According to a Feb 13, 2013 story at Al.com, former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin addressed a commercial space conference in Huntsville, Alabama, using the occasion to criticize the Obama administration’s Commercial Crew program. Griffin’s critique made a number of points.
First, he suggested that a model that uses the federal government as the primary investor as well as the sole customer is not, strictly speaking, commercial at all. The Commercial Crew program gives NASA subsidies to a number of private companies to develop space craft to take cargo and crew to and from the International Space Station.
Second, Griffin pointed out that ISS servicing would not constitute a sufficient market to jump start a commercial space transportation industry. Thus far none of the firms participating in the Commercial Crew program have managed to develop private markets for their nascent space craft.
Finally Griffin suggested that the commercial space firms have a problem setting engineering and safety standards without government indemnification. There is no way that a commercial space firm could recover from a disaster under the current system.
Griffin offered another model and another core market that he suggests would enable a true commercial launch industry. The model would have commercial firms sell services to NASA but not be dependent on either government subsidies or government contracts. The core market would be a lunar base.
Maintaining a lunar base would be far more challenging than the ISS. Griffin’s view is that sending cargo and crew to and from a lunar base would support a larger commercial space sector. Commercial firms could also offer other services, including housing, consumables, and power to a lunar base.
Griffin’s views on commercial space have proven to be controversial, placing him in opposition to Obama administration space policy. Not only did President Obama cancel the Constellation return to the moon program, but he instituted the subsidy program form commercial space. Several people in the audience Griffin addressed, while agreeing with Griffin’s assertions, pointed out that there is a nascent suborbital space tourism industry, with companies like Virgin Galactic and XCOR, that does not depend on government subsidies and seems to have private customers ready to pay for such jaunts.