It sure seems like that’s what NASA is doing. NASA has to do something in order to maintain its relevance as the space age dawns in the era of commercial space flight. NASA is still running scientific-exploratory missions to Mars and elsewhere in the solar system, but even this role will be soon be overtaken by private enterprises like Planetary Resources.
From Space.com comes news that NASA has launched a private space taxi certification program. The program will consist of a two-stage “process aimed at ensuring commercial passenger spaceships currently under development will meet the agency’s safety standards, schedule and mission requirements.” Yay, NASA’s record of safety, timeliness, and priorities with minimal bureaucratic waste leaves me reassured.
Budget cuts no doubt have something to do with the certification program as well. “NASA expects to award multiple firms a Certification Products Contract (CPC), each of which will run for 15 months and be worth up to $10 million.” Restrict competition, rake in the dough, ensure the continuation of your own jobs, and retain control of the space industry — all in the name of safety, science, human progress, and protecting taxpayer “investments.”
The certification program appears to apply only to firms wanting to be hired by NASA — for now. Firms that want to ferry NASA crew to the behind-schedule and over-budget boondoggle that is the International Space Station (ISS) will have to get certified. But how long until NASA attempts to expand its regulatory reach beyond its own contractors?
NASA admitted in 2011 that it is not “fundamentally a public regulatory agency.” But that can change. We can be sure that the United States federal government will attempt to regulate space travel and commercial activity just as it regulates travel and business on Earth. The only question is, Which agency will be assigned to do the regulating? Will it be NASA, or some other new or existing agency? Surely the top bureaucrats at NASA would rather it be them.
What do you think? Is NASA positioning itself to become the regulator of space travel and commerce? Let us know in the comments.