January 17, 2004

New realm in the air...

Rand Simberg points to an interesting article by Greg Klerkx, The Citizen Astronaut

...These days, unfortunately, the shuttle is not the best advertisement for space travel of any kind. More important, NASA has never really accepted the idea that space travel should be for anyone but professional astronauts. The agency did all it could, for instance, to stop a businessman, Dennis Tito, from visiting the International Space Station in 2001.

Underlying NASA's resistance is a fundamental disdain for sullying the human space flight enterprise with the brassy sheen of commerce. But this is backward thinking. Was Charles Lindbergh any less inspirational because he was, to put it bluntly, an aerial privateer chasing a cash prize?

President Bush's Mars initiative neatly places NASA's goal of exploration in the public spotlight. Now the agency needs to allow the rest of us to participate.... (Klerkx has a new book out also, Lost in Space : The Fall of NASA and the Dream of a New Space Age. I'm going to take a look at it.)

It's not just commerce they disdain, the bureaucrats don't want to share space with the common man. They are elitists. It's no accident that elitists of all stripes are attracted to government. Only the state can overrule the marketplace.

It's worth keeping in mind how we dealt with a similar situation, with a new realm in the air where private enterprise was slow to grow to a self-sustaining size. In the 1920's the US Government used airmail subsidies to greatly expand our then tiny airlines, and encourage the creation of larger and faster planes. I wrote a post about it here; it's a very interesting bit of our history. The gist of it was that we subsidized capacity. The airlines with airmail contracts got more money if they flew bigger planes, even if there wasn't mail to fill them. In effect this was subsidizing the carrying of passengers, and of course the development of bigger planes.

But, one important thingļæ½the US government didn't try to decide what the "goal" of airlines should be! That was good, because we really didn't know enough to decide. For instance, the transports that were created in the 30's were vital to us in WWII. But the Air Force was totally uninterested in them. If government masterminds had tried to save resources by allocating them according to a master plan for airplane development, the results would have been far worse.

Posted by John Weidner at January 17, 2004 9:01 PM
Weblog by John Weidner