Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Socialist Space Exploration

Forty years ago today, the first man orbited the earth in a primitive, Russian space capsule.

Twenty five years ago today, the first Space Shuttle lifted off from Florida and went into orbit.

Back in those days, if you asked where our space program would be in 2006, the answer would have been mind-blowing. By 2006, we were told, we would have cities in orbit, permanently manned bases on the moon, human exploration of Mars, and at least the beginnings of a manned interstellar program. Space travel, we were promised, would be as routine as flying from New York to London.

Our space program has failed to deliver on that early promise. It seems that the height of our achievement was the Apollo program more than thirty years ago. We could not send a man back to the moon today if we wanted to. The Space Shuttle program has never been as successful as we hoped. It was originally touted as being capable of flying ten to fifteen missions a year, but five missions in a year is the most it has ever achieved. The plans for the International Space Station are getting more modest each year, as the program slides further behind schedule and over budget.

So what is the cause of this lack of innovation or progress?

We have turned space exploration into another ineffective government program, blocking our greatest engine of innovation, the free market private sector, from reaching its full potential in advancing the technology of space flight. The same principle is true in space flight as anywhere else: the best and brightest people don't work for the government. If they did, the private sector would hire them away. NASA is crippled by the fact that it is government run, and thus not propelled by the market forces which fuel private enterprise. Instead, it is limited by the short-sighted nature of public funding and the whim of Congress. The private sector should, in theory, be far better than the government at developing new technology to achieve our goals in space. But there is not a single American company which provides a commercial satellite launch capability. Several companies have tried, but none have succeeded. It is not that the technical challenge is beyond the ability of American industry. We built rockets which could carry a satellite to orbit decades ago. The reason that there is no private sector business flying in space is that it is not economically feasible. To break into the business, a company would have to compete with NASA, a taxpayer subsidized entity. NASA can offer their satellite launching service at a lower price because they are funded by the government, and there is no way that a private company can compete with that. By maintaining a government-run space program, we not only have a sub-par space program, but we also block out private companies which could do a lot more if they could break into the industry.

So let's get back to the vision we had forty years ago, get the government out of the way, and unleash America's unstoppable creativity and the power of free market enterprise to reach our Space Age dreams.

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