Monday, October 04, 2004

How much has NASA damaged out pursuit for manned space flight?
On August 22nd, 1963, an experimental manned aircraft called the X-15 reached a speed of 6105 kph, and an altitude of 107,960 meters. This record stood until October 4th, 2004, when 'Space Ship One' reached an altitude of 112,166.4 meters. Two dates separated by 40 years. What happened between those two landmark events? Apollo and the Space Shuttle. Or, a 'Bread and Circus' event, capped by a large bus that putters around in Low Earth Orbit who's only seminal accomplishment was a repair mission for the Hubble Space Telescope.

What went wrong? What happened? How did we loose 40 years? Quite simply, JFK. Sputnik scared us, in spite of Eisenhower trying to downplay it as not important. After all, if the Commies could lob a beeping volleyball into orbit, how hard would it be to lob an atomic weapon up there as well? So what did we do? we copied their methodologies and created a massive government sponsored bureaucratic quagmire. And it worked, sort of. Well, it got us to the moon anyway. But once the established goal of NASA was achieved, what was the point? Skylab? The Space Shuttle? the ISS? All these programs simply proved that bureaucratic inertia can and will eventually a good thing.

But luckily, there are still people who believe in things: believe in the ability of the individual to overcome conventional wisdom and do it for a reasonable price. No, Space Ship One did not achieve Low Earth Orbit. But Space Ship Two will, wither it is built by Scaled Composites, Virgin Galactic, or someone completely different.

40 years of wasted time, effort and potential. But hey we got some rocks from the moon.

For me, the true significance of this event is larger than what it appears at first glance, because not only has Scaled Composites broken a 40 year old record, but it has also proven that distributed networks, 'the market' and people pursuing the mighty dollar ARE truly more effective than the old Command and Control style of problem solving. Space Ship One is not only a victory for 'capitalism' but it is a victory for the masses of individuals over ossified, siloed, cover your ass bureaucrats everywhere.

Lots of people trying, and some failing, will always work better in the long run than dictate from an 'expert'. And as we look at other social problems it would serve us well to remember this repeatedly demonstrated fact. Let us go forth and try. We may fail, but not all of us. So when our President calls on a Mars or Bust plan by 2050, I'll make certain to wave at the resulting 200billion dollar spacecraft from the Hilton residing at the LaGrange point between here and the moon.

"Once you get into Low Earth Orbit, you aren’t half way to the Moon, you are half way to everywhere"
--Jerry Pournelle


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