Faced with a coming budget crunch, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is toying with a controversial solution: Sell off the space shuttles.
An October BBC report explains why the Bush administration is leaning toward this proposal. In keeping with recent elephantine overruns that render the Space Station Alpha a useless floating boondoggle in the sky, each NASA shuttle launch costs over $400 million. The fleet would be purchased by companies that would, in turn, be paid to launch the rockets at much lower costs.
Not everyone is happy. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), whose Web site proudly describes him as hailing from the Sunshine State's "Space Coast," has criticized the privatization plan on the grounds that it might hurt the national interest in a time of war. But even those without aerospace constituents doubt that the savings will be nearly as grand as projected.
Glenn Reynolds, former CEO and policy chair of the National Space Society, applauds the plan to get NASA out of the business of "running a space trucking company." But he says the real problem is the space shuttle itself.
According to Reynolds, the design shorted upfront costs "at the expense of much higher operational costs and somewhat lower reliability." He also charges that it was made much larger than necessary in order to secure military support.
Rather than building the next wave of shuttles, says Reynolds, "The government should purchase launch services—not vehicles—from private industry."