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  NASA, aerospace contractors and federal funds

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Author Topic:   NASA, aerospace contractors and federal funds
moorouge
Member

Posts: 1896
From: U.K.
Registered: Jul 2009

posted 12-07-2014 07:31 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Can someone explain the logic in this? NASA is funded by federal money to explore space. So NASA gives a huge portion of that funding to a private company to do what they are charged to do.

Why doesn't the government give the money straight to private companies and cut out the middle man, e.g. NASA? Wouldn't it be cheaper in the long run?

alanh_7
Member

Posts: 1097
From: Ajax, Ontario, Canada
Registered: Apr 2008

posted 12-07-2014 07:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for alanh_7   Click Here to Email alanh_7     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think that would be like the US Military needing new F-35 jets and rather than going through the Pentagon, giving the money to Lockheed Martin and bypassing the military.

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 31143
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 12-07-2014 08:34 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There is no middleman; NASA is a federal agency, part of the government.

NASA was created in 1958 to lead the government's activities aeronautics and space, much like the Department of Defense leads the military. The money the space agency spends is federal funds.

moorouge
Member

Posts: 1896
From: U.K.
Registered: Jul 2009

posted 12-07-2014 10:06 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Surely not quite. In the past NASA needed a programme to do 'X', so NASA went to contractors to build the bits that would enable them to carry out 'X'. It was NASA run and managed throughout.

Today, isn't it correct to say that if NASA requires something to do 'Y', it looks to the private sector to see if there is a firm that will sell them the necessary to do 'Y'? NASA neither runs nor manages the programme.

As we saw with the Orion launch, NASA no longer has its own launch teams and there was a distinct possibility that had there been real problems Orion would have had to have been recycled and taken its turn with all the other launches contracted for Complex 37.

Jim Behling
Member

Posts: 749
From: Cape Canaveral, FL
Registered: Mar 2010

posted 12-07-2014 10:29 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Yes, sure quite and no, it isn't correct to say that. NASA isn't the "middleman." It is the government.

Congress (legislative branch) is only one third of the US government, the other two parts being the Executive and Judicial branches. Congress can only pass laws, it has no mechanism to carry out these laws. It is up the the Executive branch (the president and federal agencies) to carry out these laws.

  1. When NASA has a contract with a private firm, it still "runs or manages" the project. What only varies is the depth of penetration/oversight and that is determined by the type of contract. NASA can buy pieces from different contractor and be the integrator, but it will still pay another contractor to provide support or actually be the integrator. NASA doesn't do hands on work for large projects. There are always contractors involved.

  2. NASA never really had its "own" launch teams. They were always mostly contractor with a few NASA personnel in management positions. The makeup of the Delta and Atlas launch teams didn't change much once they became commercialized in the 80's.

  3. As for NASA "owning" launch teams and launch vehicle manifests, there is no connection. If there was any real problem with a payload on the shuttle, it would have been recycled and taken its turn with all the other launches contracted for Complex 39. That happened many times in the past. Orion is just another payload. The shuttle was a launch vehicle. Once the ISS became the only user of the shuttle, then the shuttle would wait around for the ISS cargo.

pupnik
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Posts: 23
From: Maryland
Registered: Jan 2014

posted 12-07-2014 05:05 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for pupnik     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
To do everything in house means you have to always have the people, knowledge, production lines, etc. So for instance, NASA needs high quality lenses for missions, but doesn't need them very often. Should they build a factory and hire all the workers and have all that sitting idle except for the few occasions they need it? Or should they go to private lens manufacturers and say "we need a lens that meets X specifications?" The latter is much cheaper and more efficient, and probably gets better results as they've worked many many other projects outside NASA as well building up their knowledge base.

Even when you look at "quintessential" NASA activities like launches, they actually don't launch very often. You could start a NASA production line making rocket engines but if they only need 2 or 3 of those engines a year those technicians are going to be sitting around doing nothing but collecting paychecks quite a bit.

And on a bit of a political bent, the US tends to be averse to state-run industry.

Cozmosis22
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Posts: 448
From: Texas * Earth
Registered: Apr 2011

posted 12-09-2014 03:26 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Cozmosis22     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Regarding the government/industry relationship; this from a speech by Vice President Lyndon Johnson at the American Rocket Society meeting in New York City on Saturday October 14, 1961:
In preparing for this speech, I looked over the list of names of those who worked out the technical papers for this event. My first thought was what an impetus the national space effort would receive if all those people were on the government's space rolls.

For example, 80% of the first 180 names mentioned on the program came from private industry or universities. Obviously, those organizations could ill afford to lose such talent. But one of the major problems confronting our space effort stems from the government's own rules which prevent it from competing for talent with private organizations.

We, in the government, must find a way to offer top competence more than a large sacrifice and a small paycheck.

Just last week, at the request of the President, I visited five of our major space installations. The difficulty of retaining high-quality personnel was clearly the greatest problem observed. All too often, the government space installations are training grounds for the highly paid technicians and vice presidents of private industry. We lose far too many of our best people.

Mike_The_First
Member

Posts: 152
From: Joliet, IL
Registered: Jun 2014

posted 12-09-2014 03:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Mike_The_First   Click Here to Email Mike_The_First     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Cozmosis22:
...this from a speech by Vice President Lyndon Johnson at the American Rocket Society meeting in New York City on Saturday October 14, 1961
I don't want to get into the politics of it all, but two years later, he took over the presidency and held that role for a term and a half.

In that six years, did he do anything to solve what he claimed was a problem?

All times are CT (US)

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