Save Space Travel:by Don Lobo Tiggre
One of the most perplexing deviations from principle engaged in by
many freedom-lovers is their soft spot for NASA. Even though the U.S.
space agency is clearly a government intrusion into what should be a free
market endeavor, and a bloated bureaucracy to boot, it is not uncommon to
hear liberty-oriented people suggesting that funds be diverted from the
military (which is at least a Constitutionally sanctioned activity) to
NASA, or from the National Helium Reserve (which everyone agrees has not
been very useful since the army stopped using blimps) to NASA.
from The Laissez
Faire City Times, Vol 3, No 36, September 13, 1999
myself have even been guilty of having a soft spot for NASA, thinking it
should be the last federal agency to go on the block—though I’ve always
maintained that any monies liberated from the Feds should be returned to
the taxpayers, not redirected to pet projects. Now I have a different
view: The sooner we can Proxmire (kill) NASA, the better for space
And I say that as a great enthusiast of space
exploration. I’d dump this mudball in a heartbeat if there were anyone
delivering payloads to orbit for as little as $1,000 a ton. Maybe two
heartbeats if it were in the $5,000 to $10,000 range. Nobody wants to see
space exploration advance more than I do. And that’s why I want to see
NASA die. The notion that NASA is in any way helping advance the cause of
space travel is simply foolish—a flat out contradiction of everything we
know to be true about methods, motives, and results of state-run
The Sheep Principle
Remember wise the words of
the former Cabinet Minister from New Zealand Morris
"Subsidies keep farmers poor."
He was referring to
the fact that while New Zealand was subsidizing the sheep industry, the
farmers focused their efforts on producing that which was rewarded by the
subsidy. The subsidies and other generous social services were bankrupting
the country and the farmers were still having trouble surviving. When the
subsidies were cut, the farmers went out and did market research and
changed their product line to go for the top of the market and ended up
making more money than they did under the subsidies. The moral of the
story is that if you want a business to thrive, you’ve got to get the
state the hell out of the way.
And NASA is an agency of the state;
it’s got to be gotten the hell out of the way. Think about it. The purpose
and incentives of the agency have always been aligned with PR, not real
space exploration. The manned missions to the moon were a colossal waste
of resources that could have been put into something practical, like
making satellite communications a reality decades earlier than they were.
But that wasn’t the idea; the Apollo project’s only purpose was to show
those pesky Russians who was boss. An unfortunate, and perhaps not
entirely coincidental side benefit was that it gave Americans an unhealthy
and unjustified faith in the state. "Uncle Sam put a man on the moon, so
he can win this War on Poverty!"
the Apollo project was an unqualified success, one of the best boondoggles
they ever came up with. For freedom-lovers and space enthusiasts, it was a
step in the wrong direction, a precedent so hideously expensive that it
put the enterprise into that category of pork that only bloated
welfare/warfare states could afford.
Similarly, the space shuttle
has never come even close to living up to its promise of making it
inexpensive to deliver cargo to orbit. All it has done has been to divert
attention and resources from the many more economic and practical designs
that abound, if anyone were to look for them. But why bother, NASA’s
"space bus" is making regular trips, so everyone will be able to hitch a
ride soon, right?
Don’t hold your breath.
space station debacle puts the whole issue to rest, if there are any
remaining doubts in any reasonable minds. What could possibly make it
clearer than NASA’s insistence on partnership with agencies that can’t
deliver (the Russians) that their priority is not space exploration, but
political leverage. It’s PR, all the way. Besides, NASA, in keeping with
other government agencies not subject to market discipline, isn’t likely
to deliver as promised on the space station, even if gets all the money
it’s asking for. According to a recent report by the General Accounting
Office, NASA cost estimates for the space station do "not include all
funding requirements related to space station operations." Or, in simpler
terms: they either don’t know what they’re doing or else they are fudging
So now NASA is looking at budget cuts, and many space
enthusiasts, libertarians among them, are crying foul: "A 10 percent NASA
Budget Cut voted on Monday would cancel many space missions. Don't like
that? Then take the time TODAY to call your representative and
Budget cuts? I say: the more the better. Cut the
budget entirely. Get the state out of space. Let’s let the entrepreneurs
get there first and then open it to all of us. I’d trust McDonald’s and
Coca-Cola to set up a safe space restaurant (their liability lawyers would
make sure of that) far more than I’d ever trust NASA to do so. Does no one
remember when Richard Feynman asked the Challenger disaster commission how
the O-ring material would respond to cold. The bureaucrats all stared
blankly and said it would have to be studied, so Feynman stuck some O-ring
material into a glass of ice-water right there on the table and showed
them that it lost its ability to spring back into shape when cold. Why on
earth would anyone want to trust NASA with anything important?
private industry doesn’t believe in space development, some protest—what
if they won’t foot the bill?
Well, if this were so, the first
response should be: "Then by what moral authority do you claim the right
to force anyone to fund projects they don’t believe in?"
response is that it’s just not so. NASA, faced with the hard reality of
budget cuts and a congress with more vacuum where their heats should be
than there is out in space, has started looking seriously for commercial
partners, and is finding them. A number of companies have already signed
on, for example, to support the international space boondoggle—er,
station, excuse me.
But better yet, whether
because of recent noises encouraging businesses or because of NASA’s
glacial pace of project development, the U.S. space agency is starting to
get competition, and not just from other government agencies. Consider the
following news announced August 13, 1999, by a company called
SpaceDev will offer commercial missions to the Moon and
Mars at prices significantly below current government costs. "We are now
offering to deliver small payloads on Mars-entry trajectories for a fixed
price of about $24 million," SpaceDev chairman and CEO Jim Benson said
Friday at the annual conference of the Mars Society. "The estimated NASA
procurement cost for a similar mission is thought to be significantly
higher than the SpaceDev fixed price, perhaps twice as much." The company
will start offering the commercial Mars mission starting with the 2003
launch opportunity. The $24 million would cover total mission costs to
deliver one to three spacecraft into the Martian atmosphere, except for
the payload itself. Similarly, Benson said the company would offer lunar
orbiter missions commercially for $20 million. These spacecraft could
carry up to four payloads, ranging from scientific experiments to Web
servers. The payloads could be fixed to the spacecraft or ejected from
You get the idea. Imagine how many more companies would get
into the business, and how many more companies would give those
entrepreneurs business, if there weren’t a prevailing notion afloat in the
U.S. that only NASA can do space missions.
If you’d like a graphic
illustration of just how badly NASA is retarding space development, read
Victor Koman’s masterful novel, Kings of the High Frontier. The story may
be fiction, but all the historical material on NASA is factual, and the
designs for launch vehicles are viable too.
space development to another high tech field, say computer technology, and
ask yourself which is progressing faster. Couldn’t it be that a
bureaucracy might not be the best vehicle for space and freedom
enthusiasts to hang their hopes and dreams upon?
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