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space (spās) n. 1. space beyond the atmosphere of the earth.

prag·ma·tism (prgm-tzm) n. A way of approaching situations or solving problems that emphasizes practical applications and consequences.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Space Policy -- Think out of the Box People

Dan Vergano's article in USA Today is the kind of thinking that dries me nuts. This is the kind of thinking that makes Joe Public think that he has to choose.

Note to Joe Public: You don't. You can have it all, just expect more from your Space Program.

This article proposes that there are three mutually exclusive visions of NASA in the coming years.

[Dan] presents three other sharply divergent themes for the agency advocated by different players in the space arena: [emphasis mine]
Okay, I will grant the third idea that "the era of the astronaut is over" is a little hard to mesh with an overriding goal of colonizing the solar system, but the first two fit together fine with W's Vision.

Some space policy analysts want NASA and other space agencies to be more active in defending the planet from threats both external and internal. That means doing such things as deflecting an approaching asteroid or monitoring climate change and resource losses.

Me too. Sounds good, lets put a few hundred million dollars into tracking these things (as Mike Griffin said last year). That leaves us with 16.2 billion or so to explore. Doesn't seem "sharply divergent" to me.

Buoyed by the success of Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne rocket-plane, which won the $10 million Ansari X-Prize last year, some space entrepreneurs would like NASA to encourage the commercialization of space activities.
NASA hopes to boost its $250,000 "Centennial Challenges" prizes, for achievements such as creating improved space tethers, to ones worth up to $40 million for private efforts to land a robot on the moon, operate a solar sail or pull off a manned orbital flight.
If I remember correctly, the "Centennial challenges" prizes were part of the Aldridge commission's report to the President. Heck, lets say $100 million for prizes. That leaves us with 16.1 billion for exploration. I still don't see the "sharply divergent" ideas.

Speaking of commercialization, why is it that people (especially reporters) seem to think the only way to get commercial space is if NASA encourages or even subsidizes it. Burt Rutan did it in spite of NASA. Don't wait for permission, if you think you have an idea to make money in space, go do it (and send me a note...) Launch services are not the only commercial venture that supports space exploration. Are car manufacturers the only companies that make money off of cars? Think out of the box.

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