Sunday, May 27, 2007

Needed: Private Businesses for Space Expansion

NASA is looking for private companies to help us return to the moon.

It's about time!

I have felt for a very long time that the only legitimate way to grow the human presence in space is through privatization. Unfortunately, humans in general and Americans in particular seem to like to repeat the same mistakes several times before we learn from them.

In the 1970's the USA sent several expeditions to the moon. Much attention is placed on the six actual moon landings plus Apollo 13. In actuality, there were many missions to the moon to both land on its surface and to orbit it. The Soviet Luna program was the first to fly-by, orbit and soft-land on the moon. The US Pioneer program showed how difficult it was to actually get to the moon from a launch from Earth, and the Ranger program provided photographic reconnaissance while crashing at high speed as intended (source: Wikipedia). And several Apollo missions that orbited the moon set the stage for the landing of Apollo 11 and the first humans on the Moon.

After all the success of the Apollo it was suddenly dropped. The Space Shuttle and exploration of low Earth orbit was the way to go. Where NASA failed is that it completely shut down the Apollo program to pursue the Space Shuttle. The big claim is the cost but the NASA budget is such a small fraction of our GDP that I just really don't buy that.

Now we are once again abandoning the Shuttle to move forward. In business you always ensure that the next generation is on place before you scuttle the existing technology. To do otherwise is to quickly cease to exist. When we abandon the space shuttle we will also, by default give up much control of the space station.

Now to my point for this post.
NASA is in the market for commercial relationships and private capital as it gears up for its next manned missions to the moon.

"That would make our life a lot easier," said Neil Woodward, acting director of NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate.

The U.S. space agency is hoping to return to the moon in 2019 or 2020 and has longer range plans to send humans to Mars after that.

"If somebody says 'I have this really great way to be able to extract water ice from lunar regolith (lunar rocks) that I've developed on my own dime' we would be interested," Woodward said.

"If we could be in a commercial relationship with somebody who has the capability that's fine because in many cases they can do it for less money than we can," he told Reuters on the sidelines of a space development conference in Dallas.

We need to look at all space exploration commercially. One of the outcomes and justifications of the space program have been products that can only be produced or can be have better quality by being produced in the microgravity of space. Pharmaceuticals, specialty electronics, etc can be produced in space potentially better than on the planet. Let's open up the Space station for commercial scientific activity along with academic science. Right now space costs are astronomical - pun intended - with a private trip to the space station costing right at $20 million which has to be paid to the Russians.

What is wrong with space tourism? What is wrong with high tech industry on the space station? Why shouldn't we find private ways to make money to support space travel. Grow near Earth space travel in the private sector and leave NASA to expand the outer reaches of the universe and concentrate on pure space research.

It seems NASA is becoming more open to this idea. NASA actively supported Space Ship 1 and its continued development to Virgin Galactic's Space ship 2. Other private launch companies are exploring the idea to provide private trips to the edges of the atmosphere. Other private ventures include contests and funding for the development of the Space Elevator, development of a new glove for increased dexterity in space and water and oxygen from Moon Regolith (moon rocks).

These challenges can provide from $250,000 up to $2,000,000 to the successful applicant. And the challenges are open to all of us. Any company or individual with a technology that can meet the requirements of the challenge can submit their proposal and be eligible for the prize.

We need to grow space exploration and space activity because humanity can benefit through real business opportunities that create jobs, new medical solutions, new technologies, and expand the reach and presence of the human race.

And we cannot forget that it is really cool.


Blogger Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

Veritas you said, "Unfortunately, humans in general and Americans in particular seem to like to repeat the same mistakes several times before we learn from them."

Reminds me of Einsteins' definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results!

Great blog today. And if I had the money, I'd want to go up into space too! Would love to see the earth from that distance. Hey, maybe that's what we all need--to see that we do indeed all share the same "bed."

June 1, 2007 at 1:05 PM  

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