Does NASA Really Want Commercial Crew to Emulate the Trains?

Does NASA Really Want Commercial Crew to Emulate the Trains?

In her remarks to the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation meeting on Thursday, NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said that turning low Earth orbit (LEO) human spaceflight over to the private sector while keeping NASA focused on technology development would mean that each will be doing what it does best: “Commercial industry will do the things that it does best – designing and building the trains, owning and maintaining the trains, and then making them run on time.”

Are passenger trains the right model to be emulated by the commercial crew industry NASA wants to create?

The title of this Congressional Research Service report — “Amtrak: Budget and Reauthorization” — alone tells the tale. Intercity passenger rail in this country is largely paid for by the government. As the CRS report explains:

“Amtrak is structured as a private company, but virtually all its shares are held by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT). Amtrak was created by Congress in 1970 to maintain a minimum level of intercity passenger rail service, while relieving the railroad companies of the financial burden of providing that money-losing service. Although created as a for-profit corporation, Amtrak, like intercity passenger rail operators in other countries, has not been able to make a profit. During the last 35 years, federal assistance to Amtrak has amounted to approximately $30 billion.”

If NASA wants to convince everyone that commercial crew would relieve the government of a financial burden, not create one, it might want to pick a different model. Congress is all too familiar with Amtrak.

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