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Space Access: The Private Investment vs. Public Funding Debate

Published by Ekkehard on Fri May 12, 2006 10:15 am
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If you were to believe many of the speakers at this year’s International Space Development Conference (ISDC), entrepreneurs like Burt Rutan and non-profit CEOs like Peter Diamandis are prepared to go it alone into space. In his opening remarks, Rutan stated that “Taxpayer-funded research makes absolutely no sense” and likened the current Vision for Space Exploration to an exercise in archeology. Diamandis said, “We need to get off the government dole.”

NASA’s Excitement Gap

What is fuelling this libertarian streak in the space advocacy community? For starters, NASA has been struggling to get the Shuttle returned to flight, while small private ventures like Rutan’s success with SpaceShipOne in 2004 have generated excitement in a way the Vision for Space Exploration has not.

It should be noted, however, that advocates continue to lobby Congress to support the Vision, partially out of loyalty, partially from an understanding that NASA can still do things that smaller operators like Scaled Composites or SpaceX cannot do—yet.

Even the large aerospace companies—who most keenly felt Rutan’s barbs—had to admit that NASA has not been particularly inspiring. John Stevens from Lockheed-Martin Space Systems expressed concern that the current national space program has failed to inspire young people. He lamented the fact that “there’s no excitement in NASA manned programs.” Art Stephenson, Sector Vice President, Space Exploration Systems, Northrup-Grumman, admitted, “we don’t always pick the hard thing.”

Stephenson said that NASA is risk-averse because the voting public does not want to lose another astronaut, and that the risk-averse nature of the program is the biggest stumbling block to inspiring an environment of development or inspiration. Even Bill Nye the Science Guy remarked that “It’s easy to bust NASA’s chops.” Read the rest of this entry »

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