Contractors to Run U.S. Space Program?

In a letter to President Obama, IAM President Tom Buffenbarger warns of significant domestic job losses, potential security breaches and the loss of important new technologies if the administration moves forward with its plan to have NASA rely on the private sector to develop and operate the nation’s manned space program.

“NASA plays a critical role in both our national and economic security,” wrote Buffenbarger. “Our space program has been a driver of innovation in such key technologies as computers and composite materials, and plays an important role in emerging industries such as wind energy and sensors to detect biological threats.”

Under a plan put forward by the Obama adminstration, NASA would phase out it’s space shuttle program and “partner” with private contractors in the aerospace industry to provide launch services and astronaut transportation to the International Space Station.

Additional concerns about privatizing the nation’s manned space program include the movement of production, maintenance and assembly operation out of the United States, where safety and security could be compromises and sacrificed to maximize profits.

“The push to privatize space travel is similar to effort to privatize other critical government services,” said Buffenbarger. “These efforts are based on anti-government ideology and are promoted by companies that want to profit from government outsourcing. It defies common sense to believe that the way to save NASA money is to outsource even more when these same contractors are already frequently over budget and often involved in over-billing and even fraud.”

Rather than rely on private companies and foreign countries to transport U.S. astronauts, the IAM is calling for an extension of the existing shuttle program and an acceleration and modification of the next generation Ares and Orion programs to meet NASA’s mission needs.