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The New Acetism

"The US government, prohibited by law from purchasing foreign launch accommodations, is buying more microspace hardware from abroad than from US vendors. This is wise, because we benefit, as we did in the War, from the brains paid for by other people's money. Except now those brains live and work abroad, and every dollar we spend there widens the gap separating tomorrow's space equivalent of the Web and MP-3 downloads and virtual workplaces, from the space rustbelt economy the US funded before we decided we didn't need to invest in leadership. After all, if we need it, someone in Peking or Tokyo or Toulouse, will buy it for us. Right?"
by Rick Fleeter, CEO, AeroAstro
Ashburn - Sep 29, 2003
Judging from television, some wives comfort their husbands by telling them they still look great in that tux or swimsuit, or with a hug or a surprise party. I would sooner sit on an airplane 28 hours heading for a no sale in Perth than get a big hug as the lights come up on me surrounded by a roomfull of adoring friends (if they even existed). I particularly don't need to be lied to about my appearance in a Speedo, nor how fast I'm not in the pool or on the bike compared with 30 years ago.

The most comforting words Nancy, a child of LA's San Fernando (aka The) Valley, has said to me are: In America everything is a fad. God I hope so.

Our country's most talked about fad was predicted to me by Professor Kestin, that crusty paragon of self discipline, whose youth in between-world-wars Poland included episodes of semi-starvation and a stint as a Russian POW. Of that he said only "At least we had food".

This physically diminutive force in my life, never seen not wearing his olive business suit with double Windsor knotted tie and brown leather Florsheims, which I theorize both represented his discipline and commitment to rigor, plus slightly bolstered his slight physical profile, taught me the magic of scale. Make any trivial object sufficiently large, he observed, and people will find it fascinating.

Epitomized by our extravagant sense of self worth, evidenced by, among other things, a fixation on pure water, despite the best tap water in human history and our lack of concern over what we breath and eat, and our inability to let kids risk a walk to school or sustain a war in which the good guys (that would be our side) get hurt, that we should further enhance our self-fascination by making ourselves bigger. And as we become ever larger, so must our clothes, cars, candy bars, and according to today's New York Times, also our caskets.

Hidden behind this societal lunge toward the supersized, is the inevitable equal and opposite reaction. As each self becomes larger, more important, more fascinating, and more deserving of its own attention, must everyone else shrink further toward our distant, and neglectible, horizon.

We know our country's economic numbers better and faster than ever - and we care about them ever less. The rich are getting richer as America's population in poverty grows. That is supposed to deter me from what? We finance our war with debt future generations will pay for - the cherished institution of Someone Else's Money. So it is only natural to minimize taxes, which distribute money while simultaneously diminishing our regard for those who will eventually be obliged to pay. George Bush doesn't cut taxes - he let's you keep your own money.

We won the big one with a bomb built by brains educated with someone else's money. Why pay for education - if there's any value in it, someone in the free market will ante up, and my cancer cure or space elevator or DNA-based terabit memory chip will be paid for with someone else's money.

After microspace survived being at first unrecognized, then dismissed, then berated as a waste of money, then co-opted into $165M do-epsilon-more-than-nothing projects of major systems houses, then relegated to graduate students to do for $50k of borrowed parts, like Fritz Mondale (though I hope with better results) I've been called from a life of easy retirement on my tropical Island populated only by myself, Nancy and a few friendly Monkeys, to remind us if there's any value in microspace worth investing in.

Given that we no longer care to invest in our kid's education, in our national parks and preserves, in clean air and water, or in maintenance of personal freedoms, if it requires payment of our own money (though we are willing to help Iraq by liberating its oil from Saddam and pay for our reduced threat with someone else's money, namely theirs), I have come to the inevitable conclusion - no, microspace is not worth any investment.

If anyone wants to see what went wrong when their $350M satellite's solar panels only partially deployed, they can go to Best Buy and pay for their own nanosatellite to fly around the worthless hulk that was almost a geosynchronous comsat, and send some photos and other data back for analysis before they fly the next one and risk the same outcome. If they want to know what that latest Chinese spacecraft can do, they can send Richard Nixon's ghost to China and go ask. If they have a hot new technology for detecting the condition of Bin Laden's left kidney they want to test ASAP from LEO, they can wait for the next NRO recon satellite to come through the 17 year development cycle, and grab a slot - in 2021 or so. Assuming there's any budget left to build and launch it.

Want to build a constellation of comsats that can provide cellular-like connectivity to troupes, to travelers, to scientists, anywhere on earth with just a tiny hand-held phone with aeons of battery life? The private sector will surely build it if there's a market. Otherwise, those tough Marines can fend for themselves in the killing fields of Africa or the Middle East. We can guard our space assets from attack by rogue satellites with an array of nearly invisible, low cost nanosatellite guards, and we could assemble and launch a microsatellite on demand to assess a quickly developing tactical threat or natural calamity. But not, if you don't mind, with my money.

Right answer, because while the US underfunds and starves microspace, our latest economic fad is coming through for us right on cue. China, Canada, Europe, Africa, the UK, and the Middle and Far East, are all developing these capabilities. They are all ahead of the US in microspace, and the gap is widening, in part thanks to the US' inability to accept funding from non-US sources (which would require selling our technology to people who already have technologies far in advance of our own). But mostly because while we don't want to pay for it, they can't afford to waste tens of billions of dollars on Space Stations, Space Shuttles and other useless relics of macrospace that we still do spend our own money on, and have been forced to find the most cost-effective ways to get utility from space, and to surpass the capabilities of our '60s era mainframe space architectures.

The US government, prohibited by law from purchasing foreign launch accommodations, is buying more microspace hardware from abroad than from US vendors. This is wise, because we benefit, as we did in the War, from the brains paid for by other people's money. Except now those brains live and work abroad, and every dollar we spend there widens the gap separating tomorrow's space equivalent of the Web and MP-3 downloads and virtual workplaces, from the space rustbelt economy the US funded before we decided we didn't need to invest in leadership. After all, if we need it, someone in Peking or Tokyo or Toulouse, will buy it for us. Right?

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Five, four, three, two, one. .abort, abort, abort!
Peterson - Sep 10, 2003
Five, four, three, two, one. .abort, abort, abort! Instead of a successful lift off, the 'Publius Rex's" opinion piece, "Is the Air Force the Enemy of Space?" Never gets off the ground. The anonymous Mr. Rex is just flat wrong. Moreover, he impugns our Chief of Staff as an "enemy of space." Nothing could be further from the truth.



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