"Although it is essential that the United States continue manned space exploration, it is time someone in Congress finally said no to NASA...and give the job to someone else," writes tonight's guest Robert Zimmerman in an op-ed piece(1) that ran in USA Today last month. To back up this assertion he cites how NASA, since the 1980's, has spent nearly $5 billion dollars in projects that have never got off the ground.
These scuttled ventures include the National Aerospace Plane ($1.7 billion/drawing pictured left), the X-33 spacecraft ($1.2 billion) and the Space Launch Initiative ($800 million in blueprints). Zimmerman advocates a return to a 1960's-style NASA when "the agency merely laid out general specifications for competing private companies," which were able to "quickly and cheaply produce new rockets, capsules and lunar landers."
Several American rocket companies were struggling to finance their launch systems during the years NASA "was wasting a fortune," Zimmerman pointed out. One such company Rotary (whose assets were subsequently acquired by XCOR Aerospace(2)) actually conducted several manned test flights. "Their designs were lean and mean," said Zimmerman. Estimated construction costs were "about the same as what NASA had spent on blueprints."