The Case Against Private Space

Taylor Dinerman, pens another compelling article in the Saturday edition of The Wall Street Journal in,The Case Against Private Space about the enormous challenges facing the commercial space companies in building and flying astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit. Before anyone assumes that Dinerman does not know what he is talking about when discussing commercial space, it is worth noting that he is, besides a good writer, a member of the advisory board of Space Energy, a company working on space-solar-power concepts.

Dinerman starts his article by reminding readers that this is not the first time commercial rocket companies have made dot-com like promises of great deals and lower launch prices leading to an explosion of space profits. Those who witnessed the 1990’s era of Kistler, Beal Aerospace, and Rotary Rocket, just to name a few of the space companies that, after blowing through hundreds of millions, ended up sharing the fate of the dot-bombs, may be forgiven for having a sense of déja vu all over again and hear the voice Randy Quade shouting, Hello boys! I’m baack! in their head. Indeed, they are back.

But is their schtick any better this time? The problems that SpaceX has had with its tiny Falcon 1 rocket, that is being years late, in excess of a hundred million over budget, and three launch failures, never mind the dramatic flame-out that was Rocketplane Kistler, indicate that the answer may be no.

Yet, like the Clinton Administration, the Obama Administration isn’t going to let a little thing like past (lack of) performance stop them as they throw-out the old for…Dot Rockets 2.0. Dinerman’s closing point is central to the issue holding back America’s human space program. Until the American government can bring itself to choose a path and stick to it for more than a single administration, its claim to be worthy of a great nation will be in doubt. Or as Shakespear so aptley wrote in Julius Caeser, The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.

In light of the Obama Administration’s plans to kill our nation’s human space flight program, we must look not to one decisive leader, but to members of Congress, for leadership. That does constitute an irony…doesn’t it?

President Barack Obama’s proposed plan for NASA bets that the private sector—small, entrepreneurial firms as well as traditional aerospace companies—can safely carry the burden of flying U.S. astronauts into space at a fraction of the former price. The main idea: to spend $6 billion over the next five years to help develop new commercial spacecraft capable of carrying humans. The private sector simply is not up for the job. For one, NASA will have to establish a system to certify commercial orbital vehicles as safe for human transport, and with government bureaucracy, that will take years. Never mind the challenges of obtaining insurance.

(Via The Wall Street Journal.)

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