Saturday, January 28, 2012

Why Constellation failed and why Romney is not the answer

Another long title for a short post.  It is a thought, not fully fleshed out, but there are others who can do it better.

That would be Bill Whittle, here, describing what's wrong with how the government does space.  To put it succinctly, it is a matter of incentives.  The government's incentives are to get bigger, but not necessarily better.  With respect to the space program, the government does cost plus contracts as opposed to fixed price contracts.

The result of cost plus contracts is what we have today.  A government that spends 17 billion dollars a year and can't get anybody to a 100 billion dollar space station.

The result of fixed price contracts is real hardware that can do real things at a tiny fraction of the cost.  Spacex's Falcon 9 is but one example, as discussed in Whittle's video

So Romney just announced his space team and it looks like a rehash of the failed Constellation program.  Romney ridicules Gingrich's moonbase, but should that be so lightly dismissed?  It shouldn't be lightly dismissed because Gingrich has his finger on the pulse of the problem, while Romney doesn't.  For example, Gingrich wants to do prizes, although he may do better by just doing fixed price contracts.  Yet, Gingrich is on the right track because he is incentivizing it better than Romney.   The use of prizes may have its difficulties in getting implemented, but the commercial space initiatives have been implemented with successful results so far.   The key point here is to build upon success, not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Romney likes to fire people, but he ought to look at himself a little closer in the mirror.  Otherwise, he may be the one who gets fired.   Rightly so, in my opinion.  

Romney claimed in the most recent debate that a moon base would cost a trillion dollars.  If he used the Constellation paradigm, which he appears to be favoring, that is what it could cost.  So, it only demonstrates that he doesn't understand the nature of the problem, his finger is not on the pulse as Gingrich's is.  On the other hand, if he used a fixed price contract model, which is closer to what Gingrich proposes, the cost would be only a tiny fraction, just as it has been in the commercial space program.

To put it short and sweet, the private sector does it better and cheaper.

If both candidates don't improve their messaging, neither will be able to beat Obama on this issue.  Otherwise, Obama  may take over this issue himself.  Yet the original concept began during the Bush administration.  They had better remind voters of that.  Voters should also be reminded that cost plus contracts are why governments get too big and run up trillion dollar deficits.

As a high profile program, the space program can show the way to a better government as well as to new worlds.

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