Earlier this week the Houston Chronicle ran an op-ed by former congressman Nick Lampson, who sings the virtues of commercial spaceflight. In particular, he called on the Augustine committee to recognize the role commercial space can play in NASA’s future human spaceflight plans:
The Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, the blue ribbon panel chartered by President Obama, met this week in Houston. Their recommendations in August could well shape the course of future U.S. human space exploration and affect U.S. competitiveness in science and technology. It is critical that we support the development of commercial space flight capabilities over the next decade for reliable, affordable access to low Earth orbit for both people and cargo. The provision of additional commercial services in space will free NASA resources for exploration and ensure that we meet our science and technology goals as a nation.
(This op-ed was highlighted by Next Step in Space, a coalition of companies and other organizations established earlier this month that is pushing for support for human commercial spaceflight.)
It’s interesting to compare that with a passage in a Wall Street Journal article this week (subscription required) about Virgin Galactic’s deal to sell a stake to an Abu Dhabi fund:
However, a NASA official cautioned that venturing into space is extremely costly, dangerous and difficult.
“Everyone has the opinion ‘we can do this’ but I’ve seen so many fail,” he said, adding that running a shuttle costs at least $3 billion a year.
All this is true: spaceflight is difficult and not cheap, and many ventures who have tried it before have failed. But what does the operating cost of the shuttle have to do with a suborbital space tourism system? The article doesn’t identify the “NASA official” who provided the quote nor explain why he wasn’t identified. It’s not surprising some people have seen this as a bit of FUD.