July 30, 2009

Presidential Panel Encourages Commercial Space Taxis

According to a presidential panel, the U.S. government should allow private firms to handle the business of launching cargo and people into Earth's orbit.

A Human Space Flight Review subcommittee said that U.S. space agency NASA should allow commercial space transporters to deliver goods to the International Space Station so the government agency could focus on new challenges.

The ISS, a $100 billion project funded by 16 nations, currently resides in low-Earth orbit 225 miles above the planet.

"My god, great NASA has been to the moon ... Let's turn (shuttle flights) over to newcomers," said former Boeing Co. executive Bohdan Bejmuk to the panel.

"I think you will find out there are a lot of people who will rise and compete," Bejmuk said. "Some of them will fail, some of them will succeed, but you will have essentially created a new industry."

Currently, NASA spends nearly half of its $18 billion budget on human space programs.

The agency plans to complete the ISS and retire the shuttle fleet by 2010.  NASA will then commission a new spacecraft to take the place of the shuttle.

NASA has already provided seed funds to Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Orbital Sciences Corp., both privately-funded companies, to create commercial spaceships for delivering goods to the space station.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, has a contract option to adapt its spacecraft with equipment suitable for passenger service.

The Orion spaceship, developed by the government, is scheduled to debut in 2015.

According to a review by The Aerospace Corp, the Orion spaceship will likely be delayed an additional two-years due to current budget plans.

On August 31, another report will be issued by the human space flight review panel, headed by former Lockheed Martin chief Norm Augustine.

Meanwhile, NASA prepares for the return of seven astronauts aboard the shuttle Endeavour.

Endeavour and its crew are scheduled to touchdown at 10:48 a.m. EDT at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.


On the Net: