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Buy, Not Build

Rick Tumlinson has the right idea.

Personally, I’m not opposed to the OSP program. Mainly because I don’t see anything coming from it beyond studies and pitches and bench demos and such. At this point in the game, I don’t see that it can hurt for NASA to go through yet another cycle of fruitless conceptifying, and it may indeed help us into space in the long run.

It can’t really hurt because past experience shows that nothing concrete will come of the effort. Private space initiatives and their financiers surely know by now that a proposed NASA vehicle is no threat to their potential markets, for the simple reason that the vehicle is unlikely to ever move beyond models and slides. And even if OSP is ultimately built, it will be so far behind schedule and so far over budget and so expensive to operate as to be uncompetetive with any private vehicles.

OSP could actually help us get to space in the long run, by keeping NASA busy with its own affairs instead of meddling in the private launch initiatives under the guise of “helping” them. By the time the OSP project is abandoned (er, I mean, “restructured”), one or more of the private efforts will likely have demonstrated their own vehicles.

Institutionally, though, calling on NASA to buy rather than build today is a bit premature. Even after numerous failures to build new manned spacecraft, I’m not sure the agency is quite ready to admit defeat and cede that turf entirely to private enterprise. Nor is private enterprise (in the form of Musk, Rutan, Bezos, et al) quite ready to take up the challenge.

Yet.

But the planets are clearly coming into alignment for the startups.

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