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Sumara Thompson-King, the newly named general counsel for NASA, made her first speaking appearance since assuming her position this month, by delivering the keynote address at the American Bar Association’s “Space Law: Current and Future Issues Conference” at Jones Day in Washington, D.C.
“When the shuttle operations ceased, people worried, what is NASA doing? We’re doing a lot. We are very busy and we are doing things differently,” Thompson-King said.
“While we still accomplish most of our missions and most of our objectives through contractual relationships, we have and we are expanding our collaborative relationships and our partnerships opportunities, and we are engaged in more coordination and cooperation with government entities than we were in 1959.”
Instead of NASA using a contractor build a space transportation vehicle as they have in the past with the shuttle; today the agency looks to acquire space transportation services from the private sector, which is developing vehicles for commercial purposes.
Among other private sector partnerships, NASA is in the middle of the Commercial Crew competition, where companies are vying to provide transportation for NASA to use to get to the international space station. A selection will be made later this summer, Thompson-King said.
More than ever, NASA is also working closely with more federal agencies and Congress. In the past, NASA primarily worked with the Department of Defense and had limited engagements with other federal agencies. But, with the NASA’s activities evolving to include private commercial space vehicles, it will work more closely with Congress and interact more with the Federal Aviation Administration, which governs human space flight activity.
Thompson-King said, “NASA has never had to go to them. We launched our own rockets. Had our own astronauts, but now we’re going to be traveling on commercial vehicles owned by private entities. Those commercial space flights are governed under the rules issued by FAA.” Among several conversations with the FAA, Thompson-King said that NASA has talked with the agency about issues related to civilian space flight activity.
In the new age of commercial space flight, the agency has to also work more with state and local government authorities. One example involves the state of Florida’s aerospace and economic development agency, Space Florida.
Space Florida has entered into an agreement with NASA to manage and use the shuttle landing facility. “There is a commercial industry and we all know it is growing, so the state of Florida wants to encourage that industry and help it out.” Thompson-King said.
Among other activities, NASA continues its work on the Human Path to Mars, planetary explorations and aeronautic research.