In yesterday’s issue of The Space Review I published an article on recent comments by NASA administrator Mike Griffin on the roles of the public and private sectors in spaceflight. These comments include not just the ones he made during his “Space Economy” speech at a luncheon on September 17 but more informal remarks during a meeting that evening of the MIT Enterprise Forum. In both cases he made the point that the government needs to help foster the development of new space industries through mechanisms like the COTS program, likening it to government incentives for aviation in the 20th century.
However, at the MITEF event, he went farther, discussing how he felt that the government, including NASA, could be major customers for the emerging suborbital spaceflight industry: “If I was still at the helm of NASA when such a service became available, I would guarantee you that we would use it to begin entry-level training of astronauts,” he said. He said, though, that he didn’t want to go too far away from traditional government models, rejecting concepts like extremely large prizes for Mars exploration: “The people who suggest that we should put up a $100-billion prize for the first company to take us to Mars are idiots.” (Speaking of Mars prizes, the New York Times’ John Tierney touches on them in an essay in the ScienceTimes section today, but in the context of billionaires funding them to attain a measure of immortality.)
Griffin’s conclusion: “We need an appropriate balance between government sector activity and private sector activity. My point is that, for fifty years in the space business, we have not had that appropriate balance. We need to move more towards the middle.”