To Infinity and Beyond – Or At Least to Savings

Space: the final frontier. When you look into the night sky, up at the stars, you can’t help but dream of exploration. A trip to the moon. A map of the constellations. A ride on a solar flare.

 

But in 2011, NASA changed the space game: they terminated the space shuttle program. But that didn’t mean they wanted to give up exploration -- they just needed to do it differently and cheaper.

 

To answer that challenge, Alan Lindenmoyer created a new way for NASA to partner with the private sector to build rockets and spacecraft at a dramatically reduced cost to taxpayers. For his work, Lindenmoyer a Program Manager, Commercial Crew and Cargo Program, has been named a finalist for the Service to America Medals (Sammies) – the Oscars for federal employees.

 

Lindenmoyer told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that finding the balance between the government and private companies was difficult, but very rewarding in the end.

 

 

In 2004, President Bush gave NASA a vision to explore. “The plan was to get back to the moon and to explore deeper into space than we ever have before,” said Lindenmoyer. “But to do that, we had to retire the space shuttle. We simply could not afford to operate the space shuttle and develop our new vehicles to take us further into space.”

 

“Tapping into his broad NASA experience in both technical engineering and contract management for the International Space Station, Lindenmoyer designed and managed a novel program that allows NASA to contract for orbital transportation services rather than purchase the space vehicles,” according to a release by the Partnership for Public Service,the organization behind the Sammies.

 

“We have been very actively engaged in bringing our astronauts, crew and cargo to the space station for over a decade now,” Lindenmoyer said. “Now it’s time to see growth in the commercial space transportation industry. We hadn’t seen the growth that we saw in the early years of aviation or the early days of the transcontinental railroad. But when the government applied very careful strategic investments, then those industries grew into the great capabilities that we have today.”

 

When NASA made the transition away from the space shuttle in 2011, many insiders were skeptical. But Lindenmoyer wasn’t surprised the agency was willing to take the risk. “NASA’s strategy is based on being pioneers. We are always working to trailblaze a path to achieve difficult accomplishments in space. Now we’ve opened up the door for commercial industry to follow us into space and take over some capabilities.”

 

Rather than do the traditional approach, of writing very detailed requirements and specifications, and then hiring a prime contractor to go build those capabilities, Lindenmoyer activated Space Act Agreements—transaction authority that the agency possessed. NASA used these agreements to stimulate the commercial space industry to develop and demonstrate space transportation capabilities, a chief NASA goal for the crew and cargo program. “We decided that we would like to see American ingenuity and innovation,” said Lindenmoyer. “The Space Act Agreements allowed us to craft the terms and conditions so that they were very commercial friendly and gave the companies a lot a flexibility.”

 

To get the job done, Lindenmoyer created a “Brain Trust” team of 10 people and in just four months issued requests for proposals. PPS noted, “NASA had $500 million to invest in the companies’ endeavors—far less than the typical billions spent on new vehicles.”

 

“We are not owning and operating these space craft. We wanted to become a consumer of services, rather than a customer for requirements,” Lindenmoyer said. “So we set up from the beginning to be able to just purchase these services off the shelf. In fact, that’s sort of where we got the name of our program, “Commercial Orbital Transportation Services” – which is also synonymous with off the shelf. Meaning, at some point we’d like to go to the internet, order up some space transportation services, just like we can do today with sending cargo around the world.”

 

One of NASA’s contracts went to Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX. Musk just announced their latest spacecraft is designed to carry astronauts to the International Space Station, and eventually — Musk hopes — far beyond.

 

“SpaceX was one of our partners that we selected in our program back in 2006. What started out as some simple concepts and sketches became an operational space transportation system that we’re using today to sustain the operation and research of the space station,” said Lindenmoyer.

 

Space has always been for dreamers, and for Lindenmoyer, space has been his playground for 32 years. “I have the best job in the world. Working for NASA is so exciting. I worked for the space station for close to 20 years, the design and development and assembly of the station, so I had pretty good idea of both the engineering as well as the business management side of operating such a complex vehicle in space. I think that set me up well for creating this new way a doing business. It certainly was the most exciting work I’ve had in all my time at NASA.”

 

So what would Lindenmoyer’s advice be for the next generation of space explorers? “Always keep your goals high, keep working hard and look for efficient and innovative ways to get your job done. The recognition will come if you do your job well.”

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