Science & Technology



Ex-NASA astronaut says it wouldn't be so bad to transfer space station to private management

Deborah Netburn, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

Q. What's good about having private industry involved in the space station?

A. As more companies and people get into research and development in low Earth orbit, I think we'll get more creative ideas both about the fundamental science we can do there and about what products we can create in space.

As a scientist and engineer, I understood how gravity played into my physics and engineering equations. But when you go to zero gravity and actually see how things behave differently, you understand it on a different level.

When we can get more people up there, that will be the tipping point for making people realize that, "Oh, I can do this experiment." "Oh, I can develop this product." Or, "I could research this line of inquiry that would help people on Earth."

Q. The U.S. has several international government partners who share management of the ISS. If NASA privatizes its part, what happens to them?

A. That's a big question mark. These discussions have already started, and I think you're going to see a lot of churn around this issue over the next six to nine months because nobody knows what it's going to look like. This is a very interesting creative moment we're in.

Q. Does having a company run the space station rather than the government contaminate its mission?

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A. Don't look at it as private industry or government. You have to look at it as private industry and government.

If we get more people engaged in low Earth orbit so the government doesn't have to spend as much time there, then the government can put its resources into going beyond low Earth orbit -- like going back to the moon and eventually onto Mars, and maybe on to Europa 100 years from now.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

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