The Libertarian Space Era
The original Space Race was fed by competition between the USA and USSR; it was another front in the countries’ Cold War. Large pubic investments were put into developing technology to put people into space. After the Cold War, the US has seemed to make NASA less and less of a priority.
In the last decade or so, the rise of private space companies has helped NASA weather the end of the Shuttle program and rocky relations with Russia. Space X is helping shuttle equipment and supplies to the ISS, and have been awarded contracts to develop spacecraft to carry Astronauts.
Space X has been doing risky innovation like trying reusable rockets. Though they suffered a setback the other day, there was a previous success. They’ve also proposed building the biggest rocket in history with the ability to carry huge payloads. Popular Science has a great breakdown of the way that the new rocket is expected work.
Space X isn’t the only game in town. Jeff Bezos runs Blue Origin, which [completed their own reusable rocket test.]((http://www.space.com/31202-blue-origin-historic-private-rocket-landing.html) They don’t have the same NASA contracts that Space X has, but it’s clear that Elon Musk and Bezos are content to spend their internet billions to support a new era of space. They seem to be succeeding, and are willing to make the investment. Richard Branson saw the idea of space tourism with Virgin Galactic, though a failed test took the wind out of his sails. A revamped version of their spacecraft is set to debut, next month. Mineral rights to asteroids have been another profit driver, but for now space is a labor of love.
NASA, on the other hand, has been chastised for the improbability of its Mars mission plans. Motherboard has a great summary of the problems summarized by the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel. It ranges from underfunded technology, lack of planning, and too great a goal. It’s clear that NASA is counting on technology advancing by leaps and bounds to fuel the Mars planning, including some pie in the sky ideas like hibernation.
No one minds NASA being aggressively cutting edge, that’s the best role they can play in the current environment. Feeding ideas and programs in the private sector with the meager funds available. That’s what’s quite clear in the ASAP’s report, NASA’s efforts are vastly underfunded in almost every way. In fact, they compliment the agency’s ability to do so much with so little. It's a compliment to their effectiveness, but disappointing to
That’s why I chose to call this the Libertarian Space Era. NASA’s current funding is going to leave a large amount of the US’s space future in the hands of private companies. But, if we want to see a NASA that aggressively innovating, it needs more funding. Every President seems to point NASA in a direction and tries to give their own version of Kennedy’s speechYet none of them follow through with the funding to achieve these goals. Profit motive alone isn’t going to fuel crazy research like hibernation. Relying on nostalgic nerds who make billions is not a wise space policy.
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