Conditions permitting, on Friday the last scheduled space shuttle flight will take off with a reduced crew of four. (Four because there is no backup shuttle to serve as a lifeboat, and the Soyuz alternative has a lower capacity.) We wish them Godspeed and a safe adventure.
The Privatization of the American Space Program
When the last shuttle lands, the NASA shuttle program will go from 15,000 employees down to 3,000. In another six months, it drops to 1,000 employees. After a year, the number dwindles down to a few people.
The next vehicles that the United States will use to move beyond the atmosphere will be supplied by private contractors. In the short-term we are contracting with the
Soviet Union Russian oligarchy for spacelift, and in a few years America will contract with vendors whose names you’d recognize: Lockheed-Martin, Boeing. (Allow us to point out that these are multi-national corporations.)
Nothing stays the same. Every chapter begins and ends; there are winners and losers.
As a species and as a country, we know a lot of things. Amidst the negentropy and the explosive growth of knowledge, we can’t keep track of everything we know. When you can’t keep inventory, you lose a bit every year.
For instance, we no longer have the knowledge (or the capability) of landing men on the moon and bringing them back alive. We decided to close that chapter, and we decided not to invest in maintaining that capability. We can’t do it anymore; if we wanted to send somebody up there now, we’d have to begin a new chapter.
The United States has privatized our space program. NASA will award and administer contracts. The new knowledge won’t reside in NASA and neither will the intellectual property; the know-how will move from the government (of, for, by the people) to the corporations. What was once knowledge that benefited mankind will become proprietary IP assets that corporations will exploit as rentiers.
In ten years our government won’t be able to do space programs. We’ll have fired the people, closed the books, and sent the artifacts to museums. We’ll have outsourced the business and lost the knowledge. If our national interest requires unilateral activity in space, we’ll be wholly dependent on the willingness of corporations. They’ll set the price if it doesn’t conflict with their own priorities.
Right now, the Air Forces’s LockMart contractors are whipsawing the FAA’s LockMart contractors in seeking more money to accomplish the heralded promise of NextGen. LockMart is playing government agencies and programs against each other to run up the bill and
maximize optimize profits funding.
When the United States becomes dependent on a vendor to conduct space operations, what will happen when the same multinational Corporation is also providing contract services to another country?
When the Russians launched Sputnik, Bob Hope quipped that “all this proves is that their German scientists are better than our German scientists…”. Perhaps in the next nation-vs-nation conflict, we’ll find out if our LockMart contract is better than their LockMart contract.
Flight Service and Rocket Science
The Foundation is confident that just prior to the privatization of Flight Service, some confidently pronounced “they’ll never shut this down”. We are similarly confident that after LockMart took the work, Center and Terminal controllers confidently said, “Okay sure, Flight Service, but they’ll never shut my facility down”.
They just outsourced another inherently governmental function and tossed 15,000 highly trained, technical professionals away to provide a labor pool for the contractors. They’ve dismantled the world’s best program in its field. They’ve literally outsourced rocket science. Once they take it apart, they’ll never be able to reassemble the original system again.
Ask not for whom the bell tolls . . . .