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NASA OIG Report: NASA's Challenges Certifying and Acquiring Commercial Crew Transportation Services

Status Report From: NASA Office of Inspector General
Posted: Thursday, June 30, 2011

image NASA Inspector General Paul Martin today released a report that examines the significant challenges facing NASA as it looks to commercial companies to carry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and low Earth orbit.

After more than 30 years and 130 flights, NASA's Space Shuttle fleet will retire this year, leaving the United States dependent on the Russian Soyuz vehicle for crew transportation to and from the ISS. To develop the next generation of space flight vehicles, NASA is simultaneously embarking on two paths: 1) developing a Government-owned multi-purpose crew vehicle and Space Launch System for human exploration beyond low Earth orbit; and 2) stimulating the development of a commercial space industry capable of providing NASA with safe, reliable, and cost-effective access to the ISS and low Earth orbit. While NASA has over 50 years of experience with contractor-built, Government-owned space vehicles, the Agency has never purchased transportation for its astronauts aboard a commercially developed vehicle. Of primary concern is how the Agency will work with its commercial partners to ensure that commercially developed vehicles meet NASA's safety requirements.

Our review found that NASA is making sustained progress toward its goal of obtaining commercial crew transportation services. However, the Agency faces a series of significant challenges, including the need to select an acquisition strategy, modify existing human-rating requirements to make them applicable to commercially developed systems, and establish the appropriate insight/oversight model for commercial partner vehicle development.

The OIG report identifies a series of issues we believe NASA must address as it moves forward to acquire commercial crew transportation services. Specifically, we believe NASA should:

- clearly articulate to its commercial partners as soon as possible all requirements for commercially developed systems and the processes NASA will use for certifying such systems;

- maintain robust communication with the emerging commercial spaceflight industry to ensure that Agency contracting mechanisms strike the appropriate balance between insight and oversight that will provide NASA with sufficient information to certify commercial partners' systems and the companies with the flexibility to be innovative;

- clearly articulate how it will mitigate potential conflicts of interest that could provide an unfair competitive advantage to one company over another; and

- expand coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ensure consistent standards are established for NASA certification and FAA licensing.

NASA agreed with the challenges highlighted in the report and stated that the Agency will be making progress in each of the areas as the Commercial Crew Program matures.

The full report can be found on the OIG's website at http://oig.nasa.gov/ under "Reading Room" or at the following link: http://oig.nasa.gov/audits/reports/FY11/IG-11-022.pdf

Please contact Gail Robinson at (202) 358-1220 if you have questions.

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