The Corner

The one and only.

Attacking The Contractors


A few people may have a lot to answer for when the various Columbia probes are complete, but already there’s speculation in the media that NASA has relied too much on private companies. “Some experts and government auditors have warned for years that the push to cut costs and privatize shuttle management could be setting the stage for a disaster,” reports a story in today’s Washington Post, for instance. The implication is that profit-driven companies will cut corners to the point of risking the lives of astronauts. This is an insult to the private-sector employees who work on space. It also assumes that the shuttle program would have been better off if the whole thing had been run by government personnel–a dubious proposition, given that NASA is ultimately in charge of oversight and launch decisions. What’s more, NASA hasn’t exactly fostered a culture of responsibility within its own ranks. Not a single NASA employee lost his job as a result of the Challenger disaster, even though we now know that catastrophe was probably preventable. We may find that contractors made mistakes that led to the Columbia failure, but it would be a severe mistake to conclude that privatization is the enemy.