Monday, August 31, 2009

The real news in the manned space program is an RFP

In government-speak, an RFP is a request for proposals -- which means some bureaucrat has money to spend and is searching for someone on whom to bestow a contract.

I saw this story on Yahoo! News almost three weeks ago (and the link was still good this evening): The link would take you to a Reuters story by Irene Klotz who wrote "NASA plans to use $50 million of federal economic stimulus funds to seed development of commercial passenger transportation service to space." NASA is already spending $500 million "to help two U.S. firms, Space Exploration Technologies, a privately held company known as SpaceX, and Orbital Sciences Corp, develop rockets and capsules to deliver cargo to the station," Klotz writes.

These are good signs even if, as SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk told Reuters, "Fifty million is [only] what it costs for one seat on the (Russian) Soyuz."

The Old West wasn't privatized in a day, either. True, before the Revolution, settlers poured through the Cumberland Gap and settled Kentucky. No government action was involved in that at all; the British Government actually forbade these settlements at one point -- and several of our own Founding Fathers were hoping to make a killing on land claims from the Crown that were being settled out from under them. But, later, as the new American government staked its claim to the Northwest Territory and, later, the Louisiana Purchase, by building frontier forts, contracts had to be let so that supplies could be provided for the garrisons. Some of the suppliers settled in around the forts, or paved the way for others so to do and private enterprise began to take over from the government.

So, too, it may be with space exploration?

Well, the Space Truck is flying again: STS-128 is docked at the International Space Station, on day two of a planned 13 day mission. This latest launch of Shuttle Discovery probably didn't register on most people. But these flights are beginning to wind down now... and it's time... long past time, really... to take the next step into Space.

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