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Here's How Close We Came to Relying on the Russians for ISS Trips

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SpaceX may be everybody’s favorite rocket-fueled company, but the firm Elon Musk founded 20 years ago—and the entire concept of paying private startups to fly US astronauts to space—was much less popular around Washington when the Obama administration first floated the idea. "NASA was reluctant to turn that over to the private sector,” Lori Garver(Opens in a new window), deputy administrator of the space agency from 2009 to 2013, said in a Thursday talk at Ars Frontiers(Opens in a new window), a conference hosted by the tech-news site Ars Technica.

During her tenure, NASA and Congress had accepted having NASA pay private firms to lift cargo to the International Space Station.

But outsourcing crew transportation was different, said Garver, author of the forthcoming book Escaping Gravity: My Quest to Transform NASA and Launch a New Space Age(Opens in a new window). "It was not popular,” she told Eric Berger, who covers spaceflight at Ars and wrote about a book(Opens in a new window) that provides a good overview of SpaceX’s backstory.

One reason for that displeasure was NASA’s ambition to look beyond the traditional, trusted aerospace contractors that had done so well with its traditional “cost-plus” procurement.  "The companies get paid no matter when they deliver, and they can always add more,” Garver said. "Usually, those programs double in cost and in schedule." Case in point: Constellation, NASA’s attempt to develop a successor spacecraft to the Space Shuttle.

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