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Obama scores one for the private sector!

January 29, 2010

UK Reaction Engines' "Skylon" reusable

I’ve been reading how bad it is that Obama has abandoned the Constellation manned space program. I initially thought so too, but then I got to thinking…

Okay, you’re right, it does indicate that he has absolutely no sense of American exceptionalism and he doesn’t get that this is part of his job as leader – to articulate a vision for our country. It’s inspiring and helps us all achieve more.

He’s about as inspiring as Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukkakis rolled into one big-eared package.

On the other hand…

NASA has been engaged more in job protection over the last twenty years than anything else. It’s just another big Federal jobs program. Now, I happened to like the kind of thing they were doing, mostly, but they were doing it inefficiently and without any long-term direction.

By killing the program now, Elon Musk at SpaceX and other private concerns – even Boeing or Northrop-Grumman – get a better shot. Not only do they have commercial launch service markets to serve, but anything the government decides it needs has to be bought on the commercial market, too. The actual shuttle service program has been privately run for years.  Switching things completely over wouldn’t be that hard.

Maybe this will drive some investment into the struggling space launcher companies. It’s a high-risk business right now, and big investors generally have stayed away, unless it’s an individual like Paul Allen, Richard Branson, Elon Music or Jeff Bezos. Imagine what would happen if one of these other outfits could get a could of big VC firms to look at them. With the US government out of the way, undercutting them for launch services, maybe somebody could actually make a profit!

Remember, while a lot of the R&D in space flight was done by NASA, the hardware was, and is, generally built by somebody private. (Do you know who was the prime contractor for, and builder of, the first stage of the Saturn V? Chrysler!) Boeing owns more documentation, plans, design studies, research data and tooling than anyone else, especially after all the mergers. If Boeing could get some VC funding it would have a dozen well-planned and researched alternatives to choose from in its own archives.

For years no companies could really break into the market because NASA would undercut their prices. Subsidizing the shuttle that way was stupid and, in the long run, bad for America. Now it’s possible, maybe, to get a couple of companies really rolling.

Some other ideas:

– Sell KSC to Disney or Sony. Or to the State of Florida. Somebody that will do a better job of capitalizing on the history of the place. A space -exploration theme park would do more for igniting love of space for young people than the dry and dull history version that the KSC tour hands out. Right now it’s “yeah, we were damn cool once, but not any more…”. We need something that show us our great history but shows what could be done – more like Mission:Space at Epcot, but more hard-science.

– Bid out the work of supplying the services NASA needs – crew changeout and resupply to the ISS, deep space probe and satellite launch services. Most of this is already done this way, but with more competition, shouldn’t we get a better price? Your tax dollars are being used here, you know! You can bid out cleaning services for office buildings – why not bid out the space launches?

Then somebody like Bigelow Aerospace can take us back to the moon – for a good reason – PROFIT.

Hey, Barry – you actually did something right! Who cares if it’s accidental?

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