NASA IG Makes Case for Commercial Cargo, Crew, CASIS Success

NASA IG Makes Case for Commercial Cargo, Crew, CASIS Success

In a report today, NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) stressed that two factors will determine NASA’s ultimate success in maximizing utilization of the International Space Station (ISS): attracting non-government users and reliable crew and cargo transportation.

Noting that the United States paid $60 billion to build the ISS and currently spends $3 billion a year to operate it, the OIG report concludes that “it is essential that NASA make a concerted effort to maximize the research capabilities” of the space-based laboratory.  

The OIG gives NASA credit for utilization to date, saying that the agency is exceeding its goal of spending an average of 35 hours per week on scientific investigations, is performing over 100 investigations annually, and expects to increase the use of both internal and external research space in FY2013.  The focus of the report is how to increase utilization beyond what has been achieved already.

The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) was created to bring in non-NASA users.  NASA provides $15 million a year and CASIS is expected to bring in additional funds and users.   The OIG report says that NASA and CASIS have not yet established precise metrics that would reveal how successful CASIS has been so far.

A major focus of the report, however, is on the need for reliable crew and cargo transportation to and from the ISS to support research.  It traces the price increases for NASA purchases of “seats” on Russian Soyuz spacecraft from $22 million in 2006, to $25 million in 2010, to $28 million in the first half of 2011, to $43 million in the second half of 2011, to $55.6 million and $60 million for launches in 2014 and 2015, respectively, and $71 million for 2016-2017.   NASA is relying on its commercial crew program to develop U.S. crew space transportation capabilities by 2017, but the OIG report points out that Congress has not provided the agency with the level of funding needed to meet that date. 

Not only is it costly to purchase Russian seats, but relying on Soyuz means only six instead of seven crew members can live and work aboard the ISS, further limiting the amount of research that be conducted, the report continues. 

The OIG did not make any recommendations about commercial crew or cargo, however, only stressing the need for reliable transportation in order to maximize ISS utilization.   Its only recommended action was for NASA to develop metrics to determine CASIS’s success; NASA agreed to do that. 


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