CASIS Is Not The Best Way To Use a Space Station

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CASIS Is Not The Best Way To Use a Space Station

On Saturday a Cygnus cargo vehicle arrived at the International Space Station. On board: a variety of experiments. Some of the experiments made it to the ISS via CASIS - a non-profit organization that relies on NASA for 99.9%+ of its income.

Yet if you look at the press release issued to news media by CASIS about Cygnus' arrival, there is no mention whatsoever of "NASA" - even though NASA paid for Cygnus - and all of CASIS' payloads on board.

Last Fall I posted a series of articles that looked into how CASIS operates. I am told that this exercise caused some consternation within CASIS and, to some extent, within NASA as well. I was also told that changes were being made at CASIS - by CASIS staff themselves. So I thought I'd wait a bit and see if anything started to change. It has been 6 months since I started posting this series. I detect no change in CASIS whatsoever. They are as oblivious to their long-standing problems and equally as clueless as to the need to change as they were last year.

CASIS is making a presentation at a National Academy of Sciences event on Wednesday and at a NASA Advisory Council meeting on Thursday. Since they're going to be explaining themselves to several influential audiences here in Washington, let's pick up where I left off - starting with a recap.


Origins

CASIS (Center for Advancement of Science in Space, Inc.) was created in response to legislation by Congress (NASA Authorization Act of 2010) to manage the U.S. portion of the ISS - which was designated as the ISS National Laboratory. Done in the spirit of other national laboratories around the U.S. the intent was noble - but the implementation was highly flawed. While there were two main competitors for this contract, it was a foregone conclusion that a team assembled by Florida - to operate in Florida - with people already in Florida - would win. Sen. Bill Nelson saw to that. He even jumped the gun in announcing the selection of the winner - in Florida.

CASIS came into existence as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in 2011 and receives $15 million a year from NASA. That money is given to CASIS without any need for CASIS to prove that it is worthy of continued funding. There is no penalty for under-performance by CASIS - or even failed performance. CASIS gets the money no matter what - because Congress says so. Were NASA to try and change their arrangement with CASIS significantly or even re-compete the CASIS contract for cause, Sen. Nelson and Congress would certainly halt such efforts before they began.

So ... NASA is stuck with CASIS for as long as CASIS wants to get $15 million a year from NASA. That will continue until 2020. Truth be known, CASIS is simply a Potemkin village of sorts created so that NASA can launder some money and create some high priced jobs in Florida in the process. The intent is to give the public the impression that NASA has handed the utilization of the ISS off to a solid, science-oriented non-profit that runs a national laboratory - because NASA can't do it. However, in many ways, CASIS simply duplicates functions that NASA already has in place - indeed, functions that NASA runs in parallel with CASIS. CASIS has also adopted a lot of NASA's bad habits as well. Since NASA pays all of CASIS' costs, one has to wonder if such duplication of efforts is worth the added expense. Given that science funding for ISS has always been lacking, one also has to ask whether this is the best use of NASA's limited science funds.

CASIS focuses only on what CASIS does and often ignores what NASA is doing on ISS - even when it offers direct synergies to what CASIS is doing. At the same time CASIS is chasing its own tail it is missing out on a lot of new technologies. With little apparent oversight on the part of NASA - and little interaction with the agency on overall goals and objectives - CASIS misses out on many chances to enhance and expand upon what NASA is doing. Doing a better job than NASA was the whole point of CASIS' existence but that has not been borne out in practice.

Full story at NASAWatch

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