As the shuttle programme winds down, political pressures have forced NASA to extend a hand to the nascent commercial space launch industry. Private sector operators will be given the opportunity to bid for contracts and transport astronauts or supplies to the International Space Station. Yet, after publishing their requirements, NASA came under heavy criticism for trying to replicate their engineering culture of triplicate within the new companies:
Still, commercial space proponents said the initial draft demonstrates the resistance of some NASA officials to the types of dramatic changes in oversight necessary to create a thriving commercial sector. "The document runs a mind-numbing 260 pages of densely spaced requirements," Hale wrote.
"Most disappointing, on pages 7 to 11 is a table of 74 additional requirements documents which must be followed, in whole or in part. Taken all together, there are thousands of requirement statements referenced in this document," he added. "And for every one NASA will require a potential commercial space flight provider to document, prove, and verify with massive amounts of paperwork and/or electronic forms. This, folks is the old way of doing business. This is one of the major reasons why spaceflight is as costly as it is."
McAlister countered those assertions, saying the space agency is striving "to maximize safety and reliability" without burdening commercial firms with unnecessary requirements that lead to higher development and operations costs.
Given NASA's drawbacks in safety over the years, one can be charitable or sceptical over the level of detail required from a commercial spacecraft provider. Moreover, we do not have a successful company providing a reliable service in the private sector. Yet, one wonders if NASA requires the Russians to provide a similar level of data under their agreements of did that dour race answer "Nyet".
Whatever the motives behind NASA, one senses that the customer is acting as regulator: a conflict of interest open to abuse.