A vote of confidence for alt.space

Thursday’s Fredericksburg (Va.) Free Lance-Star features an op-ed by David Kerr, identified only as a “congressional aide”, that strongly endorses privatization of space exploration. After drawing analogies to the airmail efforts of the 1920s, Kerr cites SpaceShipOne as an example of the ingenuity and capabilities of smaller aerospace companies and then writes:

That’s why America’s manned spaceflight program, rather than pursuing an exclusive investment in heavy-duty, heavy-lift vehicles, made ever so conveniently by large and well-known contractors, needs to start pursuing more innovative alternatives, ones that ask this new and emerging sector of the aerospace industry: How would they propose putting people and material into space? And then, giving them the chance to try it.

At the very least, NASA needs to develop a vision of the future that’s not locked in the glories of its past and most of all, not developed exclusively with a big-space, big-government mentality. For one thing, as we face some of the worst deficits in the past 20 years, the days of the 1960s-style space program, with unlimited budgets are long past. Anything from this point on is going to be spaceflight on a fiscal diet.

Of course, NASA is taking steps in that direction, with COTS and Centennial Challenges (which Kerr does not explicitly mention), although likely not with the magnitude that he desires. The problem, as many critics would note, is that the alt.space/NewSpace community has yet to demonstrate many capabilities along the lines of “putting people and material into space”. That doesn’t mean that they can’t, only that it makes it harder for people like Kerr to make their case to NASA or Congress.

1 comment to A vote of confidence for alt.space

  • I’m still waiting breathlessly (almost literally!) for SpaceX to show their stuff. When they do, the alt.space case will get dramatically stronger. Unfortunately, I’m waiting with equal anticipation (i.e., fear) the ax falling on COTS and Centennial Challenges as the money gets ever tighter — as already appears to have happened to the methane engine. If SpaceX fails, I expect that chop to get more likely.

    — Donald