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Aldridge Commission press conference
While the Aldridge Commission has proposed a number of significant changes for NASA, at least one person thinks the report doesn’t go far enough. (credit: J. Foust)

The Dinkin Commission report (part 1)

The Aldridge Commission report came out this past week. As one might expect from a Presidential Commission, it agreed with President Bush and said let’s do a little less shuttle, a little more exploration, a little less central planning, a little more private transport. Space policy has gotten so bollixed up over the last three decades that this policy of slow-pedaled half-measures garners praise from policy analysts. It is not every blue-ribbon commission that has a wild card like Dick Feynman. If you want to find out what is wrong with the space program, it does not require prying apart a mockup of the Challenger O-ring seal to get to the heart of the matter. NASA is a vestige of the Cold War and like its centrally planned nemesis-cum-partner at Baikonur needs to commercialize, but more than that needs to privatize and start buying instead of building.

I liked a number of things about the Aldridge Commission report:

  • Go as you pay
  • Act like a tenant rather than a landlord
  • Space efforts should be led by someone who reports directly to the President
  • Encourage private industry space operations to assume the primary role of providing services to the federal government
  • Take the field centers out of the federal government
  • Offer more substantial prizes
  • Grant tax incentives
  • Provide regulatory relief
  • Establish property rights in space
  • Create a federal space venture backer like In-Q-Tel.

The Aldridge report did not go nearly far enough especially in the recommendations even as it provided sound justification for more immediate and effective policy in the supporting pages.

Here is a Dinkin Commission report, consisting of one member and zero people consulted, on how the President can be remembered in 2504 as Queen Isabella is today.

The executive summary consists of these 15 points:

  1. Set four goals for America in space: Establish a private suborbital, orbital and point-to-point space transportation industry; widen the space preeminence of the US military; commercialize 90% of NASA by 2008; and colonize the Moon and Mars, returning to the Moon to stay no later than 2008.
  2. Reorganize all space into a cabinet level agency: the Department of Space Security.
  3. Create several customer offices as part of the agency: the Mars Office, the Moon Office and the Deep Space Office. DoD should get its own customer offices in addition to the usual satellite customers: the US Space Navy, the US Space Force, and the US Space Marines.
  4. Create a matrix agency that has heads at State, Commerce, OMB, the PTO, Customs Service, the FCC and even the Fed.
  5. Privatize 50% of NASA in 2005 and 90% of NASA by 2008.
  6. Limit the new department to a customer role specifying functional requirements.
  7. Sell the US portion of the ISS immediately and buy out our obligation to the ISS partners.
  8. Discontinue the space shuttle immediately.
  9. Focus on reusable infrastructure building of mature technology: communications and navigation satellites for Mars and the Moon, and bootstrap a heavy-lift industry by paying for supply dumps on the Moon, Mars and in Earth orbit.
  10. Refocus subsidization efforts to relevant valuable services away from dead end big science.
  11. Scrap the education goal. Send it to the Department of Education.
  12. Create a space patent regime with longer expiration dates. Conduct complete technology transfer with no federally owned space related patents.
  13. Create a space spectrum regime. Sell off some astronomy frequencies to support offworld astronomy activities.
  14. Create a space monetary policy—offer low interest loans that would provide monetary stimulus when needed via a space branch of the Federal Reserve.
  15. Renegotiate space treaties—lead a GATT-like effort to create space property rights.

Detailed Recommendations

1. Set four goals for America in space: Establish a private suborbital, orbital and point-to-point space transportation industry; widen the space pre-eminence of the US military; commercialize 90% of NASA by 2008; and colonize the Moon and Mars, returning to the Moon to stay no later than 2008.

How does one establish an industry? The following recommendation also appears in the Aldridge Commission report. All low Earth orbit payloads should be delivered commercially. By buying delivered capacity on a competitive basis rather than groping for flight data or languishing with the creaking space shuttle, the US can get what it wants from a vibrant, private transport capacity base. There will be gaps while that capacity is getting up to speed, but there is plenty of spare launch capacity around the planet without the shuttle.

By buying delivered capacity on a competitive basis rather than groping for flight data or languishing with the creaking space shuttle, the US can get what it wants from a vibrant, private transport capacity base.

Why would we be looking for space pre-eminence when there are no space threats? When we are bound by Cold War treaties that call for space to be weapon-free? In 1785, we disbanded the last ship of the Continental Navy and the US had no navy. We did not have a navy again until 1797. There was an understanding at that time that we needed a navy to protect commerce. There is going to be development of space in the next few dozen years. There are going to be valuable space assets to protect. There is going to be shipping to defend. There are going to be plenty of US citizens buzzing about. We will need a military that is capable of protecting them. Whether those assets turn out to be space elevators, space stations, solar satellites or whatever, they will need protection.

Space is also the key to economic global power projection. RASCAL and FALCON can be expected to be followed with more ambitious programs to allow insertion of people—space marines or diplomats—and to deliver bigger mass payloads more flexibly and quickly. Soft power can also be projected through space. We may decide to do direct satellite broadcasting to less than free countries. We may decide our President needs to be able to get from place to place on the globe in an hour.

It’s time to retire NASA. What would Carly Fiorina do if her rocket division was uncompetitive, losing hundreds of millions of dollars, overstaffed and based on outdated technology? Would she acquire the Russian Space Agency? No, as a CEO, she would downsize, outsource manufacturing and development, license the brand and close the factories. (Maybe that’s IBM I’m thinking of). NASA is not delivering space. In 1962, John Glenn went around the Earth a few times. In 1998, John Glenn went around the Earth a few times. What exactly are we getting with the ISS that we did not have with Skylab?

We should have a new agency to adopt new thinking. If we can bust the ABM treaty, stick our tongues out at the International Criminal Court, step on the landmine treaty and blow smoke at the Kyoto Treaty, let’s get some bang for our buck and not stop there. Let’s withdraw from the Outer Space Treaty and establish a private property rights regime that opens up a new land rush into space. Let’s re-regulate so we can get some nuclear engines trekking off to Mars.

By commercializing NASA and getting it out of the building business into the buying business, we will establish a strong private space transportation industry. Private industry is innovative. There’s a good chance we can get a new Moore’s Law going that drops the price of space access every year.

Colonizing the Moon and Mars will spark a new boom the likes of which have not been seen in hundreds of years. There’s $100 trillion in real estate lying fallow on Mars and the Moon. By creating a new frontier, the entire world will be galvanized to explore, develop, terraform and adopt. New thinking will pervade. New technologies will emerge. We will have taken the critical step back off the planet as a species, this time permanently.

2. Reorganize all space into a cabinet level agency: the Department of Space Security.

Do we need a threat the size of terrorism to reorganize the government to face the challenges of the 21st century? Well, if there is an asteroid with our name on it every 30 million years or so that can wipe out six billion people, that’s a flux of 200 dead a year which might over time prove to be a bigger loss than terrorism. The hard way. Wouldn’t we rather move a branch of the species off planet? (This kind of thinking suggests that we should be focusing on the flu rather than global terrorism, but people don’t usually finish the argument.)

The United States was farsighted when it came to the Louisiana Purchase and the colonization of western lands. In 500 years, do we want to more than triple the solar system’s potential GDP by colonizing the Moon and Mars?

China is unlikely to be a space threat any time soon. However, like the Navy of the 1790s, it is important that we get our act together to protect the commerce that is coming. If the hot growth area of the solar system economy is the Moon and Mars, the time to prepare their defense is not after they are attacked. The high frontier is a key place to protect Earth security also. We should be able to add substantial Star Trek-style operational remote insertion and intercontinental surgical strike capability to go with our remote sensing, and Star Wars capabilities already on the radar.

Will the 21st century Land Office be the most important part of this agency? The Deep Space office for exploration of Europa? The Mars Authority? Hard to say, but we want to build the foundations for exo-Earth development and government heavy-duty, industrial strength. The economy, conflict, and historical grand challenges they have to manage will make all that came before seem merely a prelude.

The United States was farsighted when it came to the Louisiana Purchase and the colonization of western lands. What would the United States be without these western lands? Five hundred years after Columbus, the United States has a higher per capita GDP than Spain. In 500 years, do we want to more than triple the solar system’s potential GDP by colonizing the Moon and Mars? California and the West make up a big part of the US economy. That wave of colonization took less than 150 years to complete.

The recommendation by the Aldridge Commission that “At least once annually, the Space Exploration Steering Council should meet with the President…” is a recipe for the next September 11 to be the Chinese or some alt.space group fundamentally changing global security by making it cheap to drop rocks on the US, or planting a flag on Olympus Mons, withdrawing from the Outer Space Treaty, and claiming all of Mars with the firepower to back up the claim.

Then people will come back and quote this report and scratch their heads. Why didn’t we clear away the paralysis hampering space development the way we cleared away the barriers to wiretaps and interdepartmental terrorism information sharing post 9/11?

Mr. President, can you whip up a fervor that will breathe life into a space policy? Kennedy did. Mr. President, you did on terrorism, tax breaks, Iraq and prescription drugs. Johnson did on poverty. Eisenhower built a wonder of the world in the interstate highway system. You will have to do it a different way than Dad did and Kennedy did. Put your best people on it from all departments like you did on terrorism and Iraq. You’ll do fine. Move O’Keefe back to OMB after he privatizes NASA.

page 2: creating the Mars Office >>


ISPCS 2015