When I first saw the title to Ars Technica's May 16, 2022 Former NASA leaders praise Boeing’s willingness to risk commercial crew I thought it suggested that Boeing and it's troubled Boeing_Starliner space capsule was risking the crew's life, but it really refers to the financial risk associated with participating in NASA's commercial crew program.

It draws from the Ars Technica broadcast linked below, including the line about the ability of big business lobbyists to influence how publicly elected officials vote and spend. "Boeing entering the commercial crew program meant that you got a lot more support from Congress because they tend to have a very robust lobbying program,"

They're quoting Lori Garver "former Deputy Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)" who "was awarded both the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal" and who "initiated a project to increase the visibility and viability of commercial spaceflight" among other things.

After about 22:50 in the Ars Technica broadcast Ars Frontiers: Part Two (my transcription):

So we did not foresee - because it was only right after that really that both Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk started amassing billions of dollars and investing in space companies. So it's a little bit unique right now because I think it will still be hard (as Boeing has found) to justify these investments to shareholders who want a shorter term return. So I'm probably not as "bullish" on commercial space generally, I'm thinking that cost-plus contracts are not a plague for everything we do because it's just not possible for publicly held private companies to invest hundreds of millions of dollars without a real serious market plan, and on technologies that are unproven.

It's actually... we had not realized that people would amass hundreds of billions of dollars, and the very people that were doing that would want to start space companies.

So that's the way it has played out so far. Boeing entering the commercial crew program meant that you got a lot more support of congress, because they tend to have a very robust lobbying program, but they haven't made it yet. It took SpaceX to deliver so far. But we were - I know I was very happy when the traditional big aerospace company Boeing bid, because I think that was a tough call. If they were to look back on it they wouldn't do it again.

In a nutshell, I think that what Garver is saying is that

  1. the Commercial Crew Program may not have "flown" without an established aerospace company like Boeing bidding along side the (perceived at the time to be scrappier1) SpaceX's bid, but that it was more than the gravitas of Boeing's name, it was their large lobbying presence in the US capital that got congress to approve and fund Commercial Crew program.
  2. and now Boeing probably regrets their decision because they are doing poorly and will probably loose money, and it was actually SpaceX that is delivering the technology necessary to make the Commercial Crew and Artemis programs a success.

That's interesting, so I'd like to ask:

Question: How and to what extent did lobbyists contribute to Trump/Pence's "next man and first woman" to the Moon? (via the Artemis and Commercial Crew programs)

1(from same Ars Technica article) "I don't think that we would be anywhere with commercial crew had it not been for Boeing coming into the fray," said Charlie Bolden, who served as NASA administrator from 2009 to 2017, during an Aviation Week webinar. "Nobody likes SpaceX, to be quite honest, on the Hill. They were an unknown quantity. I think if Boeing had chosen to stay out of commercial crew, we probably would have never gotten funding for it."


Wikipedia's Artemis Program says:

On 11 December 2017, President Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1, a change in national space policy that provides for a U.S.-led, integrated program with private sector partners for a human return to the Moon, followed by missions to Mars and beyond. The policy calls for the NASA administrator to "lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the Solar System and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities". The effort intends to more effectively organize government, private industry, and international efforts toward returning humans on the Moon, and laying the foundation of eventual human exploration of Mars. Space Policy Directive 1 authorized the lunar-focused campaign. The campaign (later named Artemis) draws upon legacy US spacecraft programs including the Orion space capsule, the Lunar Gateway space station, Commercial Lunar Payload Services, and also creates entirely new programs such as the Human Landing System. The in-development Space Launch System is expected to serve as the primary launch vehicle for Orion, while commercial launch vehicles will launch various other elements of the campaign.

On 26 March 2019, Vice President Mike Pence announced that NASA's Moon landing goal would be accelerated by four years with a planned landing in 2024. On 14 May 2019, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced that the new program would be named Artemis, who is both the twin sister of Apollo and the goddess of the Moon in Greek mythology. Despite the immediate new goals, Mars missions by the 2030s were still intended as of May 2019.

From the Time Magazine video Vice President Mike Pence Wants To Land Astronauts On The Moon Within Five Years | TIME at about 00:40

At the direction of the president of the United States it is the stated policy of this administration and the United States of America to return American Astronauts to the Moon within the next five years.

From Trump Whitehouse Archived's Vice President Pence Delivers Remarks Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing at about 14:46

And standing before you today, I am proud to report that at the direction of the President of the United States of America, America will return to the Moon within the next five years and the next man and first woman on the Moon will be American Astronauts.

  • 1
    There are significant issues with this question. The linked ArsTechnica article is about Boeing's CST-100 Starliner, which is being built on a firm fixed price basis. Starliner and Orion have nothing to do with one another. The Orion spacecraft is being built by Lockheed Martin on a cost-plus basis. Commented May 18, 2022 at 12:51
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    Also, Commercial Crew has nothing to do with going to the Moon (or Mars). The Commercial Crew & Cargo Program Office (C3PO!) was concerned with sending crew and cargo to the International Space Station and returning them to Earth. I think the name has changed (but I did like C3PO as an acronym), but the goal of Commercial Crew & Cargo has remained unchanged. The target is the ISS, not the Moon. Commented May 18, 2022 at 13:01
  • @DavidHammen I have Swiss cheese for gray matter, so I occasionally end up superimposing several items in the same location. This also means I can't count as high as even a pigeon, so all I can remember is that there's a SpaceX capsule and a cloud of not-SpaceX capsules. Anyway I've switched the first sentence to Starliner, thanks!
    – uhoh
    Commented May 18, 2022 at 13:48

1 Answer 1


(My answer is more generally about the back-to-the-Moon, manned program of which this is the latest iteration)


This post-Shuttle, job-for-the-boys, program was started a long time ago and predates Trump and Pence by a large margin.

In fact, 2004 (Bush):

President Bush proposed on Wednesday to develop a new spacecraft to carry Americans back to the moon as early as 2015, and to establish a long-term base there as an eventual springboard to Mars and beyond.

Not that Obama minded overmuch since he did little to put it out of its misery:

Space policy of the Barack Obama administration

The space policy of the Barack Obama administration was announced by U.S. President Barack Obama on April 15, 2010, at a major space policy speech at Kennedy Space Center.1 He committed to increasing NASA funding by $6 billion over five years and completing the design of a new heavy-lift launch vehicle by 2015 and to begin construction thereafter. He also predicted a U.S.-crewed orbital Mars mission by the mid-2030s, preceded by the Asteroid Redirect Mission by 2025. In response to concerns over job losses, Obama promised a $40 million effort to help Space Coast workers affected by the cancellation of the Space Shuttle program and Constellation program.


In 2012, shortly after SLS was announced, NASA officials estimated that each mission would cost about $500 million — with the rocket targeting a 2017 debut. Today, the cost has ballooned eightfold, according to the NASA auditor.


If you look at the history of NASA, big funded programs have large, large, groups of lobbyists ready to keep them alive. Having literally crashed and burned, the Shuttle needed a replacement to keep Boeing and co happy.

I read The Last of the Great Observatories: Spitzer and the Era of Faster, Better, Cheaper at NASA and it was very clear on the lobbying powers of the big guys.

They spend almost 20 years scrounging crumbs out of the budget to launch Spitzer. One year they had, IIRC, a $36M windfall earmarked for them, only to see it re-allocated, "by emergency", to the Shuttle.

To paraphrase from memory:

We tried to stand up for our budget and learned that scientific researchers and academics are totally outgunned by the lobbying capacity of big established manned programs.

Nothing all that specific to Trump and this program, under various guises, precedes Trump.

requoting the quote:

Elon Musk started amassing billions of dollars and investing in space companies. So it's a little bit unique right now because I think it will still be hard (as Boeing has found) to justify these investments to shareholders

This is disingenuous to say the least: IIRC the amount of money spent so far on SLS represents a good chunk of SpaceX total spending to date. Besides, SLS isn't paid for by Boeing shareholders, but by US taxpayers under cost-plus structure

Speaking of the dysfunctionality of operating too often (not always) on cost-plus contracts, NASA is well-aware of it:

Testifying at a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing on the agency’s fiscal year 2023 budget proposal, Nelson (NASA Administrator) said the use of competition and fixed-price contracts was essential in its efforts to select a second commercial lunar lander alongside SpaceX’s Starship for the Human Landing System (HLS) program, something that many in Congress have sought.

“Then we would have two landers somewhere in the 2027 time frame, both having already landed,” he said. NASA plans to use the Starship lander for Artemis 3 no earlier than 2025, with the second lander flying as soon as Artemis 5 in 2027.

“I believe that that is the plan that can bring us all the value of competition, and get it done with that competitive spirit. You get it done cheaper, and that allows us to move away from what has been a plague on us in the past, which is a cost-plus contract,” he said.

  • 1
    Gotta find the book reference but I read one by one of the engineers of one of the space telescopes. He stated that his team and its research supporters, which took 17 yrs to launch, were consistently outlobbied by the Shuttle's professional lobbyists. As to my answer, a big part of it is re-framing the attribution to Trump's administration. Commented May 18, 2022 at 2:32
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    I added it, but could only paraphrase the lobbying part which was really wittily phrased. Thought I had as Kindle, but I guess I either got it from the library or had the dead tree version. Good book, if dated. Commented May 18, 2022 at 2:41
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    @uhoh Pence's push was to ensure that the Moon landing would occur during Trump's second term. That date was utterly unrealistic. Moreover, congresscritters don't like SpaceX. NASA boasts that SLS involves over 1000 companies, spread across most of the states, which congresscritters like. Any sane company would say WTF??? to that. With over 1000 outsourced suppliers, it's not surprising that SLS is years behind schedule and billions of dollars over the initial budget. Orion has similar issues of being behind schedule and over budget. It's not NASA that needs to transform itself. It's Congress. Commented May 18, 2022 at 12:37
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    @DavidHammen ;-) +1 100% etc. But you know, all congress is doing is listening to those humble folks who stop by the capital to walk the halls and speak to their representatives about how they'd like to be represented, right? That critical aspect of democracy called lobbying? (pardon my sarcasm)
    – uhoh
    Commented May 18, 2022 at 13:38
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    @DavidHammen Amen to that analysis: cough, F35, cough. And, as certain countries are currently amply demonstrating, running defense programs with pork in mind can backfire spectacularly. Though, maybe, maybe, the F35 has actually matured to be functional, it's only a good thing it wasn't needed during its prolonged and painful gestation. Commented May 18, 2022 at 17:40

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