Last year NASA put out a solicitation for companies to perform exploration architecture tradestudies incorporating Heavy Lift vehicles and potential advanced propulsion and in-space technologies. This was in support of NASA’s internal studies on the topic. I put a proposal in for that solicitation shortly after leaving Masten, but didn’t have enough credibility as a small, brand-new company to win it (though my proposal was more highly rated than some much bigger companies). But SpaceX, ULA, and several other interesting companies got awards, and I was looking forward to what they came up with. After all, one of the most interesting things that Steidel was able to get done before Griffin and his wunderkinden sent us on a 5-year dead-end was the Concept Exploration and Refinement studies they did to initially study how NASA should implement the architecture for the lunar return goal of the VSE. The studies were all firmly rejected by NASA (as has been its historical habit dating back to the Apollo Program), but at least they were out there to help cross-polinate ideas, and to at least see what NASA was giving up by going down the Constellation road.
Unfortunately, I’ve been hearing rumors that NASA may not even bother releasing the study results this time around, due to potential “ITAR” concerns. Unlike the military, NASA can’t so easily “classify” away things they don’t want people to read, but over the last half decade, the ITAR card has served as a sort of purgatory/Memory Hole where inconvenient information can be banished. I hope NASA does the right thing by making this taxpayer-funded research public. Seriously, how much truly ITAR-sensitive info is there really likely to be in these presentations? NASA has made studies like this public for decades, even since ITAR got ratched up into its current pain in the neck back during the 90s. If there really is a concern that some of the material might be ITAR sensitive, couldn’t they just redact the specific information that they deem ITAR sensitive (and then give US citizens info on where they can get access to the full, unredacted version)? Heck, I’d be willing to start a donation drive to pay for the lawyer’s time to go through and figure out what actually needs to be held back. My guess is that if they really redact anything it’ll probably be less than 5-10% of the content.
Hopefully I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but I really hope this info sees the light of day. When NASA embarks on a $20B+ multi-year project, especially one where they’re trying to use sole-source contracts and lock in providers without performing an honest re-competition, doesn’t the public deserve a right to see what the contractors came up with, and if they actually agree with NASA? Sure, I wouldn’t be surprised if this time around several of the usual suspects actually come out supporting NASA, but I think the public deserves to see dissenting opinions as well. How can US citizens make informed oversight of their federal government, if the federal government isn’t transparent even with non-national-security issues like what architecture NASA should use for exploration?
Am I being paranoid or unreasonable?