Like the turning of a ponderous ship, NASA Monday began a stately pivot toward delegating operation of the space shuttle to a private manager. The move is part of a broader government movement to cut federal costs by “privatizing” as many activities as possible.
At a briefing for industry personnel, the space agency invited interested companies to send in written statements of no more than 25 pages by Sept. 11 that describe their expertise, outline how they would consolidate the program’s 85 contracts, streamline the management and save taxpayer dollars--all while safely conducting about seven flights per year.
This was the first step in a timetable that calls for NASA to issue formal requests for proposals in about three months, with the selection of a prime contractor expected in 13 to 15 months. The transition to private management then would spread over two to three years, officials said.
The two contractors who are assumed to be the only credible contenders have joined together to bid on the contract. They are the Rockwell Corp., which built the shuttle fleet and is responsible for design upgrades, and the newly merged aerospace giant Lockheed-Martin, which processes the shuttles between flights at Kennedy Space Center.
The briefing took place at Johnson Space Center in Houston and was televised to other National Aeronautics and Space Administration facilities. J. Wayne Littles, NASA’s chief of spaceflight, said that the shift toward so-called privatization, while dramatic in concept, would be slow and cautious, in order to assure that “we don’t drop anything through a crack” in terms of flight safety.