A group of conservatives calling on the government to turn over more of its activities to the private sector would seem hardly surprising or newsworthy. However, in the often distorted world of space policy of the last year, such a declaration is perceived at the very least as necessary.
“It’s been a funny year in space policy,” said Rand Simberg, representing the Competitive Enterprise Institute, at a hastily-organized Capitol Hill event announcing the formation of the Competitive Space Task Force (I received the media advisory about it a full 22 minutes before it was scheduled to start.) The task force is a coalition of conservative groups and individuals seeking “a free and competitive market for spaceflight and space services enabling the country to recapture the imagination and innovation of America’s space program and foster a new entrepreneurial spirit in the emerging Space Economy,” according to its press release. “We’re here to try and change the conversation,” Simberg, chairman of the task force, said.
The task force wants to drum up support among conservatives for the administration’s proposals to develop commercial crew transportation systems and terminate the Constellation program, despite the fact that they come from a White House whose policies are generally anathema to most conservatives. In particular, they argue that commercialization efforts can help NASA get more done with limited funding and allow it to focus on cutting edge work beyond the scope of the private sector. “That’s what this effort is all about, is to add to our ability to do space, not subtract from our ability to do space,” said Bob Walker, former chairman of the House Science Committee. He added that over the last two decades NASA has become “unaffordable” because it can’t handle alone everything the country wants to do in space.
The task force doesn’t have any specific initiatives or legislation in mind to push for its objectives (which include, according to the release, opening up the ISS to “the fullest possible economic utilization by the U.S. private sector” and greater used of fixed-price contracts by NASA). Andrew Langer of the Institute for Liberty said that’s due in part to uncertainties about the federal budget, with the administration due to release its FY12 proposal next week. “We’re really anxious to see what the president’s budget priorities are going to be when it comes to NASA,” he said. “We’re going to be working with folks up here on the Hill to make sure that policies are going to be enacted to support commercial programs.”
While this group may suppot the administration’s commercial space policies, just don’t expect them to start sporting “Obama 2012? buttons any time soon. “I just don’t think that the president cares that much one way or the other about commercial space,” Simberg said in response to a question. “But I’m glad for that. I think if he did we’d have worse problems.”