23 October 2001
Online - Tourism (Good)
Space Tourism Report Available on NASA Website
Space Future Wins Years-long Campaign
by Patrick Collins
The very positive report on the feasibility of space tourism published by Nasa in March 1998 is now available via Nasa's web-site. Typing 'space tourism' into the search form brings it up as the 3rd reference, dated 25 July, 2001. This follows three and a half years during which Nasa administrator Goldin prevented it being publicly accessible.

The report is notable in several ways. Most importantly, it is economically the most valuable report that Nasa has ever published, since it describes what is going to become the largest business activity in space. It explains the prospects for space tourism, and includes a long list of recommendations for realising it - none of which Nasa has implemented. In addition, the pages of references on pages 22 and 23 of the report itself (pages 26 and 27 of the PDF file) refer favourably to work by the Japanese Rocket Society, Bristol Spaceplanes, and www.spacefuture.com--who have been campaigning for the end of Nasa's 'cover-up' of this subject for years.

Clearly connected with this, a new commercial policy embracing tourism has been drafted by Bush-appointee Nasa Chief-of-Staff Courtney Stadd. It is excellent to see 'the T word' used in Nasa's draft plan - it appears 4 times in the Aviation Week article describing it (September 24, p 64.)

This must have added to the humiliation of the public's overwhelming support for Dennis Tito against administrator Goldin's public campaign to prevent him visiting the international space station, because shortly thereafter he announced his resignation, effective November 17.

Nevertheless, it remains doubtful how much difference the new policy proposal will make in practice. Unless Nasa is fundamentally restructured so as to alter its economic interests, it will inevitably continue to spend taxpayers' money on projects that benefit NASA itself--typically by strengthening its monopoly--rather than benefiting US taxpayers.

In principle it is not difficult to resolve this situation - Nasa should be restructured along the lines of the original NACA (the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, with the second A updated to Aerospace), with the explicit priority of nurturing a healthy commercial space industry. Unfortunately, this is politically difficult, since politicians will inevitably use their influence to resist cuts in their districts. What progress is made in this direction will depend heavily on the Bush administration's appointee as Nasa administrator.

A promising sign is that George W. Bush is said to have never visited Nasa's Johnson space centre, even though it's in his home state. As a Republican he is perhaps not impressed by an organisation that lives off the taxpayer and offers so little in return. But how much political capital his administration will be prepared to invest in restructuring Nasa remains to be seen.
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Patrick Collins 23 October 2001
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