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« It's Called "Satire" | Main | Mass Production »

A "Libertarian Spacehound"?

Stanley Kurtz has responded to my response to his column.

I want to clarify. This happens often, and it's forgivable in his case, because he's probably read very little of my writing and is working from a small sample, but I don't advocate a "libertarian" approach to space, if by that one means no government funding or involvement. (Other people have less of an excuse for continual oversimplification and misstatement of my positions.)

I would consider such an approach preferable to the current one, but certainly not optimal in terms of opening that frontier. History indicates that governments working intelligently (and often unintelligently) with private interests have always opened new frontiers, and space will be no different in that regard. My position is that the balance of our current approach, which is more socialistic and state-enterprise than even the Soviet Union was (they had more competition among their design bureaus than we do among our overconsolidated aerospace contractors) has to be amended, not that government has no role.

I'm simultaneously thrilled to see so much public discussion of space issues, and (again, not to single out Stanley, or even include him in this group) so much ignorance of the fundamentals, and repetition of flawed and failed arguments about it, which is why I'll continue to blog on the subject as events develop and I have time.

But once more, the issue isn't space activities versus none, or NASA versus private industry or no one, or robots versus people, or moon versus Mars--we have to frame this discussion in terms of what we're trying to accomplish, and that goes beyond "science," "exploration," and "missions." Until we've done so (and hopefully reached some sort of national consensus on that--something that hasn't occurred since the early sixties), the prospects for useful discussion, or fruitful policy output, remain bleak.

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 14, 2004 07:26 AM
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"Libertarians downplay the extent to which government must provide the legal framework, institutional setting, and technical infrastructure within which individual liberty plays out."

Thats almost the exact opposite statement of what people have been saying. Government should exactly be working on appropriate legal framework , and establishing a strong infrastructure both here on earth and up in the skies. NACA was infrastructure, air mail subsidies were infrastructure.
It has done nothing of the sort and remains fixated on its exploration and science meme, which according to what i heard O'Keefe saying on NASA TV will be strongly reiterated once again, with this "new policy".

Posted by at January 14, 2004 07:50 AM

Now i realize, my post was pointless. If what we are trying to accomplish is something akin what we are trying to accomplish in antarctic, then the government has perhaps been exactly on the right track all along.
Except that the desicion to make space a scientific playground and keep humanity confined on this rock forever would be WRONG.

Posted by at January 14, 2004 07:56 AM

While part of the reason we have not utilized even the technology we have now is the lack of a coherent vision, it is also important to recognize that part of the reason that the US doesnt have a coherent vision is that it might be time to recognize that most of the "visions" circulating around the space community are about as coherent as sales pitchs for a pyramid scheme. It would take some time to go over all of them one at a time, but the plans for space development are fairly uniformly optimistic in terms of presuming that enabling technologies will be developed within budgets. The fact is that there isnt any easy, quick, or cheap way to industrialize space and perhaps it is time to own up to this reality to the public. Maybe then there will be less initial scepticism as to the viability of particular missions and as to the purpose for more extended campaigns like the moon/mars plan. We arent dealing with the same public that watched in awe as sputnik orbited above them, the same public that was ready to follow President Kennedy to the moon, regardless of the cost. Today the public knows enough about the history of cost overruns in space to be sceptical of grandiose goals in space exploration and doesnt have an evil empire to compete with that justifies spending on prestige projects. If we want to increase public support for space we should respect the public enough to be able to clearly answer the all important question in terms of public opinion; what has space done for me lately and what can it do for me tomorrow?

Posted by Nathan Horsley at January 14, 2004 09:34 AM

Nathan, you confuse "space" with "NASA's approach to space."

Posted by Rand Simberg at January 14, 2004 10:20 AM

Well I think it is to easily downplayed the simple notion that people just enjoy the accomplishment of getting from point A to Point B. I often take a weekend road trip just to drive somewhere and get away. Its not so much the destination that I pick that really interests me sometimes but the journey getting their that I often remember most. Same attitude I suspect for groups of rich people that don't even bat an eye dropping millions on sail boats and racing each other across the Atlantic. It can even be a life journey such as a Mark Shuttleworth who fulfilled his boyhood journey to travel into space for a cool $20 million.

I think the first thing we need to accomplish is showing people that getting to space isn't so harsh, so expensive, and impossible. We need to demonstrate how we don't have to get embarrased that one of our only intentions for space travel is none other than the fact that we get to go. Think of the silly southwest airline commercials where they basically motivate people to travel for for none other reason then the fact that its so cheap so why not take a trip. Its exactly why I like to visit transterrestrial because Rand consistenly broadcasts the message that space craft materials need to become cheaper and space access opputunities need to be broadened to a wider population. The risks are always going to be there. We here in America have just gotten so accustomed to the risks that we accept yet want to stick our head in the ground and cringe at what we are unfamiliar with. Just commuting to work in a automobile at 60 m.p.h is a risky endeavor. People die by the thousands every year but we don't see the roads become shattered vehicles dismantled, our airports shutdown. Traveling by automobile or aircraft is not veiwed as being to tragic, expensive, or dangerous because we cannot live without it. We believe that we are mature enough to handle the risks and develop a sense of acceptance of those losses that are incurred. That attitude will no doubt need to be adopted for space travel. We have to demonstrate that peoples fears that space flight is dangerous are unfounded and that there is no reason to become apprehensive to viewing space flight as yet another means of expansion, recreation, and revenue.

Posted by Hefty at January 14, 2004 12:36 PM

I suspect the problem is not that NASA and its backers do not know what they wish to accomplish; it's that they can't say it.

Sure, the only sensible space program and the only one that fits well with American history and present expectations is one that gets us ASAP to wide-open colonization and exploitation. Or so I see it, and most other space optimists.

But such optimists are outnumbered roughly 2 to 1 by people who either (a) doubt the prospects for success at the present time, (b) doubt the prospects for success at any time ever, (c) concede the prospects for success but doubt that it will personally improve their lives, or (d) regard all of existence as a great Zero Sum Game, with the result that space programs of any sort seem actively inimical to their interests -- if not absolutely genocidal.

A ballpark figure -- 25-30% of the American public does not like space flight. Which is a big enough figure that the 10-15 % of the population that does approve of space flight finds it difficult to say so. Particularly those who work for NASA or elsewhere in the aerospace business. That's CONTROVERSY, after all. It upsets the politicians who sign the checks for most space flight. It doesn't help one's career prospects. In the worst of all-too-conceivable cases, it might lead to cities being burned down.

Which means that space backers find it difficult to say much other publically than that exploration in general is a Nice Thing, and that "world class science" is a Nice Thing and that space exploration can be done Really Really Cheaply.

All hypocrisy, of course, but that seems to be the way Americans want their government and their society to function, so we're stuck with it. On this world....

--mike shupp

Posted by mike shupp at January 14, 2004 01:01 PM

"-we have to frame this discussion in terms of what we're trying to accomplish, and that goes beyond "science," "exploration," and "missions." Until we've done so (and hopefully reached some sort of national consensus on that--something that hasn't occurred since the early sixties), the prospects for useful discussion, or fruitful policy output, remain bleak."

How do "WE" do this?

I need to be educated more on the subject of space exploration, colonization, enginering, etc. Now, if I need to be more educated on this subject, then that means that most everyone else needs that education. SO, the first step would be to educate people more. Now, how do "WE" do this! And what is the next step?

You are going to have to write the book.

Posted by at January 14, 2004 04:16 PM

"You are going to have to write the book."

How trustworthy is the one Zubrin already did?

"They are ill discovers that think there is no land, when they can see nothing but sea."

- Francis Bacon

Posted by Ged of Earthsea at January 15, 2004 08:12 AM

oops, Frank actually said "discoverers," not "discovers."

Still ill, however.

Posted by Ged of Earthsea at January 15, 2004 08:23 AM

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