Government largesse, space exploration, and pants

Cue the "sad trombone"
Cue the “sad trombone”

This is another opinion piece, so just read on if you’re interested, or ignore it, click on your Amazon tab, and continue shopping.

My encounter the other day with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) website being down (you can go here to see that–or just type in due to the government shutdown made me ponder about just how deeply involved government is with space.

So the United States government, the left side and right, is sending out a message with this shutdown, but I don’t think it’s the one either side intended to send.  The message is this:  maybe space exploration and operations depend too much on government largesse.  If we had a competitive space launch/operations market, would it be so terrible if NASA were shut down?  Probably not.   I think this situation IS changing, as we are seeing with successful companies like DigitalGlobe, SpaceX, and others, but obviously there’s still government in the equation.

Whether it’s SpaceX’s rocket delivering supplies to the International Space Station, or the military/”name your favorite three-letter agency” ordering imagery from DigitalGlobe, the government still has the money to influence these companies.  The question for those companies is:  how quickly can they wean themselves from this fickle and very political source of revenue?  Do they want to?  Maybe it’s time to change.

Because, you see, the government is a very big single point of failure.  We’re seeing it now–national parks are closed; the FDA can’t conduct drug tests and approvals; the USDA can’t inspect food plants for possible unhygienic conditions; and NASA can’t even maintain a website.  Why, for the love of liberty, are they even involved in this stuff?  What would happen to US-employed astronauts if they were out in space?  What analysts are available to keep track of all the garbage that may potentially crash into other satellites (especially civilian ones)?  You SEE–single point of failure.

But that point seems to be missed, or at least, not analyzed.  Shouldn’t we be worried about the fact of an existence of a single point of failure that could implode on us in our progression towards the future?  Does the government have a monopoly on the brains developing theories, the individuals implementing ingenious engineering solutions to stellar conundrums?  And if the government shuts down, do the brains just get shoved in a closet or put on a shelf?   The answer really doesn’t matter–we find ourselves blaming government for shutting down our future in space.  But is the blame-pointing even accurate?

There are interviews conducted by the media these past few weeks with the “man on the street,” and invariably, someone will talk about how everyone in Washington DC needs to put on their “big boy pants”–“trousers” for you Brits– and sit down and talk.  But what if we’re the ones that need to put on the big boy pants?  Maybe we should finally say “You know, the food industry needs to figure out all by itself how it won’t poison customers.” or “Maybe space would be more accessible to people, and more routine, if there weren’t multiple government agencies involved during launches, etc.”

What’s the more grown up way of conducting space launch and operations–as businessmen and explorers, or as a potential hostage that’s pretending to be a security blanket (remember Linus in “Peanuts”) for the industry?  Maybe we should grow up and just take NASA out of the space game altogether–shutting down right now isn’t helping anybody anyway (and depicts the potential havoc a centralized government agency can impose on citizens–government healthcare anyone?) and there are a lot of companies out there just looking for some of that expertise to cross over.

By the way–I KNOW NASA has done some very good things–so please don’t write to remind me.  NASA’s accomplishments don’t mean squat to any of the politicians with the money, our money.  This is another reason why space exploration and operations should be conducted by those who care–who have a fiscal stake–who want to be first–who just want to see what’s out there–instead of government.  It’s why we look up to people like Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk–they wear the big boy pants while running their businesses.

So maybe the big boy pants need to be worn by more citizens, particularly those pointing the finger at DC politicians.  Sure, the politicians aren’t helping, but as distasteful as this may be to some of you, we are in this together, even as separate, sovereign (sometimes irrational) individuals!  Space is too vast to be shut down by government, but many hungry companies and individuals in this country can insure this will never be a problem again.  Just get the single point of failure out of the way.

2 thoughts on “Government largesse, space exploration, and pants

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