On April 16th, AIAA President David Thompson released a statement on behalf of AIAA praising the Obama Administration’s new plans for NASA’s human space program. However, Mr. Thompson failed to disclose that, in addition to being the AIAA President, he is also Founder, Chairman and CEO of Orbital Sciences Corporation, which stands to profit should the President’s plans for NASA be approved by Congress.
The proposed Obama NASA policy seeks Constellation’s termination, ends our return to the Moon, and embraces crewed commercial launches. Many who have played very important roles in our nation’s space program; including Rutan, Kraft, Kranz, Armstrong, Lovell, and Cernan have argued that the President’s proposed space policy cedes U.S. leadership in human space. Mr. Thompson, as reported by Aviation Week & Space Technology (April 19, 2010 edition), “…says his company strongly supports the switch to commercial [crewed] transport” and will be competing for the $312 million in extra funding for commercial cargo as part of the President’s FY 2011 NASA Budget proposal. We would hazard to guess that the majority of AIAA members would side with Armstrong, et. al., and not with Mr. Thompson, on the President’s proposed space policy.
The issue for us, all of whom are AIAA members, is that AIAA’s imprimatur of the proposed Obama space policy assists the furtherance of a policy that may enrich Mr. Thompson’s company while very likely producing harm to the AIAA’s community of aerospace engineers and our nation’s human space infrastructure. In many circles that could be construed as a “conflict of interest.”
Frankly, we admire Mr. Thompson and the hard work he put in building an aerospace start-up into a major corporation. His record represents the entrepreneurial spirit that leads to great innovation. Realizing that Mr. Thompson is an honest and honorable person, at the very least there should have been acknowledgment in the AIAA statement by Mr. Thompson of his financial association with Orbital Sciences, a NASA – COTS awardee. We certainly feel that on an issue posing as many challenges to AIAA members as the President’s experimentation of our nation’s human space program, greater care should have been taken before the AIAA issued any statement concerning the President’s April 15th speech at the Kennedy Space Center.