Sunday, February 07, 2010

Obama's space proposal better than a strip mall

Privatizing human space flight is a good idea.

Can private enterprise do something loftier than the vast array of services we're accustomed to at strip malls from Starbucks to laundromats?

With government as a farsighted consumer, yes it can.

Obama's proposal for the future of US space travel could be a good blend of public and private initiative.

Government doing what it does well; long term vision (hopefully). Spending public dollars on things people wouldn't normally reach into their wallets for on the way through the drive through. Tonight's dinner and the quick cup of coffee make cash registers ring from market forces, but what about long term visions like going into space? Maybe not, except for some notable private ventures like SpaceShipOne.

That's where the long term interests of government can help out. The public sector can reach into a large wallet without expecting short term profit.

Government as a consumer can be motivated with long term vision, while private companies come up with a variety of innovative ways to get the job done.

Private enterprise can offer a better solution for human spaceflight than NASA's own government bureaucracy.

Obama has proposed scrapping the Project Constellation which seemed like kind of a repeat of Apollo moon flight technology. Constellation was part of the vision outlined by President Bush which would have had astronauts returning to the moon and preparing for travel to Mars.

Apollo was great when it flew, but maybe there's something newer than a slightly modified rerun of past triumph.

Constellation would have been expensive and it wasn't getting enough funding to continue without threatening to cannibalize other parts of NASA's budget. Other parts that are doing exciting things like looking for planets around neighboring stars in the galaxy.

There is a lot of intriguing science that is mostly coming from unmanned missions such as Kepler's search for extrasolar planets.

On the human spaceflight frontier, I remember reading something about SpaceShipOne's reentry system. It worked like a badminton birdie for slowing down the spacecraft upon reentering our atmosphere. This innovation seems less cumbersome than the heat shield of tiles on our Space Shuttle.

It's time to turn human spaceflight over to private enterprise, but keep the long term vision and wallet of government handy.

1 comment:

Steve Rusich said...

Your ideas about government funding of space technology by private enterprise make sense. Maybe the government could create their own version of the X Prize for space tech development. A 10 million dollar X Prize was enough for some one to create SpaceShipOne, can you imagine what a 100 Million dollar or 1 Billion dollar X Prize would motivate private enterprise to create?