Monday, March 20, 2006
What's A Government Space Program For?
How does the US government project its reach and influence into the Solar System when the Outer Space Treaty bars any assertion of national sovereignty over other worlds?
It does so by sustaining a permanent American presence in space. Its preferred permanent presence is a government presence because it has more control over it than it would over private citizens.
It projects its reach and influence into the Solar System by developing spacecraft owned by the government for government astronauts to fly on. The government's space program, much like the Navy and Air Force is not about giving rides to private citizens. Nor is it about hitching a ride on private transportation. A government space program is about makings sure the government has its own ships to fly its own people into space or the people it chooses to take.
It projects its reach and influence into the Solar System by sending spacecraft out to explore. Every US crewed or robotic spacecraft that goes to another world expands America's influence both on Earth and in space. Here on Earth successful exploration missions help to make the US the go-to country for science and exploration in space. Successful missions to other worlds create little American outposts on other worlds. Having our own ships elsewhere in the solar system is similar to showing the flag here on Earth. It tells other countries that we are free to operate in space and we can.
To be influential in space the US government's space program doesn't need to be very innovative. Its competitors in space are other governments. For now, as long as the US program is about as good as the programs of other countries, which it is, it will be doing its job. There is no compelling reason in the current political climate requiring the US government's space program to be signifantly better than the programs of other countries. When such a reason arises, that's when the government program will look to innovate.
Finally, what a government space program is not for is flying lots of private citizens into space, settling space, or making lots of money. Those are the functions of the private sector. The government's functions are to regulate those activities and have a presence in space when private space ventures advance enough to start sending lots of people offworld.
Those who want to make money in space and go to space themselves will have to build their own ships and find their own financing. Some have gotten that message by now. That's why suborbital entrepreneurs are creating a market for what they want to do, raising the money however they can, and building their own ships. (Here & here.) The suborbital entrepreneurs are showing the way to a future where ordinary people live, work, and travel in space.
Technorati: NASA, Space.
The publicly funded programs have fundamentally different objectives.
I was a engineer at NASA for 15 years, adn try to explain to folks - but they don't get it.
Space isn't the goal, its a means to a end. They want to do space (most folks), but thats not what voters vote for - so its not what their congressional bosses fund for. The end is masses of high pay jobs at the big 3 centers. The big programs support the centers, not the other way around.
They won't develop a cheep relyable launch vehicle. Not that they couldn't, it would be suicide for them since it wouldn't need the huge armies of support staffs. No armies of support staff, adn the centers get depopulated.
They won't open space up for the rest of us, because if everyone can get their fairly cheeply, why pay for their extreamly expensive programs? How would those programs be able to ride on the prestigue of the few federal astrounauts?
Most everone just figures I'm a cynic, and NASA is doing the best that anyone can with the technology we have. So since they can do so very little with such huge budgets, no one can ever do much with a reasonable budget. So space is impossible without a breakthrough tech.
At least SpaceShip Ones flights blew some big cracks in that wall of ill-logic.
Too much of the space advocacy "community" (ha!) is stuck in a schizophrenic rut: bashing NASA for not doing what (1) was never its real brief, and (2) isn't what a grown-up would reasonably expect from any government agency... and simultaneously chest-thumping about how private enterprise will show NASA up as sluggish and incompetent.
People who really believe in the second part shouldn't waste time and energy on the first.
> simultaneously chest-thumping about how private enterprise will show NASA up as
> sluggish and incompetent.
So, when are you "grown-ups" going to stop beating your chest and finish your "space elevator", Monte?
All your "Spaceward Foundation" does is bash the people who are actually reducing the cost of access to space -- and scam NASA into funding your space elevator contests.
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