Financial Frontier

If mankind ends up colonising the moon, it is likely to be led by a commercial enterprise rather than a government.

No, come on. Really? Surely that’s just more frothing from some mad libertarian and/or loony anarcho-capitalist sci-fi fan who’s read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress even more often than The Fountainheadisn’t it?

So says NASA administrator Charles Bolden, who believes nations will no longer venture into space alone, but in collaboration with each other and with private industry.


“We have now got to the point where NASA should have nothing to do with it (access to space),” he said in an address today at Sydney University.

Wow. And it gets better (my emphasis).

“We have run the tests, we have been flying for 50 years, we know basically how to get humans off the planet and into low-earth orbit.

“Our private industry partners have built every single space craft we have ever flown.

NASA has never built a single human-rated space craft.

What? Not one? Not the Apollo spacecraft? Not Mercury and Gemini? Well, while it was certainly involved the actual nuts and bolts were screwed together by various companies that already had working relationships with the US government, generally defence contracts of various kinds. McDonnell did Mercury and Gemini, Apollo was by North American Aviation (the command and service modules) and Grumman Aircraft (the Lunar lander itself) and Skylab was McDonnell again. Okay, but surely the Space Shuttle? Nope, Rockwell International, who were once known as North American Aviation.

Yes, NASA said what it wanted and paid the bills, but when Charles Bolden says NASA didn’t actually build anything for people to go to space in he seems to be right. And now of course even NASA’s old preferred partners in the aerospace/defence industry, those who are still around and haven’t been swallowed up by competitors, are faced with new competition from the spaceflight equivalent of SMEs. Companies like SpaceX and Scaled Composites/Virgin. No doubt some will fail, but some will succeed and that makes the future interesting for NASA.

Maj-Gen Bolden says private industry will build, own and operate space craft from now on, and NASA will buy their service.

“I will pick up the phone and say, ‘I’ve got a crew of three wanting to go to the International Space Station next August’ and they will say, ‘cargo or just crew?’, and I’ll say, ‘crew’, and that’s the way it’s going to be done.”

The question for NASA will be whether to adopt the “taxi model” or the “rental car model” – whether to have astronauts dropped off and picked up, or whether to have them trained to launch and return themselves to Earth, leaving the private company to check the craft for “dents and dings and stuff like that”.

Which makes it sound like the thing that was least realistic about one man’s vision of the future wasn’t antimatter power, warp drive or the incredible number of hot girls with green skin and short skirts with a desire to learn more of this Earth thing called kissing from a slightly podgy Canadian. It sounds like the thing that Gene Rodenberry got most wrong was this:

But if it’s any consolation with Beardy’s rep there’s still a good chance that the girls will be pretty hot and have fairly short skirts, and one day it’ll be cheap enough for most of us.

One to beam up, please.

2 comments for “Financial Frontier

  1. ivan
    April 4, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    It should be seen as a good thing that governments are dropping out of space.

    All government ideas about getting into space were, and still are, driven by the military idea of rockets that could reach other parts of earth.

    With private industry getting involved we are beginning to see more thought being put in to the way of doing it. Arthur C. Clarke pointed the way in ‘Prelude to Space’ in 1954 and at last Virgin is looking at it, if only for sub orbital flights – but it is a start in thinking about ways other than riding a giant firework.

  2. April 5, 2012 at 8:08 am

    “The question for NASA will be whether to adopt the “taxi model” or the “rental car model”…”

    They better not adopt the ‘rental car model’, if they don’t want to see their ships back again for a lot of work between hires!

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