Planning to operate a taxi service for NASA astronauts? Here’s what’s required.
- By Andrew Chaikin
- AirSpaceMag.com, November 16, 2011
Sierra Nevada Corp.
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Mango: What I’ve told all of industry is that if NASA changes the requirements, then we've got to bring dollars to the table to deal with that change of requirements.
Chaikin: Does that statement apply to the entire process, from the start to the completion of the vehicles?
Mango: That process does go throughout the entire timeframe of the program, basically. However I would also say that IDC only goes to critical design and probably some testing thereafter; it does not go all the way to a certified system. So there will be another contract mechanism for that, and it'll be like part two. And part two will have the same rules. If we change our requirements then we have to bring dollars to the table.
Chaikin: There is a lot of skepticism about whether commercial companies, particularly the new ones, can accomplish reliable, safe, and cost-effective spaceflight. There's even resistance to letting them try. Can you accomplish what you're trying to do with this program in spite of the skepticism and resistance that's out there?
Mango: Well, we are doing our best to do that. And I would say that a lot of important things that have happened in the country, or in the world for that matter, have happened despite criticism and despite folks who want to slow it down or not have it happen at all.
The members of my team are not folks that we hired from industry yesterday. Most everyone on the team has either worked space shuttle, like myself, Constellation, like myself, test flying, like some of the folks—Brent Jett who's an astronaut and a very good test pilot is on the team—and then folks from the space station program. We also have other folks on the program that have launched Atlases and Deltas and been part of the launch services program for many years as well.
So I think my biggest pushback on the skeptics is that they need to look at who is on the team from the NASA program who’s making this stuff happen, and NASA engineers. Our history would tell us what is important and what is not important in order to go get a design that can go work. There are some areas where we will push extremely hard to make sure that we will have a safe vehicle. At the same time many of us have grown up … in the space shuttle program. We’ve seen some of the hard parts of the shuttle program, and where we can change the way we do business to make it more innovative and also make it more cost-effective.
I would also say the same thing is true in the companies. For [commercial crew], all of these companies are not folks that are right off the street. They are folks that had worked for NASA, and left NASA, and went to work for the contractors. There are folks that went from one company in aerospace to another company in aerospace. And I would put money on the table that says the best aerospace capabilities of the world are represented by our American aerospace industry. Whether or not they have a name that might be SpaceX, or Boeing, or Blue Origin, or Sierra Nevada or United Launch Alliance is secondary to the fact that as a nation we do have the best capability in order to go put a safe vehicle in space. And so that is what’s driving us, what's driving the program to go get a capability. When we get proposals and when we figure out who are the right ones, then NASA is bringing its 50 years of history to those contractors to help them make sure we have a safe vehicle to go fly. I am confident that we will have a safe vehicle when we go fly by the middle of the decade.