We had lost nearly the entire launch market to the French, Chinese, and Russians in the late ’90s, and winning back that market share by paying [private US companies] to take cargo and astronauts to the space station was a big economic boom for the nation.
A few years ago, you said that NASA needs to abandon its “socialist” approach to space exploration. What did you mean by that, and do you still believe that?
That was in direct response to the Space Launch System and Orion, which were started by Congress after our proposal [to defund them] had not been accepted. Really, the shuttle, the Constellation program, which the Bush administration established to follow the shuttle, and then SLS/Orion, were all done in a government-directed way that mimics a Soviet approach.
NASA collaborated on a commercial crew program with SpaceX, and now Boeing, to transport astronauts to the International Space Station. Would you say that was a prescient approach, following subsequent troubles with Russia and how it’s harder to get flights on Soyuz spacecraft?
I guess I feel less “prescient” than it was just so obvious to me, and to a lot of people, that we didn’t want to count on the Russians forever. For one, they were a monopoly provider. They kept increasing 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 the experience with the shuttle: The government developed one. We had two accidents. After each of the accidents, it stood down for more than two years. So it was a bit surprising that the concept seemed so controversial.