Where did NewSpace come from? The philosophy, the people … where did they originate? Essentially, they came from NASA, but not in a good way. Many, many people who believe in the dream of space exploration have been shunned, insulted, and mocked by the space agency’s representatives throughout the years, to the point where they got fed up and decided to go it alone.
Some had their concepts derided and were shut out. Others were not impacted by the agency at all, but understood that any program stemming from the federal government would never bring the costs of access to orbit down enough to make space flight a more common event.
By and large these experiences created NewSpace and provided it with the bitter fuel the followers of the movement appear to run off of today.
Anyone that expresses support for NASA can expect to get an earful—even if they do not side exclusively with the space agency. Those that do not use the exact wording or paint the companies that fall under the NewSpace banner in glowing terms are attacked and demonized. Some elements of the media have caved, pandering to NewSpace whims.
When I last checked, the role of the media was to report the facts, no matter how ugly or inconvenient they might be. It is journalism 101; you are supposed to be unbiased. Sadly, space-related media is just as biased as larger outlets.
NASA has provided mankind with some of its greatest accomplishments, and to ignore that for the flavor of the week simply isn’t an option.
Belief NewSpace will open space to “the rest of us” allows NewSpace fans to ignore both their pet project’s failings as well as NASA’s successes.
While touting Dragon and the Falcon 9, they are all too happy to state missions such as NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, Juno, and GRAIL are inconsequential, and that their launch vehicles and spacecraft are far more important. It is selfishness personified. Yes, the vehicles coming out of these companies are important, but so too are the missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
No NewSpace firm has launched a single astronaut into orbit. They have not landed anything on the surface of the Red Planet, or any other planet for that matter, and haven’t sent probes to orbit our nearest celestial neighbor. Check your egos at the door. What NewSpace has done is impressive, but they are stating statistics about things that might happen and rockets that might fly—in the past tense. Pride goeth before a fall, and when this toddler falls off its high chair, it is going to be a very far fall indeed.
The space shuttle was an incredibly versatile vehicle. It was also unwieldy, dangerous, expensive, and not designed to evolve. However, attempting to compare the Dragon capsule to the shuttle? That’s like trying to compare a tug boat with a cruise liner. Two Dragon spacecraft could have fit inside the shuttle’s payload bay. Yet NewSpacers will have you believe that Dragon is a worthy successor to the shuttle.
Cherry picking specific facts that paint their offerings in a favorable light, while deriding any and everything that NASA does, has become a hallmark of NewSpacers. This is despite the fact that the space agency has bent over backward to private space firms such as SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corporation, Orbital, and Bigelow Aerospace.
NASA has been stereotyped as an agency whose only role is to soak up money to fund a non-essential workforce. This is laughable, in that, by some estimates as much as 80 percent of the megabucks funding NewSpace come from NASA. Without NASA, many, many NewSpace firms would fold. Rather than be thankful, NewSpacers choose to bad mouth the agency whenever they get the opportunity.
The workforce is a prominent element that NewSpacers attack. They are all too happy to see the skilled workers who have designed, built, and maintained spacecraft for decades enter into unemployment—so long as the employees that serve them and their purposes get good jobs.
Those that believe that NewSpace will drive the cost down so low that it will be like purchasing a plane ticket aren’t living in a little thing the rest of us call “reality.”
There is another reason why NewSpace hasn’t had the public relations success it wishes. Contrary to their belief that NASA is “in their way” (anyone who views the commercial-crazy state NASA is currently in knows that argument is false), NASA is very supportive of NewSpace these days. The PR problem that NewSpace is running into stems from the attitude displayed by those within the NewSpace community.
When one has to resort to ad hominem attacks, it shows only one thing: that you realize your argument isn’t sound and you have to insult the person who highlights the facts you find inconvenient. Have a “discussion” with a NewSpacer and you will find they will happily avoid subjects that spotlight the holes in their belief structure. No matter how hard you press, they will simply not respond and will eventually resort to name-calling. These are the actions of petulant children—not the leaders of future.
Selfishness is a key trait of many fans of this movement. For them, it is all about “my ticket to space.” It seems to have less to do with the goal of becoming a spacefaring species, and more about their own personal gratification.
In the words of President Obama, “Let me be clear”: I want to be supportive of NewSpace. However, the bitter and nasty way that the followers of this movement conduct themselves makes this impossible for me. Their arrogance is as nauseating as it is familiar.
The “we can do no wrong” and “you are always wrong” mantra that is emanating from NewSpacers closely resembles the attitude of NASA. This attitude ended up being tossed in the space agency’s face after the Challenger and Columbia disasters. It’s sad that the movement, which was supposed to be so different from the status quo, now suffers from the same symptoms that the agency they so despise did and, possibly, still does. When one of these firms experiences its first crewed disaster, it is one that they will sorely regret.
In a recent opinion piece, I stated that we should support NewSpace, but that we should be careful when doing so, as these companies will be responsible for the lives of those that fly on their spacecraft. I stated that SpaceX had clearly proven me wrong in my initial assessment of its success. In short, the editorial was written to support NewSpace’s efforts, but given that the 10th anniversary of the Columbia disaster was right around the corner, I wanted to express that our optimism should be tempered with caution. It was my hope that the piece could serve as an olive branch to those within the NewSpace movement who visit our website.
Instead, a NewSpacer ignored all of the elements of the article that expressed support for these private space firms, nitpicked the article for not mentioning a litany of other companies that he wanted promoted, and referred to my work as “sloppy” and “incompetent.” Not generally the response one would expect when trying to reach out to someone, but sadly, exactly the type of response one has learned to expect from the NewSpace community’s loudest proponents.
One could argue that this was an isolated case, except that it isn’t. Too many times to count, similar antics have been displayed. One even stooped so low as to speak ill of the dead. Rather than just ignore this poor behavior, I think we should shine a spotlight on it. Confront the NewSpacers who behave this way and ask them: “You’re getting most, if not all, of what you want. So why are you still so angry and nasty?”
Even more disheartening is that those with a moderate bent, looking for a middle ground, will often find the NewSpace community unwilling to compromise. During the International Space Development Conference, held near Orlando, of which I was a member of the organizing committee, I was asked point blank, “New or old?” I stated firmly, “Now.” The person with the query smiled, assuming that I must mean NewSpace. I corrected him, stating that I wanted all of us, on both sides, to stop this asinine “all or nothing” mentality and come together as one—the experience of the established space groups fueled with the passion of emerging NewSpace groups. Typically, the response fell on deaf ears. They stated that NASA needed to “die,” rolled their eyes, and wandered off. It is with this sentiment that I wanted to close, because it sums up the response that I know this opinion-piece will engender. After everything that I have seen, I believe that NewSpacers will not compromise, will not work to come together to build a brighter future. They will merely attack and demand that they be given sole proprietorship of space. In the end, they will become as unyielding, as arrogant, and as distasteful as the agency they hate.
In the end, we need to, in the words of this nation’s leader, “share the wealth.” Both established and new aerospace companies need to be treated equally. Excluding one side or the other is patently wrong, and the notion that stating this warrants an attack—that stating we need to be careful with the lives of the brave men and women who will fly on these machines is somehow impolitic—is disgusting. It has only been a decade since we lost Columbia, and if the fans of these new companies refuse to learn the painful lessons that NASA has had to learn, they are doomed to repeat them. Ad astra per aspera …
Do we expect this Op-Ed to have NewSpacers address these issues, to work toward a better future where we work together to expand the space frontier? No, we expect them to ignore the issues raised, and no matter how hard we press them to address the issues, they will merely bring up something else that they deem important. So why bother? Because, it’s nearing the end of January—a period when a great many people lost their lives in the pursuit of space exploration. If NewSpace is to light the fire of a new age of space flight, they have to be based on a foundation of maturity, and the actions highlighted above do not, in any fashion, represent this.