As NASA scrambles to make the July 31 window for the troubled launch of space shuttle Discovery, we should recall the first privately funded manned spacecraft, SpaceShipOne, which over a year ago shattered more than the boundary of outer space: it destroyed forever the myth that space exploration can only be done by the government.
Two years ago, a Bush Administration panel on space exploration recommended that NASA increase the role of private contractors in the push to permanently settle the moon and eventually explore Mars. Unfortunately, it appears unlikely that NASA will consider the true free-market solution for America’s expensive space program: complete privatization.
There is a contradiction at the heart of the space program: space exploration, as the grandest of man’s technological advancements, requires the kind of bold innovation possible only to minds left free to pursue the best of their creative thinking and judgment. Yet, by funding the space program through taxation, we necessarily place it at the mercy of bureaucratic whim. The results are written all over the past twenty years of NASA’s history: the space program is a political animal, marked by shifting, inconsistent, and ill-defined goals.
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