Guest post by Charles Johnson
By any measure, I’m the biggest space geek on the planet.
I’ve watched every Star Trek episode of every series. I’ve watched the documentary, Orphans of Apollo, about the privatization of Mir more times than I care to admit. And despite a lackluster (and altogether way too explosive) time as a captain of my high school’s rocketry club, I remain fascinated with that final frontier.
Yet, as of now, there aren’t many things to write home about. Sure, we occasionally hear about how the Israelis own one tenth of the land available, but as of right now the Moon remains very much insight, but very much out of reach. In my lifetime, no one has even left orbit. One estimate says that the goal of getting back to the moon by 2020 is roughly $30 billion short.
Enter SpaceX. Founded by Tesla and Paypal founder, Elon Mosk, SpaceX is one of the more promising private sector spaceflight operators. It made its first successful flight eleven months ago and won a $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services contract to the International Space Station. Musk’s mission is to make space exploration ten times cheaper.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration has allocated only a meager $50 million dollars through the stimulus to help send development of commercial space exploration. According to SpaceX, it will cost roughly $300 million to complete the program, most of which will be used for an escape system for the crew – something the Russians seem to often forget to include.
Seeing as the federal government is spending $128 million to build a Florida bridge that few residents even want, I think it’s fair to question some of the governments’ priorities, especially as a report from the Review of U.S. Human Space Flights Plan Committee says that current budget restraints jeopardize the future of all future manned space flights. On the campaign trail, Obama has said that he would cut NASA money to nationalized early childhood education – a position he later backed away from. But that hasn’t stopped some critics from arguing that Obama’s trying to gut NASA.
So what gives? Perhaps Obama’s NASA is a little afraid of the competition from the private sector.
Wired Magazine quotes a spokesman from NASA contractor and aerospace giant Lockheed Martin saying that there is just too much risk from commercial spaceflight to make endeavors like SpaceX worthy alternatives to NASA.
“We know how difficult it is to transport to the station and we don’t want people to cut corners, and downstream having NASA pay the penalty of the time and cost of doing this,” John Stevens, of Lockheed Martin’s human spaceflight division, told Aviation Week.
That issue aside, Stevens wonders how the government is supposed to finance NASA and a contract with someone like SpaceX. “If we can’t afford one program, how can we afford two?” he asks.
A fair point, but you’d have to be living on the moon if you think SpaceX’s small contracts with the federal government are making a dent in a country with trillion dollar debts. For my money, I’d rather trust the guy who stakes his fortune on private spaceflight than the bureaucrats that can’t understand the metric system.