By Laurence Ticehurst.
First the craziness in Washington! Why is the Federal budget so out of control? Because the government is trying to do too much. One only has to set foot in the Federal Capital to realise that one has touched down on a planet where costs are borne by others. Of course American government agencies have the seediness that is inescapably associated with government operations elsewhere; but the fundamental extravagance of the operation is not in doubt as rush hour in either direction develops.
But it get worse than that; as the recent events show the political process is no sure way to achieve anything. Government projects are inherently political, and they can only continue as long as a consensus to fund them continues. But such agreement is ultimately now dependent not so much even on the results of elections- but on what the focus groups are saying. And so what chance now for long term projects?
Contrast the scenes on Capitol Hill with the report from California of a private enterprise space launch which plans to explore the possibility of reusing the various stages of the rocket assembly to reduce costs. This time it didn’t work. But the company concerned thinks they have got the hang of it. And that next time..
Why didn’t NASA think of that? And if they did why didn’t they do anything about it?
The answer to this at least is clear. Because the taxpayer is paying, and because as the very name suggests NASA is a political body- deeply embedded in the political process. Ultimately NASA is like the National Coal board or even closer to home The Turf Board. Both I don’t doubt in the short run comforting organisations to work for but ultimately as insecure and fragile as the will of their masters.
If ever there was a long term project it is the creation of human xtrastructures beyond our planet. Deep space will probably forever remain beyond our reach. But there are commercial prospects in our solar system, for mining, for specialised manufacturing, and for tourism. Exploiting them presents huge challenges to our determination and our ingenuity. But are we more likely to overcome these through the tired machinery of politics and public administration, or by trusting the the human quest for profit, for adventure, and for renown? Let the Falcon fly!