One aspect of Monday’s ESAS announcement that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention is NASA’s continued push to seek commercial cargo and crew services options for the ISS. That’s not new, of course—Mike Griffin made comments along those lines this summer, as did Chris Shank at the Return to the Moon Conference in Las Vegas in July—but Monday’s announcement reiterated that intent even as NASA designs the CEV to be able to support the station as an alternative. As Griffin said at Monday’s press conference, according to the official transcript:
NASA has not had at its upper levels a manager or an administrator more supportive of commercial enterprise than I. We are base lining in the out years past the retirement of the shuttle, we are base lining commercial service to the station. That is the only known and knowable, at this point, market for those entrepreneurs that I have to give. We are base lining the use of that market for them and are providing, will be providing this fall a new procurement to try to stimulate that market.
That said, at the end of the day, what commercial means is, that it is not government directed. So, I can provide the incentive and I can provide the market that I have and commercial providers will either emerge or not. It is not acceptable for a publicly funded program not to have a way of meeting its mission requirements in the event that commercial operators do or don’t materialize. So, the architecture that we have advanced allows NASA to meet its mission requirements, but also allows NASA to concentrate its resources on other more advanced activities if commercial providers can emerge in the next five to seven years. That is exactly our intent.
Our fondest desire would be to keep NASA on the very frontier of space activity, letting commercial provider fill in for those activities which are not frontier activities. We will be putting some money where our mouth is.
The Space Frontier Foundation did notice that, and, not surprisingly, heartily endorses it and calls in supporters to defend the plan: “Money must be allocated and the agency’s tendency to make creeping changes which ultimately kill innovation must be blocked.”