Sunnyvale - May 30, 2003
The end of the Cold War has intensified the need to engage the engines of free enterprise. Absent a dire national exigency like the Soviet threat, NASA must compete for funding with other uses for the Federal dollar, and many of them are much more urgent. The NASA budget has therefore shrunk to well below 1% of Federal outlays, and there is virtually no hope of any significant increase. Sustained growth is possible only in the private sector, where it is seen as a boon to the economy.
Apart from other issues, the purpose of human spaceflight is to open the solar system to all of us, not just to civil servants. The appeal of the program depends on the perception that it is opening a new frontier where people can escape the increasing regulation of life on Earth. A centrally-planned, government-run program is incompatible with that vision. It cannot survive, because it contradicts a principal reason for popular support.
There are many other advantages to transferring responsibility for human spaceflight to private enterprise:
The extraterrestrial economy will be like that in Hawaii, where tourism and the export of pineapples are important industries, but not the reason most people live there. The gross Hawaiian product depends primarily on trade between residents.
Similarly, space entrepreneurs may begin by exporting goods and services to customers on Earth (the most promising candidates are space tourism and electric power from solar power satellites), but the real growth phase will begin when trade between people living and working in space generates a significant fraction of corporate revenues.
The principal barriers to expansion into space are firsty: the high cost of launch to orbit; secondly: actions by NASA that suppress competition from the private sector (4); and thirdly: a regulatory environment, especially in the UN General Assembly, in which capitalism and competition are seen as regrettable aberrations that we should leave behind as we venture out into the universe.
These are all correctable, but not within the institutional culture that has taken root in NASA.
How to Fix It
NASA's predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, was a research organization that provided much of the knowledge base that brought us from the Wright Flyer to the Boeing 747 in 65 years. NACA did not try to run airlines. ACCESS should provide analogous services for human spaceflight.
There will be plenty for ACCESS to do. The proper functions of government include:
Some of these functions may require military personnel in space, but there is no need to transfer them from the USAF, USN or Coast Guard to a civilian agency. Any civil missions the government feels it needs should be flown in commercial vehicles by astronauts who are employed by contractors.
I recommend the following specific steps:
A reform of this magnitude is possible only by legislative fiat. NASA will of course fight it by every means available, but perhaps the Congress will take the necessary action once it is realized that transfer to the private sector can make human spaceflight a source rather than a sink for tax revenues.
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NASA As an Equity Partner
Washington - May 13, 2003
NASA was embarking on a Space transportation system to replace the Space Shuttle before the Columbia disaster occurred. The current national Space transportation plan calls for the development of both near-term and long-term Space vehicle development programs.
NASA Should Buy New Space Vehicles, Not Build Them
Los Angeles - May 08, 2003
Challenging testimony by NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, the Space Frontier Foundation called on NASA to transform itself into a customer for private enterprise, rather than a competitor.
Beyond Buck and Wernher
Scottsdale - Apr 08, 2003
Space advocacy began a long lifetime ago, in the Depression-era rocket societies. Rather than progressing since those days, we seem trapped in them, endlessly assembling handfuls of local enthusiasts and dreaming of co-opting powerful financial or political patrons, writes John Carter McKnight. To abandon old 1930s Buck Rogers dreams and Wernher von Braun tactics for a spacefaring 21st Century, we need new projects and methods of leadership.
Is The Shuttle Fatally Flawed
Prague - Mar 3, 2003
After the recent loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Americans and Israelis are mourning the tragic deaths of the seven-crew members. This is a tragedy not only for them but also for all of us, because the brave astronauts sacrificed their lives for the progress of all mankind.
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