Are you trying to support commercial partnerships with the space industry from the start, or are you growing out of necessity?
I describe the goal as increasing the efficiency of taxation and reducing the cost of getting into orbit. Because then NASA can do more cutting-edge, unique, interesting, important things in space.
Working with industry is not the goal. This is a result, a way to achieve our common goal in space policy—since the Nixon administration—to reduce the cost of space transportation. Working with the private sector began in the 1990s, and continuing these efforts is the obvious way.In the late 1990s, we lost almost the entire launch market to France, China and Russia and won back market share by paying fees [private US companies] Shipping cargo and astronauts to the space station is a huge economic boom for the country.
A few years ago, you said NASA needed to abandon its “socialist” approach to space exploration. What do you mean, do you still believe?
This is a direct response to SLS and Orion, which were initiated by Congress after our recommendations [to defund them] not accepted. Indeed, the Space Shuttle, the Constellation program the Bush administration established to track the Space Shuttle, and then the SLS/Orion, were all done in a government-directed way that mimicked the Soviet approach.
NASA collaborated to develop a Commercial Crew Program with SpaceXand Boeing nowto transport astronauts to the International Space Station. You’d say it’s a prescient approach in the ensuing troubles with Russia and how it’s harder to get Flight on the Soyuz spacecraft?
I guess I don’t feel like I’m that “prescient” because it’s so obvious to me and a lot of people that we don’t want to count on the Russians forever. On the one hand, they are monopoly suppliers. They keep raising prices and we can’t do anything about it. We need our own system, ideally more than one.
Look, we have experience with the space shuttle: the government developed one. We had two accidents. After each accident, it stopped for more than two years. So it’s a little surprising that the concept seems so controversial.
When you try to expand NASA support or partnerships with the private space industry, what kind of resistance do you encounter, and from whom?
At the time, it seemed like everyone did. At NASA, leadership is not supported. As I say in the book, the head of NASA — I’m a deputy — doesn’t support it and doesn’t ask for money for the work. [commercial crew] programs in the budget. But I led the transition team and spoke with the president about it and worked closely with the White House Chief Science Adviser, the Office of Science Technology and Policy, the National Economic Council, and the Office of Management and Budget. They are all very supportive of this policy. So it goes into our budget, and no NASA administrator or NASA’s senior leadership for human spaceflight is really involved.