NASA Cutbacks is the Space Age over

NASA took a serious hit in 2011 when budget cutbacks were enacted. The 2012 budget for NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) actually came out a bit better, according to The Washington Post:

NSF funding will rise to $7 billion, or $173 million more than last year’s budget. NASA will receive $17.8 billion, or about $650 million less than last year’s budget. The NASA budget cut is almost $1 billion less than expected.

The expectation is that NASA would be able to carry out all of the plans that the agency has established for 2012.

Two new strategies include removing spending restrictions, and introducing much more government/private collaboration. These strategies will drive space exploration into new directions as an entirely new space vehicle fleet will be developed and implemented. discusses a situation that is both a very painful loss and great hope for the future. This sounds like the classic description of major organizational change, but on steroids.

One former NASA official described “…a very unfortunate and rather awkward situation” when he referred to the expected years long gap in American manned spaceflight capability. But the same official said “”If NASA’s commercial crew development program is successful, we will have the opportunity for the first time in our history for the nation to have more than one way to get into space,” 

Simply put, this is an exciting new era when America’s new space vehicle fleet will be created. Some of this fleet will be developed for private purpose and profit, and some off this fleet will support government and institutional goals.

A new strategy will help to heal the pain of a decimated NASA manned spaceflight program by working up quasi commercial manned and unmanned spaceflight schemes. This will be a difficult pill for some to swallow as the government has had the unique role of developing anc controlling manned spaceflight operations. Many favor government retaining a tandem and whole manned space flight capability. 

The first critical operation will be to reestablish the shuttle system for ferrying supplies and personnel to the International Space Station. The first privately operated ships are to be tested in 2012. Until that manned flight gap is closed, America will stand by, humiliated, while Russian, European and Japanese spacecraft carry out the job.

The second critical area will be for the very powerful space agency to transition into new and collaborative roles of working with private spaceship companies. Many want NASA and the private companies to work in tandem, while the privatization crazy crowd wants to restrict NASA to working solely with private firms. This will leave America’s government with no “Plan B” organizational, vehicular or physical infrastructure should commercial spaceflight have any failures.

The door to corruption is always open when massive privatization schemes unfold too quickly. This is especially so when lobbyists have such overwhelming influence on lawmakers, and when regulatory and contracting personnel move between government and corporate jobs.

A limited supply of brains and talent always creates a powerful source of potential fraud, waste, abuse and corruption in the fields of government/private collaborations, contracting, and regulation.

Regulators and contracting experts will work their way back and forth between regulatory and corporate jobs in “revolving door” employment schemes. This will not always be a bad thing, since an individual can gain valuable experience and knowledge over the course of their career by working for both sides in the collaboration.

Space travel is a monstrously technical and expertise laden field. As a result, the people who are capable of serving are a pretty tight and limited crowd. The revolving door may be the only way to create and to retain the talent pool for this huge and highly technical collaboration. 

Where the national coffers come up short, private investors are now able to step in to fund part of the costs. Private investors will also be able to absorb some of the risks that will come with the design, testing, launch, and ongoing programs. 

New operations, command and control and mission execution plans must be developed and implemented. There are many tests that lie ahead. Some will end in costly failure, but most will hopefully lead to advancements that will carry America’s space programs well into the future.

America has a huge advantage in knowledge, talent, flexibility, experience, established facilities and creativity in crisis. When it comes to building and launching new things, America has the lead. America’s space program will still net huge gains during these hard times, but will do so on a more sober and cautious basis.