June 2, 2012

Socialistic Republicans may find it hard to reverse Obama's free-market policy...

Credit where it's due, Obama has gotten one thing right.

SpaceX Dragon returns to Earth:

...Musk, the billionaire behind PayPal and Tesla Motors, aims to launch the next supply mission in September under a steady contract with NASA, and insists astronauts can be riding Dragons to and from the space station in as little as three or four years. The next version of the Dragon, for crews, will land on terra firma with "helicopter precision" from propulsive thrusters, he noted. Initial testing is planned for later this year.

President Barack Obama is leading this charge to commercial spaceflight. He wants routine orbital flights turned over to private business so the space agency can work on getting astronauts to asteroids and Mars. Toward that effort, NASA has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in seed money to vying companies.

NASA astronauts are now forced to hitch rides on Russian rockets from Kazakhstan, an expensive and embarrassing outsourcing, especially after a half-century of manned launches from U.S. soil. It will be up to SpaceX or another U.S. enterprise to pick up the reins. Several companies are jockeying for first place....

One of the tortures for us conservatives for all my life has been the need to work within the Republican Party. Nice chaps and all, but trapped in the Blue Model. This during decades when we sensed a need to get beyond that, to start working with the new Information Age world that was emerging. This wasn't really conscious, mind you. But I'm theorizin' that this was what was happening under the surface. What we call "conservatism" is very much a new product of the new age. As Rick Pearlstein put it, "the most successful youth movement of the 60's was Youth for Goldwater."

And there is hardly any area where Republican obtuseness shows better than in their support of the "State Socialist" model of space exploitation. Giant companies symbiotically joined with giant bureaucracies. Well, the failures of the Space Shuttle program have taught us a lesson about how well that works. And if it's Obama who get it, rather than the supposed party of free markets, well, more power to him.


(This picture has nothing to do with SpaceX; it's the old Delta Clipper. Symbol to me of lost opportunities and squandered decades.)

From the memoirs of Fanny Kemble...

...While we were acting at Liverpool an experimental trip was proposed upon the line of railway which was being constructed between Liverpool and Manchester, the first mesh of that amazing iron net which now covers the whole surface of England and all the civilized portions of the earth. The Liverpool merchants, whose far-sighted self-interest prompted them to wise liberality, had accepted the risk of George Stephenson's magnificent experiment, which the committee of inquiry of the House of Commons had rejected for the government. These men, of less intellectual culture than the Parliament members, had the adventurous imagination proper to great speculators, which is the poetry of the counting-house and wharf, and were better able to receive the enthusiastic infection of the great projector's sanguine hope that the Westminster committee...[Thanks to David Foster at Chicagoboyz]
Posted by John Weidner at June 2, 2012 9:12 AM
Comments

Yes, it's always been bizarre to me that even stalwart free market types lose it when considering space travel and NASA.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at June 2, 2012 6:33 PM

Don't get too excited. SpaceX is a government contractor. Without the International Space Station boondoggle, SpaceX would be OOB.

Posted by: Terry at June 2, 2012 6:36 PM

> lost opportunities and squandered decades
you've not been on the inside of NASA for the past 25+ years....

Posted by: mysterian at June 2, 2012 7:46 PM

Not really bizarre. They were excited about space, not government getting us into space. And NASA put a Lot of effort in being the gatekeepers. There were many private attempts at launches which were murdered in the crib by a oddly timely Shuttle launch sale....

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at June 2, 2012 9:53 PM

To clarify my thinking, I have no problem with the general idea of government putting money into getting people and stuff into space. There is a lot that the US govt can and should legitimately be doing.

What I object to is govt building and operating spacecraft. That's been mad folly, because bureaucracies just aren't good at this.

It would be much smarter to buy x number of launches, so private operators would have a base of sure income to justify investing capital in better and cheaper vehicles and operations. Something like, maybe, a boondoggle space station could be the pretext.

Better yet would be to just offer to buy a LOT of launches at a shockingly low price. I don't know the numbers, but lets say 1/20 the price of the same payload on the Shuttle. That would justify investment towards getting to something like true mass production.

Our government did something like that in the 1930's. Airlines just weren't happening--not enough profits to justify the bigger and better planes that could bring economies of scale. So we offered a generous price for carriers of airmail. That tipped the nascent airlines into profitability, and they quickly persuaded the manufacturers to build better planes.

Posted by: John Weidner at June 3, 2012 7:02 AM

And AOG, you find it odd that people "lose it when considering space travel and NASA"? I do too. The following was written about Christian faith, but I think it fits this situation precisely....

...This attitude is a modern version of 'acedia,' —a kind of anxious vertigo that overcomes people when they consider the heights to which their divine pedigree has called them. In Nietzschean terms it is the mentality of the herd, the attitude of someone who just cannot be bothered to be great. It is bourgeois because it is calculating and pragmatic and comfortable with what is common and ordinary, rather than aristocratic and erotic....
    -- from Ratzinger's Faith, by Tracey Rowland, p. 75

(Longer quote here)

Posted by: John Weidner at June 3, 2012 7:28 AM

John Weidner wrote:
What I object to is govt building and operating spacecraft. That's been mad folly, because bureaucracies just aren't good at this.
But this isn't what was happening. The spacecraft's overall design needs were specified by NASA, but the spacecraft themselves were (and are) being built by contractors.
This is a tricky matter. NASA spends public money, so that money should be spent as directed by congress.
Putting human beings into orbit and returning them safely to the earth is a very expensive, technologically difficult enterprise, with little foreseeable economic return. SpaceX wouldn't be in business if the government wasn't funding the ISS, and the ISS is being funded for political reasons, not as an economic investment.

Posted by: Terry at June 3, 2012 11:54 AM

An open letter from Armstrong, Cernan, and Lovell criticising Obama's space policy changes:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/apr/15/obama-nasa-space-neil-armstrong

Posted by: Terry at June 3, 2012 12:16 PM

"But this isn't what was happening. The spacecraft's overall design needs were specified by NASA, but the spacecraft themselves were (and are) being built by contractors."

Those contractors are so inter-twined with government that essentially they are government. They don't even fart without filling out forms. And don't talk to me about Congress. Space is just pork to them.

"Putting human beings into orbit and returning them safely to the earth is a very expensive, technologically difficult enterprise, with little foreseeable economic return."

Nonsense. You are stuck in 1960. The technological difficulties are shrinking rapidly. SpaceX is already operating below the cost of the Shuttle, and they are just getting started.

And the economic returns are obvious if you open your eyes. Lots of people are already plunking down deposits on $200k sub-orbital flights with Virgin Galactic. The satellite launching business is huge, many billions a year. But more importantly, cheaper access to space will open up many possibilities we can hardly dream of now. I bet we will live to see tens-of-thousands of cripples enjoying total mobility in zero or low gravity.

You've been blinded by propaganda. Suppose the oceans were only used by a few gazzilion-dollar government expeditions. Could YOU imagine the private yacht business? No, because you only see what is, not what might be.

"SpaceX wouldn't be in business if the government wasn't funding the ISS, and the ISS is being funded for political reasons, not as an economic investment."

SpaceX would still be in business, but it would be much harder for them to bootstrap themselves to profitability.

Posted by: John Weidner at June 3, 2012 3:32 PM

"An open letter from Armstrong, Cernan, and Lovell "

I hate astronauts. They are one of the biggest scams ever invented. The job of Liberalism is turning people into rabbits. And it is making splendid progress. But some rabbits might dimly remember that men should aspire to higher things than mere comfort and security. So the astronaut was invented, to be a sort of proxy human being, and to look like what all of us should be--strong, brave, visionary.

The astronaut has carefully scripted pseudo-adventures, with every bold move planned by bureaucrats. And then we are bombarded with propaganda about how these are daring human adventures that enlarge the human spirit. Bullshit.

My heart is with the raggedy-assed guys who light out for the territories with a rifle, an ax and a scalping knife. They've been kept out of space so far, but the walls are starting to crumble.

Posted by: John Weidner at June 3, 2012 3:54 PM

Those contractors are so inter-twined with government that essentially they are government.
SpaceX has spent a billion dollars over the last decade. Half of that money came from the government. The government may have lost less by contracting to SpaceX rather than using the space shuttle, but it is not making money on the deal. BTW, how would you feel if SpaceX sold a controlling interest to the Chinese, John? On what grounds would you oppose such a sale?
There is money to be made in launching satellites to LEO, but not people. You run out of millionaires willing to pay for the trip pretty quickly. The business plan of SpaceX only works if the goevernment continues to waste money on the ISS.

Posted by: Terry at June 4, 2012 11:03 AM

Terry wrote:

Putting human beings into orbit and returning them safely to the earth is a very expensive, technologically difficult enterprise, with little foreseeable economic return.

Not that difficult and not that expensive. There are two companies -- Boeing and SpaceX -- that are credibly within about three years of completing their manned orbital spacecraft. Expected development cost of each is $1 billion or less and expected per-flight cost of a 7-man crew is about $150 million. This compares to the per flight cost of the Shuttle of $1.2 billion for the same size crew. A third company -- Bigelow -- is building commercial space stations and already has two prototype modules in orbit.

SpaceX wouldn't be in business if the government wasn't funding the ISS

Incorrect. SpaceX has 38 flights on their manifest, of which only 12 are from NASA. SpaceX would be plenty profitable without NASA.

By the way, SpaceX exists to put people on Mars. If NASA doesn't adapt -- and soon -- they're going to make themselves completely irrelevant.

Mike

Posted by: Michael Kent at June 5, 2012 5:35 PM
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