On the Soapbox

A Falcon in the Dive

Saturday, March 25, 2006
Keywords: Space

I'm not a very good libertarian because I snickered a bit when Falcon 1, the world's first privately-funded satellite rocket was lost shortly after takeoff.

In principle, I believe that it is healthy that we develop private space enterprises so that we could take a step closer to the images of science fiction. In principle. But I do not feel that way at all, and it puzzles me a bit. I'm not quite sure why that is, but I'm guessing that it is because of what these private enterprises are associated with in my mind.

There is a lot of NASA-bashing, from politicians who want to cut their budget, to the ESA who made fun of their rovers (at least, until their own lander crashed), to the people who criticize its safety record (I'd like to see those critics try to do better). And perhaps this is just a misconception, but it seems that a lot of the people who root for these private space enterprises are highly critical of NASA. The problem is, I'm a consequential libertarian who believes in pragmatism, and as such, I do not have much beef with NASA because I think that with something like space, we are still at the stage where government involvement is absolutely necessary and where profit-driven forces are either insufficient and incompatible (explain to me again how the market will spur interest in research-oriented projects). There is also a bit of narcissism at play. I remember how online communities cheered the winner of the X Prize, but what good did that accomplish? It was a dinky little craft that barely went into "space" and really won more or less on a technicality. Explain to me again how much of that stunt represented real progress and real R&D towards viable commercial projects; I'd like to see someone try to scale that design into something useful for more than just marketing. And then there was this highly-touted rocket. Of course, NASA doesn't build every single component that it uses in-house, either. Much of the work is outsourced to private enterprises. Some would argue that these big aerospace companies are not much better than NASA, but the real question is, are these small space enterprises really any safer, more economical, and better than the establishment? Given the nature of space and our current technology levels, my answer would be biased towards no.

I certainly do not fancy a future where space is dominated by government, so deep down inside, if I think about it rationally, I should be rooting for these guys. But the mental association--whether or not it is really accurate--of these quixotic enterprises with NASA-bashing turns me emotionally away from their cause.

Maybe it's just not time yet...

This entry was edited on 2006/03/25 at 11:10:14 GMT -0500.