Spacelift Washington: Did Goldin’s Wrath Kill the 2001 Space Tourism Expo?

By frank_sietzen
August 6, 2001
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Spacelift Washington

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WASHINGTON, AUGUST 7 – Organizers of a Labor Day weekend Space Tourism Expo in California have been forced to cancel their plans. The reason? Four NASA space centers, plus the agency’s Washington, DC headquarters, suddenly reneged on promises to provide substantial support for the event in the form of space agency exhibits.

And while the field centers claim a series of unrelated and unpredictable mishaps resulted in the change of plans, supporters of space tourism are looking east for the source of their woes in the long reaching arm of NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin.

Backers of the expo now hope to hold their event in late 2002 – hopefully with some participation by NASA after (one would expect) possible new leadership in the NASA chief’s chair. As far as 2001 is concerned, according to one of the planners, he was told by the space agency’s Washington, DC headquarters “NASA would not have any exhibits at any event that used the words ‘space tourism’”.

What follows is the story of what transpired, case-by-case, as related on the record by Larry Evans, one of the planners of the event and the head of the Orange County Space Society. NASA contacts (name, email, phone) have been provided to aid anyone who seeks to get their own answers on this matter directly from NASA.

The four NASA centers that had promised to provide support to the expo were:

  • Johnson Space Center
  • Marshall Spaceflight Center
  • Ames Research Center
  • Dryden Flight Research Center

The story of Johnson Space Center:

Evans said that more than a year ago he had contacted JSC (Leah Elliott: 281-483-8687; leah.elliott1@jsc.nasa.gov; Louis Parker: 281-483-8622; louis.a.parker1@jsc.nasa.gov) about having their ISS trailer exhibit come to the expo. The exhibit is huge, consisting of two semi-trailers and containing a walk-through space station exhibit. Evans also said JSC offered to loan the expo several other models and exhibits, as long as the expo paid for their shipping and related insurance. But some six months later, when Evans sought a signed agreement to participate, he was told that “the ISS trailers were scheduled for maintenance during the Labor Day holiday.” In addition, Evans was told about a month ago that a storm had “caused a lot of damage and had torn the roof off of the building where many of the requested exhibits were located.” As a result, the items had been destroyed.

Editor’s note: Steve Nesbitt at NASA JSC replies: “We received a loan application from Larry Evans dated January 26. On Feb. 2, we sent a letter by fax from Louis Parker to Larry Evans confirming our plans to support the event with five exhibits listed in an attached loan agreement. Those included three panel displays, a moon rock replica and a large 1/50th scale shuttle stack model. The cover letter to Mr. Evans stated that the formal loan agreement must be signed and returned to NASA by May 4. The agreement was not signed and returned. On June 19, Leah Elliott called to inform the requestor that one of the panel exhibits had been damaged in the collapse of a portion of our exhibits warehouse in Tropical Storm Allison. You may recall the news accounts of that storm which did billions of dollars in damage to Houston. During that June 19 call, the requestor, not NASA, canceled the entire request.”

Marshall weighs in

About a year before the expo, Evans says he contacted NASA Headquarters in Washington (Elsie Weigel: 202-358-2345; eweigel@mail.hq.nasa.gov) seeking a series of computer kiosks that housed interactive exhibits on the space shuttle, ISS, robotics and future advanced space project ideas. Evans says NASA HQ said there would be no problem with participating in the expo and providing the kiosks.

However, six months ago, he was informed that jurisdiction over the kiosk exhibit had been transferred to the Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville. Marshall had also produced a trailer exhibit called “Starship 2040”, which Evans says he was told would not only be available for display at the expo, but would be accompanied by several other secondary exhibits. (John Doumalin: 256-544-6541)

But the MSFC enthusiasm for the expo suddenly cooled about six months ago, when exhibit officials “gave us the run-around” about the computer kiosks, Evans said. NASA HQ told Evans in no uncertain terms that the attendance was out. “NASA HQ would not approve of it (the computer kiosks) being sent to our expo because of “space tourism” issues”. And he was told furthermore that the expo was so small, “it didn’t warrant sending anything” anyway. Later Evans says he was told the “official” reason was that the Glenn Research Center has asked for the Starship trailer instead.

Ames says Nyet

The Ames Research Center was ready to support the expo, Evans says, until budget cuts made restoration of the exhibits it was to send impossible. “They no longer had any money to restore the exhibits that had been damaged,” Evans said. A moonrock and some “smaller exhibits” were offered instead, shortly before planners canceled the 2001 show.

Dryden dries up

The Dryden Flight Research Center (Sondra Geddes: 800-521-3416; sondra.geddes@mail.dfrc.nasa.gov and Maryanne Harness: 661-276-3446; maryann.harness@mail.dfrc.nasa.gov) was initially enthusiastic but suddenly advised that there was another commitment with an airshow that weekend. Evans says he was told that there were other exhibit items that could have been substituted but “that they just didn’t want to participate”. The Dryden education office also was initially cooperative, but came to tell Evans “NASA would not have any exhibits at any event that used the words ‘Space Tourism’”

Just a coincidence?

So what is to be made of this? A series of unrelated events, bad timing, or institutional paranoia on the part of NASA?

NASA’s shyness with regard to the topic of space tourism is long-standing. Unless you are incredibly intuitive and/or know to go directly to the link for “External Organizations” on the NASA HQ Office of Policy and Plans website and click on the link for the Space Transportation Association you would never know that there was a NASA-funded “General Public Space Travel and Tourism” Study in 1998. Alas, the link NASA uses to point to the Executive Summary of this NASA report (the only text online anywhere) is not to a NASA website. Isn’t it odd that NASA wouldn’t even post one of its own reports on its own website?

Meanwhile, de facto ISS space tourist standards have not been released by NASA – this despite a pledge by NASA Administrator Dan Goldin that they would be. These standards (“Principles Regarding Processes and Criteria for Selection, Assessment, Training, and Certification of ISS (Expedition and Visiting) Crew Members”), under development by the ISS program, were adopted as interim requirements for Dennis Tito’s flight upon the recommendation of a special committee headed by former astronaut Thomas Stafford. These requirements were supposed to be formally accepted by all of the partners in the ISS program at a ‘heads of agencies’ meeting in Montreal last month. Yet they are still not publicly available. [Note: see “Dennis Tito’s Space Vacation is GO” for background on the development of these standards].

The string of seemingly related events on the part of NASA might just be a coincidence. However, some would prefer to say that NASA’s agencywide reverse manuever vis-a-vis the Space Tourism Expo was additional proof of the hostile, anti- space tourism attitude of Dan Goldin’s NASA. This bias is allegedly not shared, some claim, by the Bush White House. Only time will tell.

Authors Note: In the spirit of full disclosure Larry Evans is head of a chapter of the National Space Society, which employs the author of this column.

Related Links

  • Space Tourism Expo

  • Space Travel and Tourism Divison, Space Transportation Association

    Background Information

  • H.R. 2443 “Space Tourism Promotion Act of 2001”

  • 26 June 2001: Space Tourism Hearings on Capitol Hill, SpaceRef

  • 26 June 2001: House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Hearing charter: “Space Tourism”

  • 26 June 2001: “Expanding the dream of human space flight”, Testimony submitted by Dennis Tito before the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics

  • 26 June 2001: Testimony by W. Michael Hawes on “Space Tourism” Before the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics

  • 26 June 2001: Testimony by Dr. Buzz Aldrin on “Space Tourism” Before the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics

  • 26 June 2001: Congress Holds Hearings on Tito Space Flight and Citizen Space Travel: Foundation
    President Rick Tumlinson to Testify
    , press release

  • 26 June 2001: Mr. Tito Comes to Washington – Part 1, SpaceRef

  • 26 June 2001: Mr. Tito Comes to Washington – Part 2, SpaceRef

  • 24 April 2001: Dennis Tito’s Space Vacation is GO, SpaceRef

  • 25 March 2001: NASA Holds Press Conference on the Dennis Tito Issue, SpaceRef

  • 19 March 2001: Dennis Tito’s Flight to Space Station Hits Major Snag – with NASA, SpaceRef

  • 10 December 2000: Earth’s First Self-Financed Astronaut, SpaceRef

    SPACELIFT WASHINGTON © 2001 by Aerospace FYI Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction allowed with permission. The information contained herein are the authors own and are not affiliated with any other society, organization, or institution. Publication does not constitute endorsement of either editorial content or sponsoring web site.
    Have information about space transportation? Email the editor at sietzen@erols.com