Bolden: Crew transport project will drive innovation

NASA Commercial Orbiter Transportation Services

NASA has successfully used commercial space transport services to launch cargo, and is now looking to do the same for human crews.

In releasing a request for proposals for the next phase in commercial space transport capabilities aimed at getting U.S. astronauts to the international space station, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden says he also hopes to spur innovation through his agency's acquisition process.

NASA issued the RFP for the next round of its Commercial Orbiter Transportation Services program Nov. 19.

The same day, in a keynote speech at a National Contract Management Association symposium, Bolden said the next phase of NASA's Commercial Crew Program -- the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCTC) -- will "spur American ingenuity," in addition to establishing a more efficient way to get space crews into low-earth orbit.

Bolden wants an alternative to paying Russia to lift U.S. astronauts to the international space station on their rockets. "I just wrote a $454 million check to Russia for crew access to the space station. We shouldn't be doing that."

The effort to commercialize crew delivery is in the same mold as NASA's commercialization of space cargo delivery. The outspoken ex-Marine said the effort builds on the agency's past success in cargo transportation with Orbital Sciences and SpaceX. Both companies developed their own rockets and control systems to send cargo to the space station under similar agreements with NASA.

"Our American industry partners have already proven they can safely and reliably launch supplies to the space station, and now we're working with them to get our crews there as well," he said.

CCTC proposals are due Jan. 22. NASA said it expects to award one or more contracts by September 2014, although the agency's website warns that the program is "subject to the availability of adequate funding."

CCTC is the second phase of a two-phase effort that began in 2012, building on the Certification Products Contract, which required companies to deliver a range of products to establish a baseline for their integrated system certification. This phase is open to any company with systems at the design maturity level consistent with the first.

Under the program, Bolden said, NASA will assess contractor's progress through a certification process throughout the production and testing of integrated space transportation systems, to include rockets, spacecraft and ground operations. The agency said at least one crewed flight test to the space station will be required before certification will be granted.

Bolden called the Certification Products Contract program, part of NASA's efforts to revolutionize its acquisition process. "More than 80 percent of our budget flows through procurement," he said, adding that in 2012 NASA awarded more than 45,000 contracts, spending $16.5 billion.

At the same time, the agency is struggling -- like many other federal agencies -- to hold on to its acquisition workforce. In an environment with sequestration cuts and government shutdowns, convincing new procurement recruits that working for the government is worthwhile is "getting really hard," Bolden said.

NASA has a two-for-one policy in hiring new personnel, according to Bolden -- two people have to leave before it can bring one new person onboard. "That's unhealthy" for any agency's ability to retain procurement staff, he said.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer at FCW.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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Reader comments

Thu, Nov 21, 2013

NASA has no defined mission and the General talks about the acquisition workforce. NASA has lost many veteran space engineers. Hundreds of thousands of man years of space experience has been forced out the door, and NASA is worried about the acquisition workforce??!! How can NASA assess anything a contractor does when NASA itself has lost so much of its brainpower. The agency has turned into a bureacracy and is no longer a scientific agency. NASA has had so many successes and all anyone does is focus on the inevitable failures. Why would any aspiring brilliant engineer or scientist choose NASA as a career? They are so criticized and underpaid at the professional levels it's a wonder they can attract real talent as they used to. But never mind all that, lets work on the acquisition issue while the agency devolves into irrelevance. Sad.

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