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Even by the standards of our youthful and vicious Twitter-fueled public discourse, all of this is exceptionally stupid. It speaks of a disdain for human endeavors as such and an incidental disregard for a new model of space exploration that holds enormous promise for the United States.
First of all, it’s not uncommon for entrepreneurial pioneers to be obsessed with developing a new technology and want to share in the glory of its rollout.
One can only imagine what would have been said about previous instances of this phenomenon if today’s standards had been applied.
Couldn’t Samuel Morse have been less of a showpiece when he sent his famous message over the new telegraph line between Washington and Baltimore: “What did God do?”
Wasn’t Henry Ford incredibly selfish for building racing cars early in his career when winning car races did nothing to improve the general human condition?
Why did the Wright brothers waste their time flying a plane at Kitty Hawk when they could have focused instead on the abuses in the meat packaging industry at the turn of the century?
Another space entrepreneur, Elon Musk, said earlier this year, not too modestly, that he wanted to promote multiplanetary life and expand awareness to the stars.
Bernie Sanders’ response was basically, yes, but what about the proletariat?
The Vermont Senator tweeted, “Space is an exciting idea, but right now we need to focus on Earth and create a progressive tax system so children don’t go hungry, people aren’t homeless, and all Americans have health care.”
For better or for worse, it is not an either / or suggestion. Nothing Musk does – you know, he’s revolutionizing the auto and aerospace industries, among other endeavors – is stopping Sanders from getting rid of his $ 3.5 trillion budget for reconciliation. In fact, Musk’s company SpaceX could be expropriated entirely and, with a valuation of around $ 75 billion, would only pay 2 percent of the household bill.
As for government space travel, it’s not that NASA knocks everyone’s socks off. The space shuttle was a flawed program, but the agency hasn’t been able to send humans into space alone since the last flight in 2011, in what would seem like a threshold test by the world’s leading nation’s space agency.
It has been hampered by the political imperatives of a Congress that views almost any government initiative as an employment program, and by its flawed contract model, as well as other inevitable government inefficiencies.
It’s private actors who stepped in the void, especially Musk. Now he routinely sends satellites into orbit for NASA and the military. He’s flown astronauts to the international space station. These are not vanity projects, but essential contributions to our existing publicly sanctioned space program.
Musk’s rockets are significantly cheaper than NASA’s. That’s extraordinary. After the heroic period of innovation with the beginning of the American-Soviet space race according to Sputnik, the cost of space launches remained stubbornly low after 1970, as if it were a law of nature that it couldn’t get any lower. Then came Musk.
Lower costs are key, and not just because they save taxpayers money. Lower costs mean more satellite launches. More satellite launches mean cheaper satellites due to economies of scale in production. When the whole process is more cost-effective, it creates an incentive for more technological innovation – engineers no longer have to be so careful.
In true entrepreneurial fashion, Musk works to make his own technology obsolete. He wants to replace the partially reusable Falcon 9 missile with the fully reusable Starship missile. He’s not content with taking government money for his current aerospace-model technology until the government directs him to develop new technologies.
The private space industry will open up perspectives in an enormously momentous area that cannot currently be foreseen. Just look at one dimension. The US and China are in a new race for dominance in space that is having a huge impact on national security. Satellites are necessary to modern life, and modern military forces cannot operate without them. In any major conflict where rival military targeting satellites, the power of technological advantage and the ability to launch new satellites quickly and easily will have an advantage. When Musk, Bezos, or anyone else helps get that head start, they’re doing a contribution to the national interest that cannot be matched by the average Senate committee chair, let alone the average critical commenter on Twitter.
The typical criticism of capitalists of the last decade was that they only make incomprehensibly complicated bets on the markets or take over existing companies in senseless exercises in “vulture capitalism” or outsource our jobs. But here, in the case of Musk and Bezos, are capitalists who, in conjunction with the US government, are making very tangible products with easy to understand – yes, inspiring – goals.
What do you dislike?