Just Some Good Ol’ Boys


Every nerd’s favorite company, SpaceX, has been on a roll lately. They’re on track for a record year, including the debut of the eagerly anticipated Falcon Heavy. 

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan, and it’s likewise no secret that I’m not a big fan of unaccountable bureaucracies that treat our hard-earned taxes like Monopoly money. Unfortunately this category often features the *other* perennial nerd favorite, NASA. Equally unfortunate is how conservative press outlets can almost always be counted on to utterly misunderstand and misreport the goings-on of both.

You will not go to space today.

That’s why I initially read this Lifezette piece with skepticism, but by the end I think they mostly get things right:

While Americans might love that NASA has a space-defender position opening, what they don’t love is how NASA is shielding companies from their mistakes.

SpaceX, a company that usually gets much love among conservative and libertarian circles, cost the taxpayers $110 million when one of its rockets blew up in June 2015. The company still received 80 percent of its expected payment, and we still don’t know why the rocket failed on its mission to resupply the International Space Station.

The funny thing about this is that NASA promised the public there would be a summary released of the investigation. Yet the agency announced just a few weeks ago that it doesn’t need to anymore because “NASA is not required to complete a formal final report or public summary since it was an FAA licensed Flight.”

…It’s also funny because NASA didn’t do that when it came to another company. In October 2014, Orbital’s rocket blew up, costing the taxpayers $51 million. It was an FAA-licensed flight. It was conducted under the same NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program of which SpaceX is a part. Both involved aging rockets. Yet NASA still put out an executive summary for the Orbital incident within a year.

Lots of self-serving doubletalk at the link, but I think it’s clear that something doesn’t pass the smell test.

Does SpaceX have quality-control problems? Beats me. I’m in no position to tell, but it feels like the root-cause investigations of last year’s events were wrapped up awfully fast.

This comes from someone who really wants them to succeed. For just one example of the ancillary benefits, here’s how they finally got Canaveral’s range control to modernize.

It often (okay, usually) takes private industry to drag government agencies into the future. That won’t happen if they’re whitewashing potential failure points.

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