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July 31, 2005

Those Who Peril in the Air

I've now watched several videos of the insulation peeling off of the external tank like water-based paint under a pressure washer, and the pessimist in me wonders if "the dream" will get sunk by three seconds of video. Maybe I've just spent too much time in DC, but I feel that while we are wishing for better things in the future, the political (cl)asses see peeling insulation and grounding orders as expedient reasons to cut funding or drop human spaceflight altogether.

On the bright side of things, this worrisome return to flight offers an opportunity to convince the government that the private sector can do this business better, faster, or cheaper (pick two), and still cause the space economy to come out ahead.

It gives me no pleasure to say this. I "grew up" with the Shuttle since 1977, when my grandparents made me watch the test landings of the Enterprise off the back of a 747. However, it's time to move on. Discovery should (and, God willing, will) have a successful landing. However, the hurry-up-and-launch-or-we'll-lose-funding culture at NASA HQ has lowered their credibility in my eyes. And NASA cannot realistically survive more budget battles if there's a lot of suspense every time a bird goes up. Simply put, as long as human spaceflight is in the hands of the insular and high school-like culture of Washington, DC, I will not get my vacation (or job) at the Luna City Hilton. Free individuals can do better, and Burt Rutan proved it.

When Discovery lands, we need the bureaucrats and their congressional/presidential masters to understand that it's time to get government out of the way and turn trans-lunar space over to the private sector, with the government playing the role of policeman, referee, and R&D resource. America built a heck of an airline industry this way, once upon a time.

Posted by bart_leahy at July 31, 2005 04:25 PM



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