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Two Paths

written by Matthew Davidson on June 27, 2004 | contact me
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The Beauty of Space
The Beauty of Space
Credit: NASA
Space: it's dark, cold, empty, straight up and people generally, all other things being equal, would like to go there. It’s a common desire among people to reach out to new places, and have new experiences. People want to go to space, but they also want a lot of other things as well. Most of these other things, they say, must come first. It's their right to decide what they want, or where they want to go, and to exercise that right, they spend their well earned money to achieve the ends which they believe will make them the most happy. Some things they want can't be done yet however. Space is one of those things. There is no avenue for people to go to space, however that is where time preference comes in. People spend their money, that's a well known fact, however spending isn't in opposition to saving. Saving is just people saying that they'll spend their money later, and would like to be paid for waiting to do so. Just like people who take out loans, they prefer to have money now rather than later and will pay more later for money now. Since people can't spend their money on space, and since people have to spend their money, (because there is no other purpose to money) many may choose to save their money for later spending on ventures to space.

Saving however is not hording. People who save their money don't stuff it in their mattresses, or put it in a giant vault so they can swim in it, instead that money is invested. Investments allow capital formation which is the source of economic and technological growth. With this growth, companies can accomplish more to meet the desires of the people, their customers, on whom their livelihood depends.

However, there are two groups headed to space, and they have completely different ideas on why and how to get there. The first is the US government's NASA. Their formal mission statement and actual mission statement differ and it’s important to see the real one, not the one they've carefully prepared for you. It is their mission to take your money by force and use it on divisions of aerospace research which they deem appropriate by arbitrary decree. Then they wish to send people into space to accomplish goals they, not the people, have set, goals which are equally arbitrary to their choices of research. Next they have decided that it is important for mankind to go to space and thus send, at incredible costs, a few lucky people, whom have the proper political connections, into space. They have neither the desire nor the capability to extend the availability of space to the common individual, but only achieve an unwanted goal of publicly sending select people to space. Also, because their money comes neither from pleasing their customers nor investors, they have no need to meet the demands of the individual whose tax dollars are paying funding their actions.

The second group works fundamentally differently. They are not a state, so they do not acquire their resources through use of force. This means they must convince people to give them money for their ventures to the stars. Of course, with the exception of charity, no one just hands over money without expecting a return of some sort. Some invest money and see better than bank interest returns on their investments. Others, (who haven't developed quite yet but will soon, I imagine.) will receive services in return for their money, namely a trip 100km+ straight up. If this second group does not aim to please customers and investors, they won't be able to get the resources necessary to even subsist. Therefore it is in their best interest to provide the common man with what he wants at a price he can accept.

Calling the second group a "group" can be misleading however. In fact this group is composed of many smaller groups who all have the same goal in mind. The first group, NASA, is a single organization and is exclusive in its manner of operation, (i.e. no one else can collect taxes) but this second group of groups all have the same manner which they must compete for resources (i.e. customers and investors.) This gives them another motivation to please the people because they know that not only do their customers not have to go to space, but if they do poorly the customer can find someone else to take patron for space travel.

This motivation is clearly working. Companies like SpaceX have already developed cheaper, safer and more reliable methods of launching materials into orbit, (the Falcon I is the cheapest launch vessel to space currently available, and the Falcon V is the best value, i.e. lunching at the lowest cost per kilogram.) Likewise, Scaled Composites looks to have developed a much cheaper and more reliable method of getting people into space, something we'll see on Monday, June 21st (if conditions permit.)

So clearly, we should be cheering for private industry and not NASA.

NASA isn't serving the interests of the people, despite what they claim.

NASA isn't the only group that can take on these projects, despite what they claim.

NASA isn't helping development in space, despite what they claim.

In fact, quite the opposite is true. By taking tax dollars away from private industry, they are slowing the progress and the growth of the companies that are actually serving the people. NASA isn't helping, they are hurting. Since all their choices are arbitrary guesses, they fail to meet the demands of the people. Private industry also is taking guesses as to what the people want, however if they guess incorrectly the people will withdraw their investments, and move them to the companies who are guessing correctly. NASA is spending money on things people don't want, or don't want as much as other things, they are taking resources from productive areas and spending them on less productive areas.

Imagine an engine that is crooked, it fires exhaust out in generally the right direction, and it looks like its working fine to the untrained eye, but in fact, its not generating thrust in the direction that those who put the fuel in it want it to go. If this "engine" is left to the free market, people will rush to fix it, (and even have a built in incentive, called profit, to do so), but when we use the public "engine" nobody notices or cares that it's not on target, in fact, the most common solution is to increase the amount of fuel so that the increased output in the crooked direction has a vector component equal to that if it were pointed straight. The other component of the engine vector is simply wasted.

Yet another misconception about these two groups and their different methods is the need for innovation in space technologies and sciences. Again, the private second is much more apt to succeed. Government research must be decided, dictated, and monitored. Scientist Szent-Gyorgyi: "The real scientist . . . is ready to bear privation . . . rather than let anyone dictate to him which direction his work must take." In other words science that is forced by a controlling administration doesn’t produce results. Also, such government research programs would be done in large scale groups, which our favorite scientist provides insight on: Einstein said that: "I am a horse for single harness, not cut out for team-work." Much like Einstein, the ones making breakthroughs are small teams looking into things they believe to be interesting or important. As Murray Rothbard, one of my favorite economists points out; most technologies we used today have come not from large scale government research, but private individual scientists, many of who worked on a small budget.

"Taking sixty-one of the most important inventions of the twentieth century … Jewkes et. al. found that more than half of these were the work of individual inventors—with the individuals working at their own directions, and with very limited resources. In this category they place such inventions as: air-conditioning, automatic transmission, bakelite, the ball-point pen, catalytic cracking of petroleum, cellophane, the cotton picker, the cyclotron, gas refrigeration, the electron microscope, the gyro-compass, the helicopter, insulin, the jet engine, kodachrome, magnetic recording, penicillin, the Polaroid camera, radio, the safety razor, titanium, and the zipper."

So for every important aspect of the space industry (and consequently all industry), private efforts are cheaper, quicker, more efficient, and in line with the wishes of the people. More important still, is that private industry does not curtail the freedom of individuals. If someone does not wish to contribute to the efforts of man to reach space, they are currently forced by taxes to do so. In the same way, those who would rather spend their money on increased research for space are being forced by taxes to other things.

For the improved future of humans in space, I plea that the space community realize that NASA is not the answer. Only with private industry will we lowly supporters of space ever have a chance to touch the stars. If NASA remains the dominate space organization only those with political connections have a chance at space.

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