[Note: Here’s a letter to the editor that I sent in to a local Colorado paper a few days ago, which didn’t get published. Not that most of this should be too surprising to regular readers, but I figured it was worth putting something new on the blog. Also, some apologies on the terseness, I had a 400 word limit.]
To The Editor,
I’m a small business owner in Boulder County, building robotic systems for use in space and here on earth. While I’m a libertarian-leaning independent, I want to defend Newt Gingrich’s recent space policy statements, which I feel have been given undeserved flack.
While NASA’s budget is only a measly 0.5% of federal expenditures, that is still a large amount of money, and I agree with Mr. Gingrich that even within its existing budget, NASA is capable of delivering much more to our nation. Specifically, I agree with Newt that NASA can accomplish significantly more within its current budget in three ways:
First, NASA needs a bold vision that is clearly not achievable by doing “business as usual”. Newt’s proposal of fielding a moon base by 2020 fits that description. Such a goal is definitely not feasible within NASA’s budget without drastic changes to how NASA does business. One such change would be to utilize orbital “gas stations” such as those being developed by Boulder-based Ball Aerospace in conjunction with existing commercial launch vehicles, instead of relying on NASA-operated heavy lift launchers like SLS. This would also provide more near-term use for Lockheed Martin’s Orion Spacecraft, currently being developed here in Denver.
Second, NASA needs to be allowed to take more risks. As former Administrator Michael Griffin once asked “What, precisely, are the precautions that we would take to safeguard a human crew that we would deliberately omit when launching, say, a billion-dollar [unmanned] mission?” For instance, Denver-based United Launch Alliance flies rockets that by this standard should be safe enough today to launch US astronauts, at a risk no greater than a space shuttle mission. Today, not five years from now.
Third, NASA needs to be allowed to continue to tap the potential of the commercial space industry through expanded prize authority and through continuing to act as a customer for NASA-needed services that the commercial companies such as Colorado-based Sierra Nevada are starting to offer with their proposed Dreamchaser vehicle. Prizes are a great motivator for private investment and risk-taking, and by acting as an initial customer for new commercial services, NASA can help entrepreneurs bring more investment money into the growing entrepreneurial space industry.
While I don’t agree with Mr. Gingrich on much, I do agree that his space policy is good for our nation, and good for the state of Colorado.