Bolden hints at commercial participation on human deep space efforts
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla — NASA held an impromptu photo opportunity with the Orion spacecraft that carried out the Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1 ) mission, which was flown on Dec. 5, 2014. During the Jan. 6 event NASA Administrator Charles Bolden expressed the ongoing support that the agency has for commercial space flight efforts – as well as the personality the former Marine Corps General – has become known for. Perhaps more importantly, the administrator hinted that commercial companies might have a role to play in the agency’s deep space exploration efforts.
The Orion spacecraft was unveiled with the opening of the doors at the Launch Abort System Facility located at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. After a short wait, Paul Cooper, a manager with Lockheed Martin, the spacecraft’s manufacturer and the Kennedy Space Center Associate Director Kelvin Manning gave brief opening remarks. They were followed by Bolden who lauded the team who recovered Orion, inviting them to join him in front of the crowd. He then asked some of them to regale those in attendance with what the experience of retrieving the uncrewed spacecraft from the Pacific Ocean was like.
Bolden has become known among members of the media for being comfortable with showing emotions to the public. When asking one worker who assisted in Orion’s recovery, Bolden asked if the man had encountered an; “…oh s###” moment.
During the event, Bolden also expressed optimism regarding SpaceX’s efforts to land the first stage of its Falcon 9 v1.1 booster on a barge positioned out in the Atlantic Ocean (that flight is now scheduled to take place on Jan 10 at 4:47 a.m. EST).
“We are expectantly happy about getting the first stage (to land) on a barge,” Bolden said. “Our big objective, if you want to know the bottom line, is getting launch costs down, and if reusable spacecraft accomplishes that better than one that is not? We don’t care who does it or how they do it – we just want to get launch costs down. It just costs too much to get to orbit these days.”
Bolden, a veteran of four flights to orbit himself, made sure to note that Orion and those spacecraft that currently ferry supplies to the International Space Station (as well as those that are being developed to send crew to the orbiting lab as well) are not competing with one another.
“There is no competition between this vehicle (Orion) or any of the commercial vehicles,” Bolden said. “This vehicle has one purpose, and that was the agreement that we made with industry, that NASA would focus on deep space exploration and we selected Orion as the vehicle to do that for us.”
Instead, Bolden noted that sending crew and cargo to low-Earth orbit – is something NASA has been doing for more than 50 years and it was time to allow commercial space entities to take responsibility in this area.
“We do hope that Orion blazes the trail for others to follow it, just as we did with Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Shuttle…we got really comfortable that we knew how to get to low-Earth orbit and we felt that it was time to hand that off to industry,” Bolden said. “I think when we finish the first few flights on Orion, we will feel comfortable enough to say, ‘okay guys’ help us out if you can and we want as many companies as possible to be poised to do that.”
This statement suggests that the space agency plans to further the relationships that it has forged with private partners in the past decade. NASA has developed an array of programs designed to enable aerospace firms to handle tasks that were at one time the sole purview of NASA.
Bolden retired from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2004 with the rank of Major General, he was nominated by President Barack Obama to be the NASA Administrator on May 23, 2009.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.