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The Case for Commercial Crew

Today, the Washington Post editorial board offered a strong endorsement of commercial spaceflight for cargo and crew missions to the International Space Station. In today’s paper, the editorial board highlighted the Augustine Committee’s support of commercial spaceflight and wrote, “Now that the station is nearly complete, this might be an optimal time to open space to entrepreneurs. … It’s time to boldly go where no man has gone before. That means opening space to the kind of private-sector competition that revolutionized cyberspace…”

Given the Washington Post endorsement today, we thought it would be timely to list some of the benefits of the $2.5 billion Commercial Crew program advocated by the Augustine Committee in its final public hearing:

Commercial Crew will reduce our dependence on Russia and prevent extra U.S. taxpayer dollars from being sent overseas:
• When the Space Shuttle retires in 2011, the U.S. will purchase seats on Russian Soyuz vehicles to send our astronauts to the $100 billion Space Station, sending our funds overseas at the price of at least $51 million per seat.
• Russian per-seat prices have continued to rise, and without a near-term domestic alternative, we are vulnerable to even greater increases in Russian prices.

Commercial Crew will create jobs across multiple large and small companies:

• Companies that have publicly expressed interest in participating include United Launch Alliance (4000 employees), as well as medium sized companies such as Sierra Nevada Corporation (1600 employees) and SpaceX (800 employees), all companies that have built and flown space hardware in orbit.
• A full Commercial Crew program would leverage private investment to create thousands of jobs in states including Florida, Nevada, Colorado, Virginia, Texas, California, and Alabama.

Commercial Crew offers our best opportunity to reduce the U.S. spaceflight gap:

• Commercial human spaceflight will not require the development of completely new launch vehicles, instead using existing vehicles and those already under development such as the Atlas V, Taurus II, or Falcon 9. Combined, these vehicles are already under contract to fly over 40 flights to orbit in the next four years.
• Only through a Commercial Crew program will it be possible to fully utilize the Space Station for scientific research, expanding the Space Station workforce at several NASA centers.

Commercial Crew will leverage an industry that is already trusted to safely launch multi-billion national security assets and scientific missions:

• The commercial spaceflight industry is already relied upon to launch multi-billion-dollar national security missions, upon which the safety of our nation and our armed forces depends, as well as expensive, one-of-a-kind scientific satellites for government customers including NASA.