospace industry. (FYI: the last manned mission to the Moon was Apollo 17 in 1972.)
In his statement regarding Obama’s proposed budget, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden said, “NASA will accelerate and enhance its support for the commercial spaceflight industry to make travel to low Earth orbit and beyond more accessible and more affordable. Imagine enabling hundreds, even thousands of people to visit or live in low Earth orbit, while NASA firmly focuses its gaze on the cosmic horizon beyond Earth.” The motivation behind the cut is heavily financial. In his statement, Bolden referred to the Augustine Committee (an independent review of planned U.S. human space flight activities initiated in 2009 by the Obama administration) which estimated that the heavy lift rocket for getting to the moon would not be available until 2028 or 2030, and that there are insufficient funds to develop the lunar lander and lunar surface systems until well into the 2030s, if ever.
So NASA is outsourcing. Already, NASA announced it is awarding $50 million to spur the commercial sector’s to support transport of crew to and from low Earth orbit. Through an open competition, NASA has awarded Space Act Agreements to Blue Origin, Boeing Co., Paragon Space Development Corp., Sierra Nevada Corp., and United Launch Alliance for the development of crew concepts, technology demonstrations, and investigations for future
commercial support of human spaceflight.
Outsourcing future work to further manned flight isn’t going to be pain-free, just as it isn’t when companies outsource their IT operations. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times by W.J. Hennigan, the government has put as much as $9 billion into the program. Thousands of jobs across at least 40 jobs have been created, and many small businesses and suppliers will be affected.
Sound familiar? When programs get outsourced there’s always a ripple affect. But hopefully the program will have new life, and at far less cost to our government which for some time has been living well beyond its means. I, for one, think Obama has got it right in this outsourcing deal.
What do you think? Should the race to the moon be outsourced?