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Addressing the Kennedy Space Center Thursday, President Obama laid out his plan for the space program. He expects NASA to put astronauts in Mars orbit by the mid-2030s, but is counting on private companies to run trips closer to home. Ira Flatow and guests discuss NASA's future. Howard McCurdy, professor, School of Public Affairs, American University, Washington, D.C., visiting professor, Evans School of Public Affairs, University of Washington, Seattle, Wash.Bill Adkins, president, Adkins Strategies, LLC, former staff director, House Space and Aeronautics Sub-Committee, Washington, D.C.Elon Musk, CEO and CTO, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), Hawthorne, Calif.
FLATOW: But Howard, are they going to continue to do that model? Will the military still use these other rockets that were not mentioned?Mr. MUSK: Yeah...Prof. McCURDY: Well, I think that the model applies equally as well to the military and civil space. What's happening here is a globalization of the launch industry. It's sufficiently mature now that at least NASA can get out of the business of running an airline in a similar way that the U.S. Cavalry got out of the business of delivering the mail in 1925 and spurred the development of the aviation industry.The big risk in all of this is whether or not private industry, with the incentives that competition provides, can do for, say, three to six billion dollars what NASA was planning on doing for about 30 to 35 billion dollars, developing the next generation of launch vehicles to get humans to and from low-Earth orbit. That's a big risk.FLATOW: Bill, do you agree?Mr. ADKINS: Well, I think there's a - part of the problem in having a debate about this policy is a lot of it's a debate about labels about what is commercial, and I like, whenever anybody asks that, to ask them: What does it mean to be government?Because I'm not sure that that debate really serves a purpose. I think the real question is, is: How will NASA implement this policy? And the devil's in the details, and there are lots of nuances. So one area of concern is if NASA, as they proposed, is to put industry up to bid on fixed-price contracts. And this program is still in beginning stages, and no one truly understands the requirements and the technical complexity of it, and it's very difficult to put a fixed price on a complex development. And there's a long history of problems in the Defense Department with fixed-price, complex contracts.And I think the debate about commercial versus government is really the way to look at it, and they really need to look beyond that at exactly how does NASA plan to implement that program, and does it balance the risks appropriately?FLATOW: So you're waiting for the details to come out. The devil's in the details.