The conversations concerning the human spaceflight policy continue to be more about heat than light. This was mentioned recently in “This Week in Space” with Miles O’Brien in an interview with Andy Chaikin. Andy said something similar – there is a lot of heat and very little light regarding the conversations surrounding the space policy. What does this mean, and how do we move forward to implement a meaningful and affordable approach to human spaceflight?
Last time I wrote about the question of predictability for the outcome of the proposed commercial crew transportation services to provide routine and affordable access to low Earth orbit, given the uncertainties surrounding how NASA would procure those services and the lack of definitive requirements for universal access beyond transporting NASA astronauts to/from the International Space Station. Before moving to Part 2, I’d like to comment on the Request for Information released by NASA a few days after my original post. I’m encouraged by the information being sought by the RFI, in that it addresses both points I raised: what are the contracting mechanisms that should be used, and what fundamental broad requirements should NASA consider in its solicitation for those services down the road? Depending on the nature of the inputs, and how NASA responds to them, we could see a transformation in how NASA procures commercial crew transportation services.
In Part 2, I’ll examine the transition of NASA’s internal human spaceflight organizations from an operations focus to a research and development focus. Here, I’ll address the following question: should the target be to return to the business models of the past that characterized NASA’s previous successes in human spaceflight, or to something completely different? Are we talking about transformational change here, too?
“If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”
I’ve been giving a lot of consideration recently to the degree of change facing NASA’s human spaceflight endeavor under the proposed new space policy where NASA hands off routine access to low Earth orbit to the commercial sector and concentrates on exploration beyond. On one hand, I offered that the change is transitional (i.e., mid-range) on the transactional, transitional, and transformational change spectrum. (Transactional change occurs when the number, breadth, and depth of change is small and the outcome is predictable; transitional change is when the number is small yet the outcome is unpredictable, or the number is huge yet the outcome is predictable; and transformational change is when the number is huge and the outcome is unpredictable.)
So is it?
“Success is almost totally dependent upon drive and persistence. The extra energy required to make another effort or try another approach is the secret of winning.”
In recent weeks, President Obama spoke about his space policy at the Kennedy Space Center, and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden addressed NASA employees from the Johnson Space Center. Various internal teams at NASA continue working on the plans to implement the new space policy, Congress continues with its hearings, and the media and bloggerati continue to debate the merits of the proposed changes from polarized extremes. Clearly, we have a long way to go – how are we doing so far? To look at this, I’ll review the types of changes underway and where I see each of the key components in its quest to drive towards success.