Did you try to support commercial partnerships with the space industry from the beginning, or did it develop out of necessity?
I would describe the goal as increasing the efficiency of the tax crown and reducing the cost of getting into circulation. Because at that point, NASA can do more groundbreaking, unique, interesting, important things in space.
Collaborating with industry was not a goal. It was a result, a path to achieving a goal that we all shared in space policy – since the Nixon administration – to reduce the cost of space transportation. Doing it with the private sector was something that started in the 90s and to continue these efforts was the obvious way to go. We had lost almost the entire launch market to the French, Chinese and Russians in the late 90s and regained market share by paying [private US companies] taking cargo and astronauts to the space station was a major 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 in it?
It was a direct response to the Space Launch System and Orion, which was launched by Congress following our proposal [to defund them] had not been accepted. In fact, the space shuttle, the Constellation program, which the Bush administration established to follow the space shuttle, and then SLS / Orion, were all carried out in a government-controlled manner that mimics a Soviet approach.
NASA collaborated on one commercial crew program with SpaceXand now Boeingto transport astronauts to the International Space Station. Would you say that it was a foresighted approach, after subsequent problems with Russia, and how it is harder to get flights with Soyuz spacecraft?
I probably feel less “accurate” than it was just so clear to me and to many people that we did not want to count on the Russians forever. First, they were a monopoly provider. They kept raising their prices and there was absolutely nothing we could do about it. We needed our own systems, and preferably more than one.
See, we had the experience with the space 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 little surprising that the concept seemed so controversial.
What kind of opposition did you encounter, and from whom, as you sought to expand NASA’s support or partnerships to the private space industry?
At the time, it seemed like everyone. At NASA, there was no support in management. As I say in the book, the head of NASA – I was the deputy – was not supportive 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 worked closely with the White House Chief Science Adviser and the Office of Science 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 got into our budget without the NASA administrator or the top executives in charge of human spaceflight at NASA really being involved.