Thursday, December 07, 2006

WSJ on NASA moon base plan

NASA released more details about the Return to the Moon plan, including a base at one of the lunar poles. It also stressed opportunities for commercial participation in the plan. However, all of that is decades away, and until then the core of the plan is driven by new rockets and space vehicles designed, built, and operated by NASA. A business would have to be skeptical about the likelihood that the NASA plan will be cancelled, or run into insurmountable technical problems, or have a transportation system that is so expensive that there is no money left over for a base, or will be delayed years or decades. The initial promises of commercial use of the Space Shuttle and the ISS come to mind. To be taken seriously (and to increase the chance that it will work, and to increase the stakeholders), the NASA plan needs to have more commercial interest along the way, not decades later. That could include different kinds of COTS contracts, more (and more ambitious) Centennial Challenges, NASA purchase of commercial services like suborbital or orbital rides, Bigelow space hotel services, lunar science data, etc. There are many choices.

Space Politics reports that the Wall Street Journal is skeptical of the current Moon plan. I don't have a WSJ subscription and hence have not read the editorial, but SP notes that the Journal proposes an alternative program consisting of a prize scaled to about 1/2 NASA's early cost estimate for the completion of a comparable base.