TCS Daily

2005: A Space Odyssey

By Glenn Harlan Reynolds - December 28, 2005 12:00 AM

Okay, we don't have the moon bases that we were supposed to have by 1999. On the other hand, we don't have hostile aliens and lame 1970s haircuts either, so perhaps we can call it even.

At any rate, 2005 -- like 2004 before it -- has been a pretty important year for space development, even though many of the accomplishments weren't front-page material. In fact, the importance of some of the accomplishments is illustrated by the fact that they weren't shocking enough, anymore, to make the front pages.

One important development has to do with the increased emphasis on prizes as a means of encouraging private efforts in space. (I've written on that topic here before.) Those aren't big news, but the results probably will be. One example was this year's Congressional authorization bill for NASA (actually, that Congress even managed to pass an authorization bill for NASA is almost front-page news). But the bill was important because it allows NASA to create prizes of up to $10 million for important achievements, way up from the previous limit of $250,000 -- and leaves the door open for even larger prizes in the future.

And according to one news account, "The bill's language directs a 'sustained human presence on the moon' as a means to provide a steppingstone for future missions to Mars."

Meanwhile, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos's space venture, Blue Origin is, according to one report, moving along:

"Blue Origin has released few details about the project. But a Texas newspaper editor who interviewed Bezos earlier this year said the billionaire talked of sending a spaceship into orbit that launches and lands vertically, like a rocket, and eventually building spaceships that can orbit the Earth -- possibly leading to permanent colonies in space... Test launches will be conducted in West Texas, where Bezos recently bought a 165,000-acre ranch near the small town of Van Horn, about 110 miles southeast of El Paso. Long-term plans for that site include a spaceport where three-person space-tourism flights could blast off once a week.

"Founded in 2000, Blue Origin is one of several private rocket enterprises fueled by the dreams and dollars of wealthy entrepreneurs."

According to the report, Bezos' ultimate goal is space colonization:

"In 1982, during the valedictory speech he gave at his high-school graduation, Bezos stressed the need for space colonization. 'I'm not sure this is a hobby for him,' Logsdon said. 'I think this is his next big idea.'"

Bring it on, I say.

As another observer notes, it's a big deal when space colonization -- once seen as a loopy daydream -- becomes the goal of people with the money to bring it about. Or, perhaps more accurately, with the money to bring about the initial conditions that will make it feasible. Indeed, spaceflight seems to be entering a phase much like aviation in the 1920s: Rapid technological development, with support for breakthroughs becoming a prestige activity on the part of rich guys who want to see the technology develop -- and who think they just might get even richer in the process. This support created a virtuous circle of technological improvement and expanding markets that lasted a couple of crucial decades, seeing aviation move from a novelty to a huge industry.

Which is also what the prize programs and space tourism ventures are likely to do. Space enthusiasts, God knows, have seen plenty of disappointment in the past few decades, as the brief false dawn of Apollo led to years of failed promises and no visible momentum. But we're now seeing signs of new technologies -- and, just as important, new systems of organization -- that make a takeoff into sustained growth much more likely for the space sector. Prizes to develop technology, space tourism to develop markets and help us move up the learning curve, and people with the money and vision to provide the seed capital for both: The essentials now look to be in place. It's about time.


I will give the standard Liberterian answer. Private good, Government BAD!
So the important part is that individuals are starting their own space programs apart from the mess that is NASA(Government), and this is ALL GOOD.

The bad part is like in the case of New Mexico where the government has stolen money from innocent tax payers to fund something that the tax payers would not have funded on their own. And worse is this NASA prize patrol crap. NASA(government) should NOT be in the space business PERIOD. That agency has stolen countless billions from the US tax payers and this prize thing is just an excuse to steal more. There is no way to keep tainted means from tainting the product.

Science K-12
It occurs to me that a prize-based developmental policy of Space rewards only the top tier scientists and engineers. And as a free-market stimulus, it can unintentionally invigorate foreign competition as much as American industry. So as a national initiative, such a policy falls short of nuturing the talents of our young students.

While Dean Kamen's FIRST organization holds various engineering competitions for students, even this stimulus is proving to be insufficient. If America is to profit from Space, then we need to get serious about developing the talent to take us there.

Manage bad/Manage good
The Apollo missions where very successfull. The Mars missions as well.

Things can be managed porely, things can be managed well. Private or public is no measure to determene either. If you open your mind you can find many public things that are managed well.

I repeat, IF you can open your mind and put away retoric.


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