That’s right. As much as this (and the last) US administration has nationalized entire industries and promotes the overregulation of others to such a degree that the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom warns of “concerns about expropriation and violation of the contractual rights of shareholders and bondholders,” President Barack Obama seeks privatization in perhaps rather an unexpected field: space. It was about time.
Not only does Obama intend to scrap NASA’s return mission to the Moon; his 2010 budget proposes to enlist private businesses in the launch of astronauts into space.
After decades of doing very little actual space travel, several companies have stepped up to claim NASA’s place in recent years. With success. The commercialization of space will soon allow citizens to have a peek at the Earth from high orbit. A ticket is set to cost a fortune, of course, but remember that just half a century ago, air travel was similarly an indulgence of the rich. In the same time that the heavily over-bureaucratized NASA spent billions of dollars on watching solar flares and landing robots on Mars (which, admittedly, was rather cool), commercial flight made airplanes as common a mode of transport as ships, trains and cars. All the while NASA continued to fly forty-year old rockets and space shuttles.
The Obama Administration won’t actually cut expenses though. Indeed, the president intends to boost NASA’s budget with so much as $6 billion over the next five years. That money will be used to contract private businesses to built the next-generation space shuttle. So far, United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Matin, and Space Exploration Technologies, a start-up company led by Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, are expected to throw themselves into the space taxi business.
Good news for free marketeers? Not according to Republican Bill Posey of Florida: “My biggest fear,” notes the congressman, “is that this amounts to a slow death of our nation’s human space flight program.” His colleague, Michael McCaul of Texas adds that it “makes no sense to throw away a plan backed by fifty years of NASA experience and institutional knowledge in favor of start-up operations, which may encounter delays and unknown obstacles.” This then is Michael Steele’s “new GOP”: the party of fear.
The truth is, it does make sense. Rather than killing human space flight, Obama intends to salvage it and that is what this plan will accomplish. In spite of half a century of “experience,” NASA has proven ineffective at furthering the space program along while enough of its “institutional knowledge” must have been carried over into the private sector by now in the shape of former NASA employees working for major airlines and defense contractors.
The Republicans, who supposedly champion free-market capitalism, ought to applaud Obama’s plan for these reasons. Unsurprisingly, they prefer to smear every single measure proposed and enacted by the current administration, even when it is in accordance with their own, near forgotten principles.