The U.S. space agency is sponsoring a competition in which winning companies will get $500 million in seed money to develop space vehicles that NASA will never design, build or own. Like a U-Haul truck rental, NASA instead will merely lease them on a per-trip basis for sending cargo and eventually crew to the international space station.
The arrangement is unprecedented in the nearly 50-year history of the space agency, which traditionally oversees the development and construction of its own space vehicles instead of purchasing trips from private companies. NASA will pay out the money incrementally for each milestone achieved in the vehicles' development. After that, the company or companies who win the competition will have to finance the vehicles on their own.
"I consider it to be a big gamble," Griffin told a U.S. Senate committee recently. "It is well past time for NASA to do everything it can to stimulate commercial space transportation ... and I'm trying to do that."
It might be churlish of me to say "about time," but... it's about time.