[Updated at 10:45 am to include some clarifications from Eric Anderson.]
After Mitt Romney talked about space on Friday in Cape Canaveral, Florida, I had the opportunity to talk with Eric Anderson, who is one of the people who signed the open letter endorsing Romney on space also released Friday. He provided some insights into what Romney’s views are about space, particularly the commercial sector.
Anderson, in a phone interview, said he was contacted a few months ago by the Romney campaign to serve on a space working group, whose members are those who signed Friday’s letter; he added he’s met Romney several times and talked to him “one-on-one” on commercial space in particular. “He had not thought a lot about commercial space,” Anderson admitted, but in those personal conversations, Romney indicated to Anderson his enthusiasm for the private sector’s recent developments in human space flight capabilities. Anderson believes that if Romney won the presidency he would be an advocate of commercial space.
Anderson continued, “You must remember, Mitt Romney is a very experienced businessman. People in business of course believe in private industry! They know that if you can find goods and services in the private sector then clearly those would be preferable to the government recreating that capability.”
Of course, both President Obama and Romney’s chief rival for the GOP nomination, Newt Gingrich, have also spoken out in favor of, or taken action to support, commercial space. Anderson’s company, Space Adventures, is an indirect beneficiary of NASA’s commercial crew initiative: it is partnered with Boeing, one of the companies that has won funded Space Act Agreements from NASA for development of commercial crew transportation systems. Anderson acknowledged that, but suggested that the administration should have done more since rolling out its plans almost exactly two years ago. “In terms of commercial support, the current policy is not a bad one at all,” he said. “However, the execution of that policy and its support evaporated after that initial period,” adding that there was “the general sense that the White House didn’t really back the plan up.”
Anderson said there was also “good and bad ideas” in Newt Gingrich’s plans to use billion-dollar prizes to incentivize the private sector to go to the Moon and Mars. Prizes, he noted, have been effective on smaller scales when carefully tailored, citing the $10-million Ansari X PRIZE in particular, but he’s not sure that they would work on the much larger scale proposed by Gingrich. “It has to be realistic,” he said.
Anderson agreed that Romney hasn’t provided many specifics, but said that’s the right approach for now. “It’s not the right thing to do now to set goals,” he said. “He doesn’t know enough about it to pick this over that.” Anderon believes, though, that a President Romney is “by far the likeliest” to select a plan that could be carried out over one or two terms of office. “NASA has been kicked around like a pinball. We can’t keep stopping and starting,” he said. A new plan “can’t break the bank like Constellation, and it can’t be directionless.”
“Should he win the White House,” Anderson said of Romney, “he would take decisive action on what NASA’s mission should be.”