National Research Council Supports Non-NASA Operator for Space Station Research

By Keith Cowing
January 11, 2000
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[11 Jan 2000] The NRC Space Studies Board’s Task Group to Review Alternative Institutional Arrangements for Space Station Research has issued a report on International Space Station Utilization. According to an NRC press release, the report, “Institutional Arrangements for Space Station Research”, recommends that: “a private organization capable of representing the broad interests of the science and engineering research community should be established to manage U.S. research activities on the International Space Station (ISS). The proposed organization would focus on supporting the research agenda of the space station, including planning and scheduling experiments, while NASA would continue to manage the station’s construction, basic operations, and maintenance.”

In making its recommendations, the committee urged NASA “to move quickly and establish the new organization by 2001” such that “the proposed organization is in place and actively involved in coordinating research plans well before the scheduled completion of the space station in 2004”.

In considering a range of proposals for the actual utilization of ISS, The committee “cited areas where a private organization could be more effective than NASA in managing a diverse research portfolio. Chief among these is the
ability to better understand and integrate the needs of a broad array of researchers and to foster new directions for research in additional scientific fields. An independent entity outside NASA also would provide the scientific and engineering research community with a single point of contact. “

The model chosen by the committee to best manage research and commercialization tasks is that of a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) – a concept that has received enthusiastic support in Congress, particularly from the House Science Committee and its Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee.

This report comes at a time when NASA, Congress, and the White House all openly express an interest in space commercialization in general, and the utilization of ISS resources in particular. Yet despite this broad interest, last minute maneuvering by NASA to insert commercialization language into the FY 2000 VA-HUD Appropriations Conference Report in the Fall of 1999 left many members of both the House and Senate somewhat angered at NASA’s tactics and haphazard commercialization philosophy.

The comprehensive approach taken by this committee, and the broad consensus its recommendations will likely receive on Capitol Hill, at NASA, and within the private sector, should revive the momentum for a new push for space commercialization.

Moreover, at a time when ISS delays seem to be more pressing than ever, ISS supporters can at least point to the fact that clear thought is now being given to how to actually go about the organizational task of utilizing this unprecedented orbital resource once it is finally assembled.

° Space Station Research Should Be Managed By Private Organization Instead of NASA, press release, National Research Council

° Institutional Arrangements for Space Station Research, Task Group to Review Alternative Institutional Arrangements for Space Station Research, National
Research Council

° Internal Study Potential Pathfinder Areas for Commercial Development of the International Space Station, Discussion Draft, NASA HQ, October 1998 [PDF]

° Reference Model A Non-Government Organization (NGO) for Space Station Utilization Management, Discussion Draft, NASA HQ, October 1998 [PDF]

° Space Commercialization, NASA Watch

° Space Commercialization, SpaceRef Directory

° Space Station Research Plan, NASA OLMSA

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.