International Space Station
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Sandra Johnson
Houston, TX – 6 August 2015
Johnson: Today is August 6, 2015. This oral history session is being
conducted with Michael Read at the Johnson Space Center in Houston,
Texas, as part of the International Space Station Program Oral History
Project. Interviewer is Sandra Johnson.
I want to thank you again for meeting with us today and taking time
away from your schedule. You are the manager of the International
Space Station [ISS] National Lab office, and in this capacity you
lead the effort to utilize the International Space Station as a National
Lab for scientific, technical, and educational purposes. Part of your
job is to seek innovative partnering arrangements to ensure the greatest
possible return on investment from the ISS to the U.S. economy and
for the American people here on Earth. If you don’t mind, just
talk about how and when you first came to NASA, and when you first
started working with ISS.
I came down to Houston in 1989. I had been in the banking industry
as a commercial and mortgage banker prior to that. I didn’t
see that going where I wanted it to, so I went back and got a master’s
degree. I was finishing off a master’s in public administration
when I had an opportunity to do a grad coop [graduate cooperative
education position] tour here at JSC. When I came down here, I had
two young kids under the age of three, was married, and had taken
a temporary job making a pittance compared to what our coops make
today. I was going to dare them not to hire me permanently.
I came down in ’89, and nine months later they hired me permanently,
so I became a career civil servant at that time. I was hired into
the Shuttle Program Control office, which fit my background and also
my interests, and I spent, I guess, about the first six or seven years
of my NASA career in Shuttle Program Control.
Basically, to me it was a license to ask questions, because we were
responsible for integrating a budget for a technical set of services
and a schedule to go along with that. So, we had a reason to try to
understand everything that was going on with our technical org [organization]
that we supported, and that, as a non-engineer, gave me the opportunity
to ask a bunch of really smart engineers about what they did. I found
out early on, a) there were no stupid questions, and b) people love
to talk about what they do. I got a very good education from the hands
of folks that had been around Shuttle, many of them since the inception.
It was a very educational process for me.
In 1996, I was invited to come interview with the then-Deputy for
ISS Program Control; that happened to be Mike [Michael T.] Suffredini.
They were getting ready to start a brand-new payloads office in the
Space Station Program, and they needed a business manager for it,
and Mike was getting ready to go stand up that office and be the very
first payload office manager. He and I hit it off; we’re just
a couple of years apart in age, and very similar in our approach to
work and mentality on work-life balance, and we both definitely tackle
things head-on, but we also want to have a good time at the office,
so we hit it off.
I took that position, and we ended up standing up this office from
scratch. We didn’t know what we were doing at the time; we were
given no road map. In fact, the office really hadn’t been coordinated
very well with the people whose budgets and whose technical efforts
we were going to be assuming, so part of our job was to educate the
people that were impacted by the decision at [NASA] Headquarters [Washington,
DC] to go ahead and establish this office. So, it was a very unique
Prior to that office being established, the various science codes
at Headquarters each had their own budgets, for space technology,
for microgravity research, for aeronautical research. They each had
their own budget, and each managed them separately, even though those
investigations were all going to be done on the Space Station, which,
in 1996, we hadn’t even flown the first element yet; we were
still two years away from that. What had happened was that a significant
amount of the budget for the last several years for these various
science endeavors was tied up in building hardware that was way too
early, that was going to be ready before we could ever get it flown,
but also a significant amount of it was not being spent.
At the time, Space Station was undergoing some delays of its own in
development of our early modules. The Russians were having some issues
with their FGB [Functional Cargo Block], and especially with their
service module [Zvezda]. We were basically looking for ways to fund
some of the additional technical challenges early in the Space Station
Program, while getting the science put back on its proper schedule,
getting the facility scoped to what we could actually accommodate.
We were integrating them across the waterfront of research, instead
of having them run by the individual research pathways without really
any integration across the board. We then got them on a schedule when
they could actually be manifested on a Shuttle flight.
In that first year, we literally did a round-robin tour coast-to-coast,
with various NASA Centers that were doing the work. A typical meeting
would go something like, “Okay, tell us what you’re building,
tell us how much it costs, tell us what your schedule is.” Then
we had to integrate it all together, and generally ended up saying
something like, “Okay, these are the things we can’t accommodate,
you can’t do a multi-rack furnace facility, we’ll never
be able to support it; you can’t fly it in three years, because
we’re not even going to have elements ready to accommodate it.”
We ended up putting everything on its appropriate schedule and appropriate
scope, at the same time being able to carve out early money to assist
in getting the modules actually built that were going to house these
new research facilities, and then adding the budget back in the proper
years, paying it back, if you will, on a schedule that we could actually
support and that would meet their science needs.
I’d never had a job like that, where we weren’t given
a road map, and it was, frankly, a year later and we were still finding
pots of money here and there that were part of what we were to inherit,
but we just hadn’t been given any knowledge of it at the time.
Like I said, there was no road map, so we had an interesting first
year; after that, we had our arms around the vast majority of it,
so we were able to build a plan. But, that first year of that payloads
office being established was quite a transitionary year for us.
I did that job for about two years, until we got it up and running
and I was turning the crank on the budget, and I just couldn’t
do that anymore. I told Mike, “I’ve got to do something
And he said, “Well, come work for me directly,” because
I was matrixed to him (at the time I was in the program control world).
I left program control in ’98 and went to work for him directly
in the payloads office. He’d asked me to do a job I probably
wasn’t completely qualified for, and it took me a few months
to realize that I wasn’t adding value like I had in the past,
and to me it wasn’t a job that I was going to be able to be
I frankly told him, “Mike, I’ve got to go do something
where I’m going to be productive.”
He said, “Okay. I’ll sign your transfer, you just go find
what you want to do.” But he said, “I want you to think
about this other job first.”
I said, “Okay, what is it?” It was an increment payload
manager job. I didn’t know the first thing about it.
He said, “Well, go talk with this guy. I think you can do it,
I think you’ll be very good at it.”
I said, “Okay, I’ll go talk to him.” So I did, and
basically the Increment Payload Managers [IPMs] are responsible for
integrating all the science that’s going to be done during an
increment, a period of time—right now it’s a six-month
period of time—when a certain crew is onboard Space Station.
We hadn’t flown the first crew yet, so we were building processes,
we didn’t know what we didn’t know. It was clear we weren’t
going to get a lot of crew time, because we were in the assembly phase,
and most of our crew time went towards the assembly of the vehicle
and the build-out of the systems, and frankly just maintaining systems
once the crew was onboard. But, there was two others also doing the
IPM job, and one of them was assigned to increments one and two, one
of them had increment three, so I was going to be increment four.
Still very, very early in the crewed life of this program.
I took the job, and it turned out to be equal parts of an integrator
and a debater, because we had to fight for every ounce of upmass,
we had to fight for every minute of crew time, because we were basically
the third priority; on a tier of top-two priorities, we were third,
which means we didn’t get much. Everything else was more important
than payloads at that time, because we had to get the vehicle up and
flying and operating.
I remember one time, in one of the very early flights I was working
on—in fact, it’s kind of funny. I was supposed to be able
to watch these other guys, the first three increments, before I had
to get in the box and do my own increment. The job was also to be
a member of the mission management team during real-time ops [operations],
representing utilization in that forum. Well, we had some flights
that got inserted prior to the first crew ever getting to the ISS,
prior to the first increment payload manager ever actually letting
me watch him to see how this worked. And they said, “Read, go
see if you can get some upmass on one of those flights, because it
looks like there might be a little bit available.”
I said, “That’s great. How do I do that?” As it
turns out, nobody really knew. It involved asking, and then haggling,
and griping, and finally, long story short, we ended up flying the
very first payload to Space Station on [ISS Assembly Mission] flight
2A.2b. It was a nitrogen dewar [vacuum flask], it had some protein
crystals in it, if I remember correctly, that were frozen, and then
it just off-gassed and warmed up to the ambient temperature, and then
they could grow in microgravity. That happened to be the very first
payload ever transferred to Space Station, before we ever had a crew
up there, and I was very pleased to have been part of that, considering
I didn’t know what in the world I was doing when I was asked
to go do it.
One of the early increment management team meetings that I was at,
there was a roomful of people, most of whom I didn’t know at
the time, and I asked a question. I still was not sure about what
I was doing, and I asked a question, and the entire room went silent.
I’m going, “Oh my goodness, I have just asked the dumbest
question since dirt.” It seemed to be an interminable silence;
it was probably only a matter of seconds.
The increment manager looked at me and said, “Well, that’s
a real good question. I don’t know why we’re doing that.”
I looked around the room and it was like an epiphany for me, this
is flight 2A.2b. Most of these people haven’t been through this
either. It was a real sense of relief for me, and I never worried
about asking a stupid question again, even though I’m sure I
asked many of them. It didn’t bother me, because I figured somebody
else had the same question. But, it was a little worrisome for me
as the new guy in the room, not realizing everybody else was basically
a new person too.
We got through that, we got through increment 4. We had a very successful
increment. I did increment 8 as well, was assigned to increment 11,
and I realized I’d been in the payloads office too long. By
this time it’s about, I guess almost nine years in the payloads
world, between being a business manager and working for the office
directly. Suffredini had already moved on by that time; he had gone
to be the head of the vehicle office, and then he was head of our
mission management team, so he and I worked together during real-time
ops during one of my early increments.
I knew I needed to do something different. Our External Integration
Office that handled all of the international partner relations and
all of the barters and negotiations with them had an opening for a
detail, a six-month detail. I knew some of the guys up there, and
I went and talked to them, and they were interested in having me work
up there. So I told the Payloads Office, “You can backfill my
job, you can give away my desk, I’m never coming back.”
At that time, early in the ISS Program, payloads wasn’t an afterthought,
but it certainly wasn’t very high priority. I refer to it now
as the dark ages for utilization, because we had to fight for everything.
It was getting to be tiresome. You can only do that for so long, and
I, frankly, probably stayed a year longer than I should have.
I went to work in the external integration office, and immediately
started working Russian negotiations, which suited me well. I’m
from the Midwest; I learned to build relationships with people, to
understand where they’re coming from, but also to make sure
you get what you need as well. It was not very long before I was leading
the teams to Moscow to negotiate a lot of operational barters and
different trades, as well as establishing a contract with the Russian
organization Energia, something that we had never had before. That
was an interesting time as well, because we were trying to update
a lot of our barters—we call it the balance of contributions
with Roscosmos [Russian Federal Space Agency]. It was established
back in ’95, ’96 with many, many things on both sides
of the ledger that, as the name implies, balanced out. Yet it was
time to update that, because there were things that had changed in
the 10 years prior; there were things we needed, there were things
the Russians needed that we really hadn’t figured a way to document.
This was like a treaty, it had to be approved by our State Department.
So, going through and updating it was a big deal.
We spent about the first year I was in the External Integration Office
working with the Russians to try to scope everything that both sides
needed, but in doing so we realized we were going to have to figure
out a way to value a lot of things that didn’t inherently have
any way of valuing them. Things like a kilogram of upmass on government
vehicles. To this day, we probably couldn’t tell you exactly
what it cost to fly a kilogram on Shuttle. It all depends on how you
accounted for the budget it took to fly it. We had the same issues
with upmass on Progress, upmass on Shuttle at the time. Did we treat
Progress different from Shuttle? We had to sort through a lot of problems.
How do you value crew time? What’s an hour of crew time worth?
What’s a cubic meter of stowage onboard the Station worth? Because
there were things that we needed or the Russians needed that had to
have a value. What’s a kilowatt hour worth? We had to go figure
out how to credibly put a price on those things that not only could
be defended, but that you could get the Russians to agree to.
We decided early on that there would not be a difference in value,
an implied difference in worth, if you will, based on who was providing
it. So, a kilogram on a Russian vehicle versus a kilogram on a U.S.
vehicle would be valued the same; otherwise we would never have gotten
any agreement with the Russians. We ended up pricing crew time based
on the marginal cost of supporting a crew, which turned out to be
about a metric ton and a half for the time they were up there; that’s
about a Progress vehicle worth of upmass. We said, “What’s
the Progress value? What’s the value of that upmass?”
We tied it back to upmass. We figured out what that was worth, divided
it by the schedulable hours for a crewman over six months, and we
came up with a number, about $55,000 per crew hour.
That was a credible, reasonable way to value it, and the Russians
understood the symmetry of it. They understood that whether this is
too much or too little is really not the question. The question is,
can it be equally applied, and the answer was yes. So this negotiation
for the update to the balance took so long because at that time, we
had to go figure out how to value all of these different things.
Just valuing the stowage volume was an incredible chore, because there
was really no good way to go about it, and that really came down to
a negotiated amount rather than something tied to a metric or some
base cost, like the value of a Progress to get to the value of crew
time. Once we did that, it made every negotiation after that so much
simpler, because we used those same values for the entire time I was
in that position—and they’re still using them today, with
perhaps some escalation for inflation..
It was a very dynamic time, because we hadn’t done any of this
valuation during negotiation of the first agreement. We were trading
things like, “They’re going to do these modules and we’re
going to do those modules, and we’re going to support their
crew on so many flights.” It was big things that could balance
each other out at an obvious level. This was not like that; this was
a bundle of goods and services at the end that turned out to be, rough
order of magnitude, about $1 billion each that we traded.
It took a year to do the negotiation; it probably took almost another
year to get it through all of the approval processes at Headquarters
and through the State Department. In fact, both sides agreed that
we would never do that again. We will do the barters, but we’re
never going to update the balance again. We ended up with another
very large, what should have been an update to the balance, probably
about four years later, five years later. We had another omnibus package,
if you will, of many bartered goods and services; we did everything
except go through the State Department. In retrospect, we would’ve
happily done that, but the Russians finally said they’d had
enough, and we needed to start implementing it, otherwise it was going
to be overtaken by events. We implemented it and we went on down the
road, and nobody batted an eye on it. We sure had some interesting
negotiations with them over those barters.
In ’06 we knew we were going to be expanding the crew within
two to three years. At that time it was a crew of three; we had just
expanded from two to three post-flight after [the Space Shuttle] Columbia
[accident, STS-107]. We knew were going to need some more internal
infrastructure to support the crew, and the Russians had a very robust,
very efficient toilet system in their module. Rather than us building
a Shuttle-derived waste and hygiene compartment, we wanted to purchase
a copy from the Russians, because you can double up on your sparing
and be more efficient in your ops; the crew doesn’t have to
learn two systems. You were absolutely going to have to have two toilets
onboard the Station, that much was obvious.
We worked hard with Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, to try to
barter for that toilet, but they just weren’t interested. It
was going to be fairly expensive, and they just weren’t interested.
We said, “Well, what if we contract with Energia directly?”
Energia’s like our Boeing, but it’s got elements of our
Mission Ops Directorate and [NASA] KSC [Kennedy Space Center, Florida],
and it’s their largest contractor. What if we contracted with
They said, “Well, that’s never been done.”
We said, “What if we did that?” And obviously we were
going to need Roscosmos’s approval, otherwise they could wicker
the deal. Even if we signed it, they could make sure that Energia
never performed, so we had to get their blessing right up front. We
were told it can’t be done. We were told by many Russians, and
we were told by folks on our side that had worked along with the Russians,
they said this would never happen. Roscosmos will never allow it,
and the government won’t allow it. We just didn’t take
that for an answer, we continued to press.
Alexey [B.] Krasnov, the head of the Space Station Program for Roscosmos
at the time, finally blessed it, and I led a team over to Moscow in
’06 to go talk with Energia and see if we couldn’t cut
this deal. We spent two weeks at an old hotel out on Energia’s
property, where each day we would spend all morning across the table
from each other, negotiating, and then each noon they would clear
the table and they would bring in a set-piece lunch, and we got to
know them. We didn’t really talk business at lunch, we talked
family, we talked hobbies, we talked topical events, whatever was
going on. By the end of those two weeks, we knew each other. It took
about three or four days into the next, the third week, but we had
a deal cut.
I think that was a major turning point for our involvement with not
just Roscosmos, but with Energia, because it was a huge source of
pride for them to have a direct contract with NASA. A foreign space
agency had recognized their importance and the significance of the
services and hardware they could provide. It was a huge deal to them,
and it brought hard currency into the country, which was also a big
deal. That contract is still in place. We scoped it broad enough that
we could also acquire other goods and services through it that were
within scope, and it’s been a very powerful vehicle for us to
not just work with Roscosmos and have to filter through them, but,
with their blessing, to be able to work directly with Energia. Since
then, we’ve done agreements directly with [Yuri] Gagarin Cosmonaut
Training Center, GCTC; we’ve worked with IBMP, their Institute
of Biomedical Problems that does a lot of their human research; and
it opened the door for a lot of direct agreements that didn’t
have to be under the umbrella of Roscosmos.
That was probably one of the more gratifying agreements that I was
a participant in, and I was lead negotiator on that one, so it was
fun to come back with a deal in hand, having been told it couldn’t
be done. In fact, the relationships we made during that trip have
blossomed into good friendships that continue to this day. At the
end of, I guess it was in about 2012, I had been a subject matter
expert on the Russian stuff for quite some time now, and I was realizing
I needed to go do something different. Suffredini called me one day
and he said, “Hey, I want you to go back into the payloads office,
and I want you to lead the National Lab.”
I said, “Mike, I swore I would never go back.”
He said, “I know, but things are different.”
I said, “Well, let me think about it.” And things were
different. Mike had turned the program on its ear in the spring of
2012, to go from what had been the dark ages while we were assembling
ISS—Shuttle retired in 2011, so we were just beyond assembly
complete—and he realized it was time to pivot, it was time to
now turn and support utilization as the primary goal for Space Station,
because that, frankly, was why we built it. It was a research platform.
He reorganized the program to put an element of the payloads office
into each other organization in the program. Whereas before there
was an engineering integration office in the payloads office, there
was a payload avionics and software in the payloads office, there
was our ops org in the payload office. There were all of these orgs
that were encompassed in the payloads office, but what that did was,
it almost made it so none of the other orgs had to support payloads,
because they didn’t own it.
So, he farmed everything out. We put engineering integration in the
vehicle office; he put avionics and software in OD, in our avionics
and software office for systems; he put the ops org in OC, our ops
organization. Everybody now had a vested interest in supporting payloads,
because it was part of their duties.
I saw that, and I said, “Hey, he’s serious about the payload
office being changed.” Frankly, when I left in ’05, the
morale was not very good, because we were having to fight tooth and
nail for everything, and we were literally a low priority. It wasn’t
intentional, it was just the fallout of what the priorities were of
the program at that time: getting a vehicle flown. We were coming
off of a Columbia accident that really set back our assembly, we were
down to two crew members, so crew time was incredibly limited, and
it was just a different time. So, coming back, it was a little trepidatious
for me, but I found out that “never” is about seven years
and some-odd months, as it turns out. I took the job, I went back.
It also interested me because the National Lab was set up to broaden
the stakeholder base of ISS. It was recognized that NASA was not going
to have a requirement for all of the crew time that we had available
to us for utilization, or all of the upmass, or even all the onboard
accommodations. We weren’t going to be able to fund that much
research, and frankly we weren’t going to be able to support
it. Congress, in concert with the Agency, in ’05 had declared
Space Station as a National Laboratory, just like we have terrestrial
National Labs. Station was a non-terrestrial National Lab. They did
that to get us to start looking to more broadly utilize it with nontraditional
users. They reaffirmed that in 2008.
In 2010, they said, “NASA, we need you to step this up,”
because it wasn’t going where they wanted. In 2010, they said,
“Not only do we want you to operate as a National Lab, we want
you to allocate 50 percent of all the resources you have available
to you for research to operating this National Lab, and we want you
to go select a nonprofit to actually do those operations.” Not
that they didn’t trust us to do it, they were afraid that we
were going to use it for our own ends, for our exploration ends, rather
than the more nontraditional terrestrial benefits.
They were very specific with us on what they wanted us to do. We were
to select a nonprofit that did not exist; it had to be a from-scratch
startup. It had to be a single-function entity. It had to be operating
only for the purpose of getting new users to the ISS, and we had to
fund it. So, we held a competition, and we selected the Center for
the Advancement of Science in Space, which was a startup that Space
Florida sponsored, and CASIS is the acronym. We had just done that
in 2011, they were brand-new.
In the fall of 2011, which was about six months, eight months before
I took the job, CASIS was just getting started. My job was to help
them get up and running, help them get plugged in to all of our ops
processes, our planning processes, help them understand the capabilities
we had onboard. But, more than anything, help them reach out to this
nontraditional community, this community of other government agencies
that may not have ever thought about using Space Station. NIH [National
Institutes of Health] is one that they first targeted, and they’ve
actually flown some stuff now. Other nonprofits, foundations, academia,
but most importantly, to commercial entities.
We, collaboratively, have spent the last four years working to develop
various ecosystems around the country, to target these pharmaceutical
companies, materials, manufacturing, some energy companies, things
like that, “Hey, this is what we’ve done on Space Station.
This is what it looks like you need. We need to be seeing if there’s
ways we can help you.” It was a slow process, because it’s
not an inexpensive venture to do things on ISS, and these laboratories
and pharmaceutical companies, they all have their targeted research
and vested interest in what they’re doing; changing that to
start doing something in a microgravity environment is not the easiest
thing to get them to start seeing value in. But, you persevere, and
you push, and you cajole, and you berate sometimes, and you do everything
it takes, but mostly what you do is educate.
That work is starting now to pay off, to where, with CASIS working
on the demand side, driving new users to ISS, we’re starting
to see the beginnings of what might eventually be an economy in low-Earth
orbit, and really that’s the National Lab’s goal, is to
leverage the ISS—it’s this wonderful vehicle—leverage
it into something we might not even recognize from what our goals
were 20 years ago. But it’s vibrant, it’s robust, it has
new users that are using it in ways we didn’t envision but that
are absolutely valid. That’s the demand side.
We at NASA are working the supply side. We don’t have enough
budget to fund upgrades to all of our capabilities. Many of those
systems that we were working on developing in ’96, ’97,
’98, I won’t say they’re obsolete, but they’re
certainly not state-of-the-art anymore. That was hard for me to accept
when I came back into the payloads office, I’m going, “Oh
man, these racks and these systems that we built and flew are now
needing upgrades.” But, we didn’t have the budget to fund
all of that. We started looking to industry and said, “Look,
guys, if you’ll develop this, we’ll buy services from
you. We may even pre-buy services to help you buy down some of the
front-end financial risk, but we don’t want to own the hardware.”
That was a total change for NASA, and it was a very hard change for
us, because we were used to specifying the hardware right down to
the nuts and the bolts, we were used to sustaining it in a way we
want it sustained, and then having the services available whenever
we wanted them. We have successfully migrated away from that on a
number of different research platforms that are operating on the ISS
as commercially-provided services, which is a huge turnabout for us.
In many ways, it’s no different than what we did as an Agency
with the selection of SpaceX and Orbital ATK to be our commercial
cargo providers. It’s their hardware, their vehicles; we buy
services from them. We paid money up front to help them get through
the development phase, but we recognized there was value to the U.S.
taxpayer in having a robust economy and access to space.
One can argue whether that would exist at all without the government
funding, but I would argue that the government is there to enable
those things that are hard, if not impossible, for industry to do
by themselves, because they can’t afford to do it. The risk
is too great. So we, as their primary customer, we funded some early
milestones to help them through that development phase, and we’re
working collaboratively with them as we work through various technical
issues. We’ve had an Orbital anomaly, we had a SpaceX anomaly,
we worked through them. We had a Progress anomaly. We work through
We now have six or eight different companies that are actually using
Space Station to turn a business model. They’ve got research
hardware, either up there or being developed to fly. We are buying
services from them. It upgrades our capabilities, it adds gap filler
capabilities for where we didn’t have some of these accommodations
that we needed, and we frankly found out that the new commercial participants,
they wanted to see something that was more similar to what they had
in their terrestrial labs, so we’ve developed a process whereby
we fairly simply certify COTS [commercial off the shelf]-type hardware
to fly that they would then recognize, and its ability to use it is
something similar to what they are on the ground. So, it helps their
transition from doing terrestrial research to doing research in microgravity.
The most fun for me in this job is that it gives me the opportunity
to help people see things that they might not have seen. To see potential
partnerships, ways to participate with us that is different for them.
We still struggle with some of our traditional contractors, because
they’ve been building hardware to government spec [specifications],
been paid to do it, and then are paid to build the next thing, and
paid to sustain the next thing, for so long it’s tough to convince
them that there’s another model there. But, a lot of the newer
participants, newer space participants, they don’t think like
that. It’s very gratifying to see them coming in and say, “You
know what? I’m going to trust you, NASA. I’m going to
trust you that you’re going to buy services and you’re
not going to kill me with your integration processes and your safety
processes,” (which we’re prone to do).
We’re working through that with them. They’re pushing
us—we’ve encouraged them to participate, now we owe it
to them to react appropriately when they tell us, “This is not
working. You’ve got to help us with this process.” It’s
pushed our system to be more flexible than what it was. I guess in
the final analysis, that’s really a win-win situation for both
sides, that they have a new market to operate in, we have new goods
and services, but now we’re leaner in our processes.
And, it is a process. It’s not an event that changes things.
We are working through many process changes to enable them to be successful.
Frankly, we have to educate our own people. This is why we’re
doing this. This is why we’re spending this extra crew time
to help troubleshoot this commercial payload, because it’s important
to us as an agency that they’re successful. Not that that investigation
is successful; it’s more that the company is successful, because
it’s bigger than one investigation, it’s bigger than one
event or activity onboard. It’s important for the current participants
and the potential participants to see that we’re supportive
of them. We expect them to be responsible for mission success, but
we’re willing to help them if it makes sense, and where we can.
That pretty much brings us up to where I’m at today, is still
in the National Lab office.
That’s great, a good summary. I have a few questions. One of
them would be, we talked to NanoRacks [LLC], and Mr. [Jeffrey] Manber,
and that was such an interesting conversation. They started that Space
Act Agreement with NASA in ’09, and I was just wondering what
other type of contractual agreements do you have? Like you said, you’ve
made some agreements with different companies, and his was an unfunded
Space Act Agreement. Are there different variations in there and different
types of contracts that you have with these companies?
Yes. Yes, there are. I think his was the first Space Act Agreement
we actually took to completion and then renewed. We renewed it last
year. We use the Space Act Agreement to grant the real estate onboard
Space Station. If somebody wants to fly something and it goes up in
sorties and stays for a short period of time and comes back, we don’t
do a Space Act Agreement, we just handle that through the normal manifesting
processes. But for somebody that wants to fly a facility, such as
a NanoRacks facility, we’ll do a Space Act Agreement with them,
it’s unfunded, but it’s a very powerful document because
it allows them to go to potential customers, and it allows them to
go to potential funding sources, investors, and say, “Look,
I have this formal agreement with NASA. It gives me the right to develop
this hardware, and they will accommodate it on Space Station, and
then I will fly customers to it.”
As the landlord of the vehicle, if you will, we want to make sure
that the resources that we have at our disposal are going to the highest
and best use. We want to make sure that there is a business model
there for them to operate. If somebody wants to just fly something
to be flying it, we’re not interested. But, if they show us
that there’s a credible business case there, and that the hardware
fills a gap or is an upgrade, then we’re absolutely going to
be interested in it. Some of them are flying hardware that they’re
not interested in selling services to the government.
Kentucky Space [non-profit consortium of private and public organizations]
has a Space Act Agreement with us to fly basically a CubeLab system
[small form-factor payload standard] that goes in an EXPRESS [Expedite
the Processing of Experiments for Space Station] Rack Locker. They’re
doing that completely commercially. They have their own business interests,
they have their own customer base. More power to them. NanoRacks has
all of that, in addition to, they’re interested, obviously in
selling services to the government.
In addition to that Space Act Agreement, we have an IDIQ [indefinite
delivery, indefinite quantity] contract with them. It’s like
a lunch menu: you want one of these, one of these, and two of these,
you order it right off the menu. It’s fixed price, it’s
a menu-of-services contract. That was the first one we ever had with
any of our providers, and it allows us to buy services by the yard.
So we want two CubeLabs, some CubeSat deployments, whatever it is,
then we need some engineering work, we can buy that by the hour. With
NanoRacks, and now several others, we’ve taken and followed
that model where the Space Act Agreement grants them the real estate
and lets them raise money, lets them get customers, but then the IDIQ
contracts allow us to buy services from them.
Frankly, we treat it like a mini GSA [General Services Administration]
contract, because other government agencies that don’t have
any way of building a relationship with most of our providers can
transfer money to NASA as another government agency and utilize our
contractual mechanism. We’re also seeing DoD [Department of
Defense] and other government agencies that want to do business with
a NanoRacks, they come through our contract. It’s worked out
to be a very capable and a very flexible system for us, and we’ve
had very good support from our procurement folks, because we’ve
pushed the system a little bit to be a little different than what
our traditional cost-plus contracts look like.
These are not cost-plus, these are fixed-price. They are commercial
contracts in every sense of the word. They’re no different than
if you wanted to go do a commercial service with somebody completely
outside of the government, you would negotiate a fixed price with
them, and then you would have an exchange of funds for services. That’s
exactly what we’re doing with them. Those are two of the agreements
We have a third one, a cooperative agreement, it can be either funded
or unfunded. These are generally funded agreements, where the government
provides up to half of the total value of whatever the project is.
It’s another way for us to enable a new capability, but participate
financially to help buy down that financial risk of a commercial customer
developing it. We’ve used those quite extensively. They are
more flexible than a contract, but they still provide the oversight.
Most of these are milestone driven, so that as you develop whatever
this hardware is, you don’t get paid unless you meet a development
We’re developing external platforms for material science under
cooperative agreement. We’ve got a number of different capabilities
that we have enabled through a cost participation. We have an external
pointing platform, precision pointing platform, that can host up to
four instruments at a time. It allows a company that can’t quite
swing the full development cost themselves build has a capability
that we’re absolutely interested in having onboard the Station;
but they maintain it, they sustain it, and they market it.
Which really is the most important to us. Now we have a new stakeholder,
we have somebody with a vested interest in ISS and its longevity,
and its capabilities, and its support. So many of the things NASA
does, we educate but we certainly don’t lobby, and we have a
hard enough time talking with our staffers and members on the [Capitol]
Hill. These private entities, they have no issues with that whatsoever.
They are very good about educating as well, on how important the Space
Station is to them and to their business model, and that resonates
very strongly with the Hill because it’s commercial. It is private
industry creating jobs, selling services; it’s not government
funded. That’s a pretty powerful message when you take that
to your congressman and say, “Look what I’m building,
look at the people I’ve hired, look at the growth.”
NanoRacks is a perfect example. They’re up to about 40 people
now, most of them in the Houston area. In 2009, when they started—Jeff
Manber will tell you—his first investors were Visa and MasterCard.
He probably did tell you that. It’s true, they started that
on a shoestring, and they’ve gone through multiple rounds of
investment funding now, and they are developing numerous different
pieces of hardware that they operate commercially, and they’re
a very strong stakeholder, not only as an advocate for Station, but
they’re a good commercial success story. They’ve had their
growth issues; they’re a victim of their own success. They had
so much workload coming in, so many new customers that they were struggling
to hire people to be able to keep up with meeting all their milestones.
But, that’s part of the growth process, a good part.
That’s part of what we have to recognize, too, if we want to
do this commercial thing, it’s not going to be just like it
was with our traditional contractor partners. There’s going
to be some issues that we can’t foresee, but we’re going
to have to roll with them, and we’re going to have to be ready
to adapt. I think it’s been a learning experience on both sides.
Sounds like it. And I know one of the issues, or one of the things
that might have kept companies like pharmaceutical companies from
doing research is the intellectual property [IP] issues. Does this
model of companies coming in and making these agreements with NASA
to basically rent space, does that alleviate those issues with companies
that might be more concerned with intellectual property?
That’s something we’ve had to really finesse. By law,
we have to reserve rights to the government for certain things. In
reality, we’ve defined that quite narrowly, with our legal counsel’s
help, such that anything developed from data that was learned on ISS,
but that was processed and studied on the ground, we don’t feel
like we have any rights to that. If someone found something on ISS
while their investigation was up there, while they were doing real-time
research, there’s probably some gray area there that we haven’t
cleared up yet. We’re actively working with Congress to put
in a flat exception for non-governmental funded research on ISS. If
it’s traditional government grant funded, there’s no question,
we obviously maintain rights for our own use.
What we didn’t want to do was to drive away the Mercks and the
Novartises of the world to keep them from participating, because they
might risk their IP, and frankly we’ve been successful. Both
of those companies have flown a couple of times with us, Novartis
doing rodent research and Merck doing protein crystal growth. We have
found ways to accommodate them, and that was one of the things that
NanoRacks did in their Space Act Agreement, and we’ve tried
to emulate that in additional ones, is make sure that we call out
these things that are non-government funded, so that the IP does not
revert to the government in any way, shape, or form.
And another one of the things that, as you mentioned, the crew time,
it does limit the amount of time that can be spent doing the research
work, because they do have to do time maintaining and doing work on
ISS. How much difference will it make once we can get a seventh crew
member up there?
Huge. It doubles. It doubles our available crew time for utilization.
Because right now it’s taking, just rough order of magnitude,
about two people’s worth of schedulable time to sustain the
vehicle, to perform maintenance and to sustain all of the systems,
filter cleaning, all of that stuff. We schedule 6 ½ hours a
day for each crew, because they’ve got to get in a couple of
hours of exercise, they’ve got their pre- and post-sleep time,
where they’re just getting ready for the day or just putting
tools and stuff away at the end of the day, there’s some planning
and all that goes on for the next day. So, we only schedule 6 ½
hours a day per crew. So, for one crew over the course of a week,
you’ve got about 32 ½ hours for payloads, and frankly,
Mike Suffredini has set the floor at 35 hours, so we’re averaging
more than 35 hours a week. That’s just been a change in the
last 18 months or so, since we turned the program on its ear to support
payloads. That was a big difference.
When we add one more crew member, you get another 32 ½ hours,
because your sustaining is still the same, your system maintenance
and everything is still the same amount of time. So, it will about
double our available crew time, and that’s a big deal.
That is a big change, as far as getting things through there, too,
and getting things on and processed.
Well, crew time is our most limiting resource. Upmass is second, but
crew time is very far out in front as the number-one most limiting
As you mentioned, this is a change for NASA, and the way NASA thinks
as far as we were moving toward getting ISS built, and now it’s
such a shift to utilization, and part of that, the RISE team, the
Revolutionize ISS for Science and Exploration, has been formed. Are
you part of that team?
Yes, we’ve definitely been participating. In fact, my office
is one of the prime sponsors of one of the core processes that fosters
commerce, obviously, between us and our commercial crew and cargo
office. We’re probably the ones in the program that touch more
closely and more often our potential commercial partners. So yes,
we have very much been a part of that. In fact, the payloads office
in general has been a strong part of that effort, because it’s
all about leaning our processes and more focusing our processes so
that we are supporting utilization. Not just having processes there
because that’s what we did in Shuttle, while Shuttle processes
were what we did on Apollo, and that followed programs prior to that.
It’s like a railroad, why is it as wide as it is? It’s
because that was the width of two horses back in the Roman days, that
the width of chariot roads.
That’s what we inherited for Station. We’re throwing that
all away and really taking a ground-up look at every process, every
verification, every requirement, and going, “Why? What were
we really trying to get at there?” In fact, I just heard yesterday
that one of our major requirements books, we went through it top to
bottom and ended up keeping 29 percent of what we started out with.
That’s pretty substantial. It’s sad, in a way, that we’ve
been having to operate under that for so long, but it’s also
a very positive story that we’re serious about improving the
effort that other people have to put in to work with us, and that’s
a pretty good deal.
So RISE, it’s a process to improve the processes. It has been
going on for about a year now. Suffredini basically established a
RISE office and put Ryan [L.] Prouty in charge of that, to elevate
it to the stature that it needed, in his eye, to make people realize
he was serious, and now we’re starting to push it into various
orgs. The safety org has been one of the first, because that was where
we got a lot of complaints. They’ve embraced it. It’s
still personality driven, which we need to get away from, but the
Kool-Aid is being swallowed, and folks are recognizing that they need
to get on board, and they are, to their credit.
You’ve talked about when you were working with the Russian integration,
and that was something you’re really proud of. Is there anything
during these years with the ISS Program that you would consider the
biggest challenge of your career?
Working with the Russians was a love-hate relationship, and I don’t
say that lightly. We never hated them, we just didn’t always
understand them, and they were skeptical of our intentions. Having
built those relationships now over 20-plus years, that no longer is
the case, but in the early 2000s, mid-2000s, when we were really trying
to tackle some of these tough barters, that was difficult. Suffredini
hadn’t had a lot of experience with the Russians other than
when he was doing the real-time mission management team chair. The
Russians don’t turn over people anywhere near like what we do.
Their program manager, Alexey Krasnov, and one of the first deputy
designer generals at Energia, Aleksandr Derechin, had a lot of experience
with NASA, since the early ’90s, when Russia came on board in
’94. So, they had somewhat of a tactical advantage, just because
they had the corporate knowledge, and boy, they were willing to use
That was a difficult time. We, as I mentioned earlier, had to really
figure out how to value things, and we had to get their agreement
on how to value things, and we had to make sure we weren’t screwing
things up for us in the future if we did something in ’05 that
we were going to have to live with in 2009, 2010. That was a difficult
time, because there were things we had to have, and there were things
we knew they needed to have, and yet getting through that big balance
addendum was a challenge for us. It was literally a year of trips
back and forth, both sides coming one way or the other, and countless
hundreds of hours and thousands of people hours working through that.
When we got done with that, I think we were all ready not to ever
do that again. But, it was necessary, and we got through it.
It sounds like through your career there seems to be a theme in these
positions. You’re coming into a position at a time things are
really changing: setting up that payload office, working with the
Russians, and of course with the National Lab. Are there any lessons
learned since your career at the beginning with NASA and till this
time that you’d like to share, as far as some of those lessons
you learned in that process?
It doesn’t suit everybody, but be willing to take a calculated
risk. I never took a stupid risk. I took a lot of calculated risks.
I came to NASA with nothing, no promises. I had back-to-back grad
coop tours setup, yet I moved, I moved the family with two kids under
the age of three. My wife didn’t have a job, and we lived on
a GS-7 salary at the time, which was not a lot, but I saw that as
a calculated risk, not a foolish one. It paid off. It’s paid
off in spades. I’ve had a fantastic career with an agency I
love and in an endeavor that has just been incredibly dynamic.
When I left Shuttle, I had a very good following in Program Control
there, so coming to Station was a risk. To me, it was a challenge;
I didn’t see it as a risk. I was going to have to learn a whole
bunch of new people, but the guy that hired me turns out to be the
program manager some years later, and so Mike has been extremely good
for my career. He’s asked me to do some things that I wasn’t
sure I wanted to do, and some of them I don’t think I did very
well. Then I’d have to move and find something that was going
to challenge me. I left Program Control in ’98 to leave the
budget world and go to the technical world. It was a huge change for
me. I was told by the Program Control world, I was told that you’re
getting off this moving sidewalk, you’re going to lose your
constituency, you’re going to lose your support. I thought,
I can’t do this forever, and I moved, and I never looked back.
To me, you position yourself without really recognizing that’s
what you’re doing, and you do it by working hard. You do that
by performing, and like I said, Mike and I hit it off well, because
I would tell him when I thought he was wrong. Yet when he needed to
make a decision, I respected that that was his responsibility to do
so. I figured the best that I could do for him was to tell him what
I really thought given my subject matter expertise, of whatever that
topic was, and that didn’t always fit where his intentions were,
but he always listened.
You have to build relationships with people, whether it’s the
people you’re working for or with, or the Russians. We worked
so successfully with them because we built relationships. We got to
know them as people. We would go out to dinner with them when we were
over there, we would get invited to their house sometimes; that’s
a very rare occurrence. But, we would have them in our homes when
they would come over here. We entertained them more times than I can
shake a stick at, but it’s the way you get to know them. And
they don’t all speak English, and I certainly don’t speak
much Russian, but by the end of an evening, you realize, all of them
here and all of us, we all communicated, we never had any issues,
yet how did we do that? And it’s just about getting to know
people. So, take calculated risks and definitely build relationships,
because you never know what that next job is going to look like. I’ve
never known what my next job was going to be until somebody said,
“Mike, I need you to go take a look at this,” and I was
willing to do it.
Those lessons you learned working with the Russians, I’m assuming
those applied with the other international partners that ISS works
Absolutely. I had much, much less involvement with the other international
partners. It’s just not the way we were structured. We had folks
that specialized in working with the Europeans or with the Japanese,
two very different cultures from the Russians. I got assigned to work
with the ones that most closely suited my own personality. When I
was a kid, I was in debate in high school, and so I did all of that,
and I was accused by my folks of arguing with a fence post. And now
they laugh, because I realized I’d found my fence post in the
Russians. They’re very good at negotiating. They are very good.
I thoroughly enjoyed working with them. Many times it was me on one
side of the table and six of them on the other side. I loved it. And
they got to see my personality, I would tell jokes. They didn’t
always fly through the interpreter, because I use some Kansas euphemisms
and things like that that didn’t make any sense when it came
out the other side, or they came out totally sideways. Everybody laughed
at my inability to tell a joke, but they got to know me, and I did
not hide when I was upset. I didn’t hide when I was laughing
with them, I didn’t hide my emotions, and they started becoming
more open with me as well.
After almost eight years of working with them, we had a very good
working relationship, and I could cut right to the bottom line and
say, “Look, guys, this is what we need.” That was very,
very different for them, because when we first started working with
them, it was like you weren’t going to get a deal done until
after lunch on Friday before you left on Saturday. It was like, how
much time do you have, because that’s how much time it’s
going to take. Our meetings were much more efficient years later,
where they trusted, as far as they could, they trusted what you were
saying. We did the same with them, to understand what they really
needed and where they were really coming from.
Many times, what you didn’t realize until way late in the game
was that they haven’t been authorized to make a decision, to
make a deal. They’ve been just sent out there to see how far
they can get without ever being able to agree. That’s just the
stovepipe nature of authority over there, it is so closely held at
the highest levels that many times the senior people that you were
working with, they didn’t even have any authority to cut a deal.
The quicker you realized that, the quicker you realized you don’t
need to be frustrated with them, because they can’t change that.
I would say that the relationships I built with the Russians was a
very unique thing. To operate in an international environment any
time is a unique thing. It’s sexy, it’s enjoyable, you
get to travel, but more than anything, you get to learn a new culture.
But, to do it in support of something like the International Space
Station? Oh my goodness. Sometimes you just couldn’t believe
what you were doing. You’re over there, buying a toilet for
Space Station, and when I told people what it cost—I think we
ended up spending about $18 million on that and some other ancillary
items we got with it—I would get comments like, “Oh, heck,
I’d have built it for half of that.”
And I’m going, “That’s fine, you bolt it to the
ceiling and show me it’s going to work, because that’s
basically what you’re doing in microgravity. That thing is not
going to function like the one in your bathroom. ”
And people then start to understand, “Oh yeah, yeah, you’re
right, you know, it’s not going to be quite as easy as we thought.”
I still maintain very good relationships with many of those folks,
and so the people that came behind me to work in the external integration
office, I still get called in to counsel with them a lot on how we
got to such-and-such a number, or tell me what you guys meant when
you did this. That’s gratifying for me, because it says we did
something important that’s still in existence and still being
worked. When our Russian colleagues come over to do a contract negotiation
or a technical meeting or whatever, quite frequently me or one of
the colleagues that worked with me during that period of time, we
still host a get-together, and we help our people who came behind
us to build those relationships in a social setting, because it’s
so important. I still have a lot of good friends over there. I worry
about them, given a lot of the restructuring and stuff that’s
going on in the Russian space industry right now, but we built some
pretty close ties.
And your career has taken a different trajectory. As you said, you
started out in banking, and then to end up negotiating with the Russians
to buy a toilet for the Station, and then working so closely with
people that do science and researchers. That’s interesting,
starting out with a business type degree and then moving into NASA,
which in NASA’s environment is somewhat unusual.
I have been very fortunate that I have been given the opportunities
that I’ve been given. I’m not sure I was qualified to
do some of the jobs that I was given to do, and maybe it challenged
me to go show that this is possible. In the mid-’80s I was,
at that time, in the mortgage industry and I looked around and saw
guys twice my age doing exactly what I was doing, and I’m going,
“I can’t do this. I’ll go nuts if I have to do this
forever.” I ended up quitting a good-paying job.
I took a graduate research assistantship to work on a master’s
of public administration. That was a risk. I quit a decent-paying
job to make $600 a month as a grad student, but I hit the coursework
hard. I hit it one summer, two semesters and another summer, and I
was done. I had to finish my research paper, but it opened the door
to NASA for me. I came down here and finished my paper, and it just
set the stage for being in a position to have performed, but also
to have somebody say, “Hey, look, I’d like you to think
about this.” Then it’s all a question of calculating risk.
I think without question that the close relationship over 19 years
that I’ve had with Suffredini has been extremely beneficial
to my career, and I’d like to think I’ve been beneficial
to what he’s trying to do, especially when he was the program
manager for the last decade. He expects us to go out and build those
relationships and be independently successful, because it makes the
program successful. He’s given us a lot of autonomy to go do
those things. Many times we would go over to Russia and set the stage
for him to come in and finish the deal, because it flat wasn’t
going to get finished until the two program managers got together;
that’s just the way they operated. But, we would have the table
set properly for him and have all the issues understood and have a
good feel for the bounds of what each trade space was, and then he’d
come in and make the deal and he’s done. It’s very efficient,
and I thoroughly enjoyed that.
Without question, the close relationship that I’ve had with
him has been very good, and probably opened those doors for me that
are doors that wouldn’t have been opened for somebody else with
a non-technical degree. As you said, NASA is a technical organization.
We value the math and the science, the engineering backgrounds.
I’ve learned that people don’t know that I’m not
an engineer, because I’ve had to understand how they work and
how the integration processes work and everything. That doesn’t
mean I can do it; it means I can appreciate it and I can talk it.
I think that building the relationships is something incredibly important—in
fact, I’ve been asked to counsel engineers on the soft skills
that really aren’t taught. The engineers are great with the
technical details, but the soft skills, the leading, the negotiation
skills, the relationship building, the communication skills, both
writing and oral, they’re not taught. And absent that, you’ve
got somebody that’s going to be a really good journeyman engineer
that’s never going to make a project manager, because you have
to have all those interpersonal skills that are not taught, they’re
absolutely learned, but there’s no way that’s really set
up to help them learn those skills.
I’ve got a lot of engineers that have worked for me, and I let
them see how I operate with people so that they can get a feel for,
“Oh, okay, this is the way we do this, and I don’t have
to be just technical, and I don’t have to be just by the book.”
I don’t think there is a book, very frankly. We are making an
awful lot of this, this whole commercialization of space, we’re
making it up as we go. We have some ideas, we test them, they may
or may not work, you tweak them, you go on and you do something else.
We’ve got our commercial partners that are incredibly nimble,
and they expect the same from us. We have to support each other.
But yes, I think I was given opportunities because it was who I knew
and who knew what I could do, not what the sheepskin said or what
my experience base said. It was based on somebody knowing me and saying,
I think he can do that.
And relationships are important, and the relationships with those
commercial companies, and then how that’s going to help, hopefully,
with the length of time that ISS gets to stay up there. Depending
on how long it stays there, what do you think the legacy, because
at some point it will have to come down, or it will be changed somewhat,
what do you think the legacy of ISS will be?
Well, this is going to come as no surprise, given the speech I’ve
just given about the international partnerships. Obviously, the legacy
of the ISS is the strength of the international partnerships. Through
multiple administration changes all around the world, through wars,
through accidents, from Columbia to technical delays to recessions,
it’s that partnership that has sustained the ISS. We have a
commitment to each international partner, and each international partner
is committed to all the others, and that’s a treaty. That is
an intergovernmental agreement. That’s a treaty agreement that
was ratified by all the partner nations’ governments. Not just
the space agencies, but the governments. Those things are not undertaken
lightly, and they’re less likely to be broken. Without question,
it’s the ability to operate in multiple cultures over multiple
decades, through budget challenges and many other challenges, all
the while continuing to support each other.
The beauty of ISS, wow, it’s really just amazing. None of these
pieces that were built by these international partners, touched before
they got into low-Earth orbit. None of them. Yet they all made it.
They all function, they still function; they’re incredibly robust.
Obviously that’s the prime legacy. It’s going to inform
how we do whatever we do next, whether it be the Moon, whether it
be Mars, whatever it is. I don’t care, I don’t have to
know. I know what it’s going to look like, though. It’s
going to be an international partnership. We will have probably new
international partners. It’s not unlikely at all to me that
a China or an India would be a valuable partner, because no one country
can afford to do this on their own.
Equally as important, and given my current role, I think it’s
quite likely there’ll be a commercial partner that’s a
full vested partner, that will be responsible for some elements of
whatever system we put together to go wherever it is we go. That’s
not a stretch at all. That, to me, would be the ultimate approval
of what we’re doing with this whole National Lab, to see a commercial
participant as an equal partner, whether it be a SpaceX or Orbital
or whomever, a Bigelow [Aerospace], who knows? Or all of the above.
To be an equal partner in this next endeavor, that really would put
the stamp of goodness on this whole commercial effort. ISS is a fantastic
vehicle for research. We have a lot of research capabilities up there
across a broad waterfront, and there have been and will be more good
research come out of it that benefits humankind.
While it’s a good platform for research, we’re finding
it’s an equally important platform, a test bed, for new business
relationships. As I mentioned earlier, we’ve got people that
are actually running a business using ISS. Nobody thought about that.
We didn’t have that as goal one back in the ’90s when
we were developing this thing. So, we’re evolving it as well,
not only from a capabilities perspective, but also from how we use
it, how we envision it, how we see it operating. We’re evolving
that vision each day as we get new people come in and say, “Hey,
what if I could do this? Can I do that?” And we’re going,
“I don’t know.” That’s like the first question
I asked 20 years ago, and the room went silent. Well, we do a little
bit of that now, we’re going, “Well, we’re not sure.
Let’s go find out for you.”
I think the legacy is equally important such that if we’re successful,
when ISS is done, whenever that is, there’ll be a robust economy
in low-Earth orbit that will be sustained commercially, the government
will be a customer not an owner, and we won’t leave low-Earth
orbit just because we don’t have ISS. We will have used the
heck out of it when we had it, and used it just as much as the government
did when we built the transcontinental railroad. The government had
land. The transcontinental railroad was built privately. From both
coasts, it was built privately, but we gave away land to incentivize
it to be built. Now, we’re giving away real estate on ISS. We’re
giving away resources in the form of upmass and crew time to enable
people to develop something that doesn’t exist. I think that’s
It’s a new idea that’s really not that new, we’ve
done it in the past. That’s interesting.
It’s a different vision.
Well, thank you so much for coming in and talking to us. I appreciate
it. Thank you.
[End of interview]