Has NASA, the monolithic space agency, failed in it's quest to put man out into the cosmos? Will profit coupled with man's need to explore be the driving engine which sends man into the cosmos? Think about what has moved technology forward within the American society over the past 100 years or so. Was Orville and Wilbur Wright employed by the government. Of course not. Most of their research and development for the invention of the airplane took place within a small bike shop in western Dayton, Ohio, the birth place of aviation. Thomas Edison, who is accredited with 1,093 patents earning him the nickname “The Wizard of Menlo Park" used his own money to build the Menlo Park research labs in New Jersey. In 1889, Thomas Edison established the Edison General Electric Company. Thomas Edison is considered the most prolific inventor of our time and his inventions were created within the realm of private enterprise.
Did the seed for the invention of the personal computer germinate within a government lab? The invention of the personal computer came from an assortment of various inventions and from the tinkering of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in Job's garage in an area now called Silicon Valley, the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area in northern California. Their tinkering led to the development of Apple Computers. The story of Bill Gates and the development of the Microsoft family of operating systems took place within private enterprise. The Windows family of operating systems is the most widely used on earth and has been a major player in bringing information technology to the developed world.
Examples of major technological advancement within the realm of private enterprise are numerous. Most major technological advancements within society have occurred outside the purview of government intervention. Governments were intended to govern the people. The government's role is to preserve the environment of freedom and democracy so that intellectual curiosity can flourish within this environment. The government's role is also to provide funding, and should not be in the nuts and bolts operation of putting man into space. The ingenuity of man within the realm of private enterprise has resulted in most of the technological advancements we enjoy today.
The cosmos will be explored by man operating from the base of private enterprise and the technology needed to explore the cosmos will be developed within that enterprise. Why is this so? NASA is an agency driven by fear of tragedy. More mishaps will decrease the probability of sufficient government funding. This cycle of fear, mishaps, and the hope for continual funding is one that seems to have no end. But mishaps are part of the business of putting explorers into space. What can better withstand the expected mishaps. A government agency or private enterprise. If a private enterprise fails, it's competitor can step in to fill the gap and the engine of private enterprise can continue to push man into space. NASA is not a private enterprise competing within the world market place.
NASA is not what it used to be during the Apollo days. Given it's current mind set and culture, it will be difficult within this framework to send man out into the cosmos as true explorers. They have given the nuts and bolts of putting man into space to private contractors. But these NASA contractors have the same NASA mind set because they are under the dominion of NASA. There is a fear of mishaps within contractors without true competition within the market place. NASA awards contracts to the lowest bidder. Does the lowest bidder provide the highest level of safety. Once a company is awarded a contract, they remain a NASA contractor for many years and simply become an extension of NASA. Therefore NASA becomes a autocratic agency with it's arms extending outward to many companies. NASA's manned space flight program can do no more then low earth orbit. Year after year of low earth orbit does not excite the American people. Astronauts today are no longer household names. An American president here and there will give a speech saying we are going to Mars. Even President Bush's January 14, 2004 speech seems to have already been forgotten by the American public.
When we went to the moon this was the start of an exploration. A goal was set on May 25, 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, during a speech before a Joint Session of Congress, to reach the moon before the end of the decade. NASA kicked into high gear and achieved one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of mankind. We took the first step into space and then just stopped. Since then all of the manned space missions have never gone beyond low earth orbit, and the American public becomes bored easily. To gain the American interest and support of the Apollo days, we must send true explorers out into space. NASA wants to take such small, time consuming incremental steps that by the time comes when the really exciting work begins, the American support and interest may be eroded to the point where NASA may no longer have the financial means by which to accomplish such an endeavor. Hence, the need for private enterprise to accomplish such an endeavor. If we are going to go into the cosmos, then lets do it and stop the futile activity.
A private enterprise is not a bureaucracy. If safety issues arise from qualified personnel within a bureaucracy, these issues may not resonate to the proper people within the organization. A case in point, the knowledge of a strong potential for a O-ring failure at low temperatures between the segments for the solid rocket boosters of the space shuttle, existed within the bureaucracy of NASA before the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. More specifically, this critical information in terms of probability of O-ring compromise was expressed by engineers at Morton Thiokol, the contractor for the development and production of the solid rocket boosters. This information never percolated upward from Morton Thiokol to the proper people within the NASA organization.
In private enterprise, which is non-bureaucratic by nature, a relatively small group of people are working toward a common goal. In this situation, safety issues which arise will be known by all members of the organization. Safety issues will not get lost in a bureaucracy. NASA depends on it's contractors to deliver a high level of safety. A private enterprise depends on itself to provide a high level of safety. The structure of a private enterprise is more suited to the endeavor of sending out explorers into space. The government should award grants to the most promising companies with the understanding that the sending out of explorers into space does indeed benefit mankind.
Americans are at their best when they compete. Competition is an integral component of American society. What was the driving force that put us on the moon. It was the competition with the Russians. At the present moment in time, this type of competition does not exist. Although, it appears as if China may be a future competitor. Americans need to compete to accomplish something. It is competition which drives the advancement of technology. Why not let companies compete for government funding and let the research and development occur within these companies, and most importantly let them compete. These companies can have the same characteristics of any company that wants to produce a viable product. They will not be under contract from NASA and will operate as a separate private enterprise entity. A company can make money from space tourism and the same company can be involved in sending explorers out into space. Government grants can be awarded based on how strong the potential exists for space exploration. A company can be involved in space tourism, exploration, or can provide a research and development platform. This is the future of man's endeavor into space.
Man will be exploring the cosmos with private enterprise being the driving engine. If one enterprise fails, one of the competing enterprises will win out. Sure there will be some disasters and risks will be taken because that is the nature of the business. But when unfortunate disasters or mishaps do occur, the private enterprise engine will not grind to a complete halt. Burt Rutan and his Scaled Composites team have taken the first steps toward this archetypical dream of exploring the cosmos, and they did it with a fraction of the budget that NASA uses and with a team of 130 or so people to boot. They won the Ansari X-Prize by sending a man into space and returning him safely to earth and then they repeated this within two weeks. An absolutely unbelievable accomplishment given the facilities and resources which were available to them. This could only occur within a society where freedom and democracy are regarded as a right to all individuals. The United States is such a society.
Burt Rutan has said that he has never worked a day in his life. He only plays. His passion for his work is what produces results. Burt Rutan and his team represent the core of what makes the United States the greatest country in the world. May be terrorist can get it through their thick heads that freedom does work. Most importantly, Scaled Composites has shown the world what private enterprise can accomplish. Even if Scaled Composite's endeavors never go beyond earth orbit, they have taken the first step within the proper mind set and culture, and this is what will put man into the cosmos. This mind set and culture of pure unadulterated intellectual curiosity is what really will put man into the cosmos. Not NASA's mind set of fear.
NASA has played it's important role by lighting the torch in sending man to the moon. We are now at a point in the history of mankind where that torch should be passed to private enterprise. The developer of the Ansari X-Prize I'm sure shares my thoughts. God has placed the planets and all the stars within the universe there for a reason. It is God's intention for us to move outward into the final frontier. We do this to fulfill the natural curiosity that God has given to us and in the process we better the lot of mankind. Lets go. . .
Copyright 2005 Thomas Sullivan
Thomas Sullivan, the author of this article is an IT Consultant/Search Engine Optimizer, Pilot, and Space Enthusiast. He currently manages two aviation related web sites. These are Pilot Portal USA - Pilot Weather Briefing, Flight Schools USA, Aviation Directory and Weather for Pilots - Weather Briefing Checklist, Current/Forecast Weather Data . Address questions or comments to Thomas Sullivan. You can find his email address on his web sites.