NASA Leasing and Selling Unused Launch Pads, Processing and Training Facilities

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A number of media outlets are reporting that NASA has run into a particular problem of having too many unused facilities in the wake of the end of the space shuttle program. It is moving to sell or lease these facilities.

Johnson Space Center offices being leased

The Houston Chronicle notes that with the post-space shuttle downsizing, the Johnson Space Center is operating on three-quarters of its space shuttle-era budget. JSC has a great amount of office space and other facilities that it is keen to lease out to private companies and thus avoid paying for its maintenance.

NASA's neutral buoyancy tank leased

The Houston Chronicle reported that one example of facility-sharing concerns the neutral buoyancy tank, a gigantic swimming pool used to train astronauts for extra vehicular activity. The tank has been leased to a company called Petrofac Training Services, which used the facility to train oil workers who must travel to and from offshore oil rigs in helicopters. NASA astronauts still use the facility to train for EVAs at the International Space Station. NASA saves part of the cost of maintaining the tank by leasing it to private companies.

Kennedy Space Center leasing and selling unused facilities

The Orlando Sentinel reported that since the end of the space shuttle program, a great many of its facilities are not being used and therefore are available for lease or outright sale. Facilities that are on the block include launch pad 39A, which was used to launch both the space shuttle and the Apollo/Saturn moon rockets, space in the Vehicle Assembly Building, and the huge runway where the space shuttles used to land. Boeing has already leased a space shuttle processing building to assemble its own planned CST-100 spaceships, proposed as part of NASA's commercial crew program. Space-Travel.com is reporting that NASCAR is using the space shuttle runway to test race cars.

Question for NASA: Lease or sell

The Houston Chronicle reports that NASA's Inspector General is expressing concern that unused NASA facilities are being partially leased instead of sold outright. The problem NASA faces is it envisions an uptick of activity once commercial space flights begin in earnest to and from the International Space Station and especially when exploration missions commence, starting at the end of the current decade. Facilities that are not being used now may well be needed in the future, when NASA's fortunes improve. Ironically, though, more commercial space activity means more opportunities for facility-sharing at NASA centers.

Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.

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