Trying to clean up a mess

I have come to regret posting my essay on the coming wreck over commercial space flight.  There are two reasons why.

First reason is that this has become a vehicle for all sorts of anti-NASA venom.  I blame myself for not having the foresight to know that many folks would hijack my thoughts for their own purposes.  To those folks who think that there is some sort of cabal at NASA trying to kill commercial space flight by over regulating it, or are trying to preserve their own civil service jobs by building in unnecessary work, I say nuts.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The folks who have worked in spaceflight safety all their careers and who built the requirements document under discussion are trying their hardest to build a good system.  I just think they need a course adjustment. 

Secondly, it has been brought to my attention that some people in Washington are using my criticism to say that the nation should not fund commercial space flight development. Sigh.  My old boss Bill Gerstenmaier always counseled me to be very careful of what I said or wrote because it could be used by political forces against us in ways that we could not imagine.  I was never very good at keeping my mouth shut, and diplomacy is not my best skill, so I knew it was time to retire when the agency wanted to move me to Washington.

Neither of these are the effect I intended when sharing my thoughts with you.

Finally, several of my old colleagues have sent word that I misunderstood the requirements document and should go back and read it again.  Which I have now done.  And I’d like to share my thoughts after that review.

How did I get here?  I have been a space cadet all my life; grew up with the glory days of Gemini and Apollo, stayed up late to watch the pictures from the Rangers and Mariner 4.  The day I got a job offer from NASA was like a dream come true.  I thought we would do this shuttle thing for a couple of years, then build the space station and head on out to the Moon and Mars and all the other interesting places in the solar system.  Sigh.  Thirty years later, it hasn’t turned out that way.

So when we had a plan to replace the shuttle with a smaller less capable system that would allow us to resume exploration it sounded good.  But now we’ve killed that.  The replacement is supposed to be commercial human spaceflight.  I think that is a stretch, but if that is what the nation wants to do, let’s give it a shot; it might actually work.  Now, if we kill that, what?  Rely on our great friends the Russians forever?  Hmmm. 

The last several months at NASA, I was assigned to help develop plans for the commercial human spaceflight program.  It seemed like it might work, but it would require a huge change in the way NASA does business if we were not to kill it.  That was my message going out the door last July.  When I retired, it was apparent that I would quickly become bored puttering around the rose garden.  Consulting on a part time basis might allow me to help some of these developing commercial spaceflight companies to succeed.  So far a couple of them seem to appreciate my advice.  And it looks like a couple of them might just pull this off, but it is not a sure thing and there are plenty of obstacles along the way.

One thing is certain, as another of my old bosses, Bill Parsons, used to say “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, then you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”  If commercial human spaceflight is to be cheaper and safer and more flexible and and and, well then it will require different oversight from the government than what we used for shuttle or station or constellation.

NASA put out a second round of CCDev (commercial crew development) opportunities at the end of October. Associated with that announcement, NASA provided a “technical library” of reference documents which applicants could use to develop their proposals.  That CCDEV2 technical library requires an ID and password.  As a consultant to some of those firms applying for CCDev funding, I got an ID and password and started reading the documents.  The first one on the list was the CCT-REQ-1130 which stopped me cold.  It was a draft, with a number of TBDs still in it and various dates on the document (Oct 8, Oct 18, etc.).  But it was still a huge requirements document in the traditional NASA style.

I thought about it for two weeks, re-reading the document several times.  Then I made my post last weekend.  I shouldn’t have for the reasons that I listed at the start of this essay.

Now I have re-read it and have some additional thoughts.  It is clear that this is a vast scaling down from the requirements that say, Ares-1 and Orion had.  And many of the paragraphs say that the specifications and standards can be replaced with alternatives, or with other standards that “meet the intent of”  spec such and such.  That is good.  And to the casual reader that sounds like a big change.  Unfortunately, it is not.  Having to prove that an alternative standard is just as good as the standard NASA listed is an uphill battle.  The adjudicator will be some GS-13 who has lived with one standard his whole career, understands it thoroughly, probably sat on the technical committee that wrote it, and loves it.  Proving that his baby is ugly is going to be time consuming, and probably fruitless.  I speak from sad experience. 

So, what is my recommendation?  Simple.  Do what the Launch Services Program does:  require that providers HAVE standards and follow them – don’t make them pick particular processes or standards, let the flexible, nimble, [your adjective here] commercial firms pick what suits their business best.  As long as they have standards and stick to them – that is what we should require.

So the CCT-REQ-1130 is a step in the right direction, but is hardly revolutionary.  That revolution is what NASA leadership must show the workers how to accomplish.  Leadership that will bridge the gap between policy and the work is what is needed. 

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  A good system can be devised, examples exist.  Human spaceflight is important to our nation and to the world.  Whether or not commercial firms can actually succeed is still open; but NASA and the FAA must walk a careful tightrope of ensuring safety while not killing the enterprise with over regulation.

About waynehale

Wayne Hale is retired from NASA after 32 years. In his career he was the Space Shuttle Program Manager or Deputy for 5 years, a Space Shuttle Flight Director for 40 missions, and is currently a consultant and full time grandpa. He is available for speaking engagements through Special Aerospace Services.
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42 Responses to Trying to clean up a mess

  1. Tavi Greiner says:

    I am one of many readers who did not misinterpret your previous post to be a bashing of NASA or an argument against commercial spaceflight. I think you did a fine job, then and now, of urging that, in our quest to maintain and even enhance human safety, we not allow over-regulation to impede this new direction in human spaceflight. You speak from both experience and passion, and you have a unique position to be heard. I appreciate that you do express your concerns, for they are the same concerns shared by many others, both within and outside of the Space industry.

  2. tim846 says:

    Thanks for the clarification–and for sticking to your points about the need for additional reforms in the process. People will always hear what they want in whatever is said and use that to fuel their own arguments. Don’t let that stop you from giving your opinions, insights, and suggestions. You have every right to make sure your voice is being heard, even if it is repeated with bias.

  3. Charley S McCue says:

    So true. It has been a struggle for me for a while.

  4. Rocketman says:


    I never got the idea that you wanted to to kill NASA or commercial space flight nor give a platform to the anti-NASA folks. You just pointed out some problems that would have to be overcome and the difficulty that entails.

    People and politicians will always twist other people’s words for their own agenda. You could have posted it was cold rainy today and I am sure someone out there would accuse you of being anti-farm because you didn’t want it to rain on the crops and see our food grow. Pointing out problems in an organization does not make you against that organization my friend. You gave your opinion of what problems NASA and commercial companies face, what interpretations others make of your words is their responsibility, not yours.

    I am a pro-Constellation supporter and have hard criticisms on my web site for commercial companies and how NASA/our political leaders are handling things, but that does not mean I am anti-NASA nor anti-commercial (as for anti-politician, well, let’s say that’s another matter for another post.). Due to my opposition on my website to Obama’s and Bill Nelson’s plan, I have had others try to say I wanted the Space Shuttle program reinstated (I am a laid off shuttle worker) and was upset over losing my job. I have to constantly point out that disagreeing with Obama/Bill Nelson’s plan to allow unproven commercial space companies to take over everything and abandon the Moon has nothing to do with the end of the Shuttle program or anything to do with losing my job. But, critics always try to muddy the issue.

    You do not need to explain yourself Wayne. You did well enough in your first post and if people want to cloud the issue or misuse your words, then it is their responsibility and fault for doing so. You spoke loud and clear my friend and most of us heard you just fine.

    Be safe and well.

  5. “require that providers HAVE standards and follow them”

    I am afraid that statement alone does not inspire my confidence. Religiously not walking under ladders and avoiding black cats will not guarantee the safety of crews and success of missions. And somehow, I don’t think that bathwater is an apt analogy for just about anything that NASA does.

    I am not in the space business, but speaking as an engineer, I would think that NASA needs to present a set of functional requirements, such as payload to LEO, maximum permissible acceleration for launch abort system, maximum probability of LOC, etc, and the providers would be requried to prove that their design and flight hardware would satisfy those requirements, either by complying with standards that have already been proven by NASA or industry, or by conducting the necessary research to prove that, for instance, a reliable rocket engine can be made of carbon fiber.

  6. David Buchner says:

    I sure hope you don’t get discouraged about sharing your thoughts, Wayne — because I’m really enjoying your candor. I second “Rocketman”‘s thoughts, and further suggest that any “mess” you’re cleaning up is NOT of your own making.

    • Brandon says:

      Seconding David’s comments here. It doesn’t matter what you say, people will twist it. There are a few that took your original post the wrong way; there are far, far more of us that appreciated your insight into the situation, and took it for what it was.

  7. Gary Miles says:


    I called into the Space Show last night and spoke about your blog. I was trying to point out that you were not advocating that there be no regulations for commercial human spaceflight, but that the requirements that were released NASA were excessive and would force companies to spend 100s to 1000s of labor hours to comply with. As a former HPLC chemist who worked in pharmaceutical industry, I spent about 5 days working on paperwork just to do 1 day of HPLC anaylsis, most of which was to comply with GLP regulations of FDA. (The EPA had a few regulations too.) I probably signed my initials several hundred times a day. So I well understand the burden that regulations put upon companies, but I also recognized the need to have these regulation.

    You were arguing for a cultural change at NASA so commercial companies could reduce costs and be successful at providing human spaceflight services. I brought these points up along with your suggestion that NASA should follow the National Launch Service process to bring about change in its culture on the show.

    I also brought up the message that Gene Kranz and Jim Lovell were trying to get across the other day about the lack of any coherent space policy of strategic framework for which NASA can direct its operations. I was a little disturbed by the negativity and vitriol coming from posters toward these to outstanding individuals on some of the main space blogs.

    I am not sure how coherent I was on the Space Show as I am a severely hearing impaired person with a tendency speak fast and poor enunciation when I get excited. I hope at least part of my comments were understood.

    Finally, thanks for your posts. You need to keep posting about these issues. The public and the space cadets need to hear more of this kind of pragmatism even if some misinterpret your comments or misuses them for their own ends. We need to have these kinds of conversations from more and more people like you. Feel free to clarify and correct anything that I may have gotten wrong.

    • You spoke well Gary, I called slightly after you and also spoke about Wayne’s blog entry. My primary point was that I’m pretty sure the CCDev candidates are just happy to finally have *some* human ratings documents from NASA.. this at least means they can now firmly answer criticism that they won’t be able to meet those requirements. It may be hard to meet those requirements, but it’s impossible to meet requirements that haven’t even been written, which is where they were 6 months ago.

  8. Steve Pemberton says:

    I have come to regret posting my essay


    I hope you reconsider. Your essay, like those before and those that we look forward to in the future, provided valuable insight and a much needed warning from someone who has a unique vantage point and experience which allows you to see farther down the tracks than most people.

    The fact that some people twisted your words and your intentions into something that suited their own purposes is inevitable. I am sure that in your next essay you will have this in the back of your mind while you are writing, but I hope that doesn’t discourage you from sharing your unique perspective exactly as you see it. People really need to hear what you have to say.

  9. Bob Stevenson says:

    Wayne, my tendency to be misunderstood is almost legendary, and my technical knowledge is suspect at best after decades away from performing computations. So I only occasionally post comments or ideas. Your concern over how your views and comments are being re-worked for the purposes of others drives me to write in support of your efforts to keep the real issues in front of the entire community of people with an ax to grind, a dog in the fight, or whatever.
    I’ve been reading your words and those of various commenters on both your blog and the multiple forums and threads on as a means of staying in touch while laid off from Constellation support since June. The sense I get is that there is a tremendous, pent-up, world-wide pressure from people who are passionate about wanting to help do great (or even just good) things in space. They just wish people would lead, follow, or get out of the way and let it happen.

  10. nooneofconsequence says:

    My mouth always gets me into trouble sooner or later, and usually with my comments being applied in ways never intended. The closer to the centers of power one intersects, the harder the “echo chamber” or “hall of mirrors” is on distorting any message sent. The easiest “message discipline” is saying nothing. The hardest is saying anything critical during a time when the rules are changing or are under attack.

    But it is necessary to try. Because those that want desperately to extract needed signal from the over amplified noise will do so anyways. Thank you for providing signal. You’re not responsible for the noise.

    I’m in complete agreement with your recommendation, having repeatedly made similar. If I may, my suggestion as to make it happen is to remind people that the strongest remedy for govt agencies to get responsive action out of any vendor/provider is from their own requirements/rules/processes/procedures because the vendor/provider authored them (legally counts for more as in operations practice as we all know). This usually tempers “overspec enthusiasm”. That the vendor/provider must to the heavy lifting. I think this is being forgotten.

    Thank you again for your blog.

  11. P. Savio says:

    The US has actually been flying commercial crew now for what – 5 years? The US has paid Russia, in a more or less commercial agreement for US astronauts to fly. Wayne can you explain the documented safely requirements for US crew to fly on Soyuz. Is that 10 pages, 100 or 260 like the proposed document you discussed previously for US commercial providers? If the 2 documents are different then someone needs to explain why – because why have one set of safely requirements for one (foreign) vehicle and one for US vehicles – that just wouldn’t make any sense and might also be a basis for criticism.

  12. Ronald Smith says:

    Currently I am taking a Political economies class, and I think I can try to articulate what you might have been trying to say in the terms of the class. Mechanisms like government, firms, or even markets have two main types of organization: hierarchy or heteronomy. Taken from text on hierarchy : “Governance is exercised through managerial control systems and “directive” and “authoritative” rules that command and create expectations of predictable behavior within the organization.Hierarchies thus require certain sets of behaviors on the basis of performative criteria and/or seniority” “BUT hierarchies require that individuals submit to the institutional regimes, routines, restrictions, and requirements; Centralized routines and restrictions limit choice in order to minimize risks ”

    Most importantly “In doing so, they can suppress innovation and invention”

    If NASA wants to eliminate group think and encourage innovation, it must be restructured more in the realms of heteronomy. This would be a tall order.

    (I can send a couple powerpoints with more details about the concepts if wanted)

  13. Always looking for ‘battlefield info’ regarding our manned space program. Refreshing to hear a reasonable voice with a knowledge base of the process as we know it… thanks for your perspective

  14. beth beck says:

    We love you Wayne. You have a great heart, and deep passion for our nation’s space program.

    Folks will always debate — no matter the topic. And the cool thing is that we can. Democracy is all about differing opinions shared openly. Social media allows us to keep the conversation flowing….though sometimes it overflows and spills out in unintended ways. But that’s ok too. Better that we’re talking, than not.

    Keep blogging…hopefully outside in your garden! 🙂

  15. Jerry Johnson says:

    I must say that it was not necessary to offer any explanation nor caveat for the original article that you wrote. I thought that the first one was not only well written, but was also completely and thoroughly correct.
    There is no doubt that as one goes “up the ladder” (definitely a misnomer) from a Center to HQ, the requirements levied by the bureaucracy increase in inverse proportion to their necessity. Requirements documents seem to gain a whole life of their own, spawning yet new requirements, changes to requirements, configuration management of requirements, reviews and addenda of requirements, budget reviews of requirements, and such, seemingly continuing in perpetuity.
    You’re definitely on the right tack. Don’t budge from it.
    All the best.
    Jerry Johnson
    JSC IFM 1982-1989
    Space Station Freedom 1989-1993
    NASA HQ in many frustrating capacities, 1996-2005
    NASA (ret)
    Lt.Col. USMCR (ret)

  16. Jury Judge says:

    “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

    Wow, Wayne, do you have any more lame and overused over-simplistic euphemisms that we can swallow in order to further demonstrate our childlike perspective on reality?

  17. Rocketman says:

    Mr. Hale,

    I took your piece and expanded it a bit on my site. ( Let me know if I got anything wrong or took your quotes out of context. I would like it to be accurate.

    Be safe and well.

    P.S. Dr. David Livingston of The Space Show would like to invite you on for an interview. You can go to his website ( or let me know and I’ll provide you his contact information. He’s a very talented interviewer and well versed on the issues.

  18. Berkut says:

    Well, Nasa providing standards and saying that acceptable alternative “Means of Compliance” (how you prove what you do or asser), “Special Conditions” (how much you can depart) and so on also qualify IS the way forward.

    It’s been like that for decades in aviation and proved to work not too bad : If you just say that you must provide something, you leave everyone do their own stuff and make nothing of the recorded HISTORY of human spaceflight !

    Certification requirements for all things moving is the price of BLOOD, the hard lessons learned, not just a time-saving lot of experience to the designers.

    It firsts gives you an idea of what to do if you have no better idea, or a starting point for your own design exercice, for when you don’t know were you came from, you don’t know where you’re going.

    Some “creative minds” might find it too restrictive, but the introduction of new technologies in Airliners has shown that even strong requirements can evolve (special conditions, amendments to regulations) and that you could today prove things at a lesser cost (ex: computer simulations/calculations) rather than flight testing in all matters.

    Physics don’t lie, it IS rocket science !

  19. spaceman85 says:

    Good point. When will NASA’s commercial crew guys swallow their pride and start emulating how NASA’s already successful Launch Services Program interacts with the commercial world and quit trying to re-invent the wheel ? Not enough listening and too much talking…….

  20. Wayne,

    I thank you for providing this detailed and insightful commentary.

    For me, CCT-REQ-1130 proves that NASA has a clear “conflict of interest”, in acting as both “customer” and “regulatory authority”.

    What I believe is required, is the formation of a Consensus Industry Government Standards Organization for Commercial Spaceflight.

    The RTCA, and ARINC, are the Consensus Industry Standards Organizations for Commercial Aircraft.

    Let’s get the Commercial Spaceflight Federation to sponsor a Consensus Standards Organization, producing either a markup of CCT-REQ-1130, or the drafting of an new standard, utilizing Soyuz as a baseline.

    FAA identifies “novel technologies or practices” and unique “special conditions” or “certification review items” are identified to address these issues. This provides the form of “tailoring” which you identified with the “Launch Services Program”.

    I recomend that we let NASA provide the funds for CCDev, and let the FAA oversee the regulatory / approval / compliance aspects.

    • waynehale says:

      NASA is not a regulatory agency and has no power to regulate anybody. But they do have the responsibility to ensure that folks who sign contracts with NASA and are paid with taxpayer money do a good job. Currently the FAA is barred from regulating commercial human spaceflight by an act of congress. Anybody want to build a spaceship? Neither NASA nor the FAA will stop you. You want to sell seats to NASA for their astronauts to ride on? Then you may have to demonstrate that you can transport people safely. No conflict of interest at all.

  21. If Commercial Human Spaceflight is to ever to become an economically viable service, there must be a regulator who serves the interest of protecting the public interest of safety, not only of those who would be passengers / crew, but those on the ground who would be harmed by a catastrophic malfunction. I am a believer in the free market, however there are certain markets which require an underlying assurance, (liscensed professions), in order to operate economically. Civil Aviation is a perfect example.

    Call it wishfull thinking on my part, however I believe that the NASA Astronauts should be the ones who NASA allows to decide what is an adequate level of safety assurance / redundancy. We as American Taxpayers support “individual choice” and “freedom”, yet this is not where NASA is focused today.

  22. Dave H. says:

    What you missed is the fact that your voice still carries a lot of weight even though you no longer are employed by NASA. You’re not going to please everyone, and this is a good example of “if Wayne Hale said it, it’s good enough for me.”

    Problem is, we’re on the cusp of throwing away the second proven system for getting things and people out of Earth’s gravity well. “Commercial human spaceflight” is, to me, a gilded euphamism for “taxpayer paid-for bonuses and golden parachutes for doing nothing.”
    Just like stepping into the ring with Muhammed Ali for one round, you still get a million bucks even after he’s knocked you out in the first round.

    Think about it in historical terms such as the westward expansion of our nation. Until the government made it safe, no one traveled to Pittsburgh without Army protection. Privateers may have scouted the frontier, but it took the military to make the larger migration possible.

    Spaceflight is neither easy nor inexpensive. Launching satellites is easy and profitable, but where are humans going to go? Instead of abandoning the ISS, it should continue to be supported and expanded upon by governments and private industry…want to attract business for space tourists? Spend your own money, build a habitation module to ISS standards, and get it there. Maybe instead of re-inventing the wheel Bigelow could hook up with the Spacehab folks and buy a module…but without the Space Shuttle, how are you going to get it there?

    How would Pittsburgh have grown if, a few years into its existence, suddenly everything had to be brought via horseback because Conestoga wagons were not available?

    We already have a “space truck”, and we already have a human-rated system that’s gone to the Moon, landed, and returned.
    Too bad that they’re about to be replaced by what computer folks call “vaporware”.

    Anyone who knows anything about NASA knows that with rare exception everything they buy is from private companies. Anyone who knows anything about private companies knows that with rare exception maintenance and safety margins are the first things that get binned in the search for greater profits.

    Oh, and don’t forget this quote from “Armageddon”…

    Rockhound: You know we’re sitting on four million pounds of fuel, one nuclear weapon and a thing that has 270,000 moving parts built by the lowest bidder. Makes you feel good, doesn’t it?

    “…built by the lowest bidder.”
    Sounds like commercial spaceflight to my ears.

  23. Ed Minchau says:

    Dave H, you need to know that every single piece of American hardware that has flown people to space was built by a commercial company – most notably Boeing, among many others. That goes right back to Mercury.

    What is changing is that NASA no longer needs to be the owner/operator of the vehicle. Instead it can set its sights higher, on the infrastructure needed to explore everything beyond cislunar space.

  24. Andrew W says:

    The best solution to a problem is likely not to be the one NASA dictates with its “requirements”, and bear in mind that those requirements need to be able to be changed to fit with changing technology.

    You’re dead right, NASA should have a short outline of what they’re after, and whichever launch firms offers the packages that best fits NASA’s needs are the ones NASA should do business with.

    Isn’t it funny how were accept the advantages of the free market in our lives, but then if we have the power to dictate terms because there isn’t a free market, we then suddenly don’t need the free market, we believe we know better.

    A bit like Soviet central planned all over again.

  25. Dave H. says:

    Hello, Ed.
    Good post. Yes, I already knew that NASA has been buying what they needed from private companies. Some folks seem to believe that there are huge manufacturing plants that NASA runs somewhere out there.

    “What is changing is that NASA no longer needs to be the owner/operator of the vehicle. ”

    I struggle with this idea, mostly because the phrase “owner/operator” is commonly associated with over-the-road truckers. The trucker is the proud owner and operator of his/her truck, and they scout for freight to haul at prices competitive to the major trucking firms. It is interesting, though. How would it apply to getting people and things into space?

    We, the taxpayers, through NASA, own the space shuttles. NASA owns the Kennedy Space Center, right?
    Now, the United Space Alliance, according to this paragraph from…

    “United Space Alliance (USA) is a space-race heavyweight; the Houston-based prime contractor runs NASA’s 173,000 pound Shuttles — Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour. USA, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, was established in 1996 in response to NASA’s move to consolidate multiple Space Shuttle contracts under a single entity. The company provides mission operations, astronaut and flight controller training, flight software development, Shuttle payload integration, and vehicle processing, launch, and recovery operations. It also leads training and operations planning for the International Space Station. USA serves the Johnson Space Center, Kennedy Space Center, and Marshall Space Flight Center.”

    …certainly appears to be a consortium of publicly traded companies, does it not?

    At least we taxpayers get something that actually can orbit the planet and return astronauts safely home. The current push to have our tax dollars fund companies that will produce “vaporspacecraft” is ill-advised and unlikely to fly in this new “tea party” era.

    Bottom line, NASA is buying things that actually work with our tax dollars. Cry, whine, and stomp your feet all you want about how much it costs, but the bottom line is that if NASA needs something they put it out for bid and they don’t buy things from frauds and charlatans.

    Would you, or anyone else, have a problem with a company such as Bechtel or Halliburton or General Electric or Westinghouse throwing their hats in the ring to perform the same functions as the USA? I wouldn’t, because I know that space takes cubic dollars and a wealth of specialized knowledge that Acme Rockets LLC. isn’t likely to have.

    Change your statement to “NASA’s *budget* no longer needs to be the sole maintainer of the vehicle” and I think we can agree on that.

  26. Ed Minchau says:

    Dave, NASA is not paying commercial companies for “vaporware”. NASA has set certain benchmarks for new commercial companies like SpaceX and Orbital to meet, and those companies only get paid a fixed price if and as they meet those benchmarks. For instance, SpaceX won’t get paid one dime for transporting astronauts to the ISS until it actually gets astronauts there and back safely.

    It is the old cost-plus contracting method that is under attack. Under cost-plus, if BoLockMart goes over budget, then they get more money. Under this new commercial approach, if the company goes over budget they lose money.

  27. Dave H. says:

    Something we both overlooked here…what is stopping someone from buying (or leasing) the Space Shuttles and their support infrastructure? Most of the hard work, i.e, the physical parts, has already been done. The buyer gets three orbiters, exclusive use of LC 39, and all of the workers let go by NASA and the USA.
    Looks like a win-win to me…if there truly is a market, right?

    First thing you do is to offshore the firing room and Mission Control to Bangalore or Shanghai to eliminate those overpaid Americans. Then, following the example set by the major airlines, you offshore the maintenance of the orbiters…no need to employ overpaid Americans here either. Hire college kids or other unskilled labor for minimum wage (or use undocumented aliens…who’s watching, anyway, as long as it’s cheap!) with no benefits to perform the pad work at KSC, and perhaps the program becomes profitable.

    Unless I’m in error, none of the private space companies has yet to actually orbit the planet. To borrow from AC/DC, “it’s harder than it looks”.
    It’s a long way to the top if you wanna get into space!

    • Andrew W says:

      I don’t see your point, no one would be mad enough to buy the shuttles – at least, not to use them for space flight (they’d make great novelty restaurants).

  28. Andrew W says:

    Sorry I’ve offended, but the Shuttles have been very expensive to operate and they are (evidently) due for retirement. In my opinion given the option of being gifted the shuttles to operate in a competitive environment, or developing a new launch vehicle to fit future requirements, commercial operators would choose the latter option.
    I freely admit to no expertise in space flight commercial or otherwise, I could be wrong, so perhaps commercial operators should be given the option to operate them.

  29. Dave H. says:

    “I don’t see your point, no one would be mad enough to buy the shuttles…”

    Andrew, the one thing private enterprise strives for is a monopoly, and by outright purchase or lease this monopoly is built in! Think about the possibilities…think like a Ferengi.

    You have complete control over a device that can carry the most upmass into orbit at this time. Logic says that you can name your own price, and if they don’t like it, their cargo can sit on the ground.

    This exact paradigm existed during the era when ocean-going vessels became reliable carriers of people and cargo. If your ship could carry more cargo faster than everyone else’s ships, merchants were more than willing to pay whatever you asked to get their goods to the markets before their competitors.

    When transoceanic aircraft became reliable, nearly all of the passenger traffic went there (why spend two weeks getting from New York to London when an airplane gets you there in a few hours?) but if you want to sell automobiles in New York you’re going to need ships.

    So…leave the passenger traffic to the “upstarts”, but only your company can transport MPLMs to the ISS.
    Only your company can ferry repair crews to the Hubble Space Telescope.

    History has shown that if there’s a profit to be made, private enterprise will step up, but when there is a need and private enterprise fails to fulfill that need, then the government has to fulfill that need. Think of the history of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

    Now, how many strips of gold-pressed latinum will it cost me to buy the shuttles…?

    • Andrew W says:

      I believe Ariane 5, Atlas V, Proton, and Delta IV are all capable of competing with the Shuttle in terms of throw weight to LEO, with Atlas V having the highest payload capacity of the 5 launch vehicles. Falcon 9 (heavy), Angara 5, and Changzheng 5 will if/when developed also be in this category.
      I’d also point out that very few single shuttle payloads that have been lifted have required that launch vehicles full lift capacity.

      So far from the shuttle providing its owner with a monopoly in this category, it is actually becoming a very crowded and competitive market.

      You are right though in the damage to cost and quality of service that can be caused by a monopoly, so in my view the end to NASA’s Cold War period monopoly on Western launches has and will see a continuing decline in launch costs to customers.

  30. Andrew W says:

    I see on their site that Spacex are offering a contract price of $95M for single payload missions to LEO on their 32,000kg capacity Falcon 9 Heavy, that’s about $3,200/kg, an impressive price if it’s realised.

  31. Dave H. says:

    Well, history was made when SpaceX completed not one, but two orbits of Earth.
    Now, that they’ve proven that they can do it, comes the harder part: proving that they can launch on schedule.

    I salute their achievement and wish them greater success in the future.

  32. Jim Foreman says:

    One of the solutions we proposed to NASA when they were accepting bids for the ARRA funding was to establish an organization for the creation of standards for commercial spaceflight using a similar model to the ASME. This would allow experts from the private sector, as well as NASA, to participate directly in the discussion and allow a committee to have the final say rather than a jaded GS-13. Needless to say, our proposal was rejected, but I like to think the idea was still solid. What do you think?

  33. Dave H. says:


    I concur with your thoughts here. Everyone knows that a set of rules provides a solid foundation upon which to build anything.

    As someone who has been in the field of industrial instrumentation and controls for the past 32 years, I can attest to the value of standards such as NIST, ISO, and A2LA.

    The problems come when politics attempt to redefine or overrule the laws of physics…

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