From the very beginning, have you tried to support trade partnerships with the space industry, or has this developed out of necessity?
I would describe the goal as increasing the efficiency of the tax dollar and reducing the cost of reaching orbit. Because then at this moment NASA can do more modern, unique, interesting, important things in space.
Partnership with industry was not the goal. It was a result, a way to achieve a goal we all shared in space policy – since the Nixon administration – to reduce the cost of space transport. Doing this with the private sector was something that started in the 1990s, and continuing those efforts was the obvious way. We had lost almost the entire start-up market to the French, Chinese and Russians in the late 1990s, and we gained that market share by paying [private US companies] transporting cargo and astronauts to the space station was a major economic boom for the nation.
You said a few years ago that NASA must abandon its “socialist” approach to space exploration. What did you mean by that and do you still believe?
This was a direct response to the space launch system and Orion, which were launched by Congress after our proposal [to defund them] were not accepted. Indeed, the shuttle, the Constellation program that the Bush administration created to follow the shuttle, and then SLS / Orion, were all made in a government-led way that mimicked the Soviet approach.
NASA is collaborating on a commercial program for crew with SpaceXand now Boeingto transport astronauts to the International Space Station. Would you say that this was a far-sighted approach after the subsequent problems with Russia and how it is more difficult to obtain Union spacecraft flights?
I guess I feel less “insightful” than was so obvious to me and many people that we didn’t want to rely on the Russians forever. On the one hand, they were a monopoly supplier. They kept raising their prices and there was absolutely nothing we could do about it. We needed our own systems and ideally more than one.
Look, we had experience with the shuttle: the government developed one. We had two accidents. He stopped for more than two years after each of the crashes. So it was a little surprising that the concept seemed so contradictory.
What types of resistance did you face and from whom as you tried to expand NASA’s support or partnerships for the private space industry?
He looked like everyone else at the time. There was no support in the leadership at NASA. As I say in the book, the head of NASA – I was a deputy – did not support me and did not ask for money for [commercial crew] program in the budget. But I had led the transition team and talked to the president about it, and I worked closely with the White House’s chief scientific adviser and the Office of Scientific Technology and Policy, the National Economic Council, the Office of Management and Budget. They were all very much in favor of this policy. So it went into our budget without the NASA administrator or senior executives in charge of human spaceflight at NASA really getting involved.