This week’s issue of Space News features an op-ed (not available online) by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) where he provides an update on his plans to give NASA a new funding mechanism. At the National Space Symposium in Colorado in April, Calvert said he was planning legislation to allow NASA to, in effect, sell advertising or sponsorships on its missions. The money raised through those deals would go to support prize competitions run by the agency through the Centennial Challenges program.
In his Space News essay, Calvert said he planned to introduce the NASA Innovation Fund and Sponsorship Act in September, when Congress reconvenes after the summer recess. The general intent of the bill remains the same: NASA would solicit, review, and select sponsorship proposals from the private sector. The money from those deals would go into an Innovation Fund that would be used to support prize competitions. Calvert said he modeled this approach after the National Park Foundation, a private organization chartered by Congress to support the national park system “by raising private funds, making strategic grants, creating innovative partnerships and increasing public awareness.”
Calvert emphasized in his essay that the legislation would “explicitly prohibit product placement on NASA assets that the public would find objectionable or inappropriate”, citing examples like “decals on the space shuttles” and “blinking neon lights” on the ISS. (I wonder what he would think of Bigelow Aerospace’s projection system.) How is “objectionable or inappropriate” defined? Calvert said the bill would create a seven-person Sponsorship Board that would review proposals; its membership would include the NASA administrator, NASA strategic communications chief, and “five private citizens who have a stake in NASA’s reputation and future”. Sponsorship proposals would also have to have some kind of educational component as well. What’s not clear from the essay, though, is whether the legislation will address concerns from the private sector about competing with NASA for sponsorship dollars.