Even if you are an infrequent reader of this blog, you know that I don’t often praise the policies of President Obama. He looks to the government for solutions to America’s problems, while I believe that too often government is the problem and that the solutions lie in the creativity and ingenuity of individual Americans.
Perhaps you noticed there was a very special milestone in the utilization and exploration of space last week, but perhaps not. I have always thrilled at the exploits of our astronauts and I know how much you and I rely on communications from space for communications, national defense, and even watching television.
While I first watched early suborbital launches by NASA when I was in college, I got to see space technology and numerous launches first-hand while serving in the Army at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. White Sands is where Dr. Robert Goddard and Charles Lindberg came in the 1930s to design and launch rockets after the Doctor wore out his welcome in more heavily populated Massachusetts. White Sands is also where the US Government sent the German Rocket Scientists they captured at Peenemünde, Germany toward the close of World War II, among them, Dr. Wernher von Braun. And it was at White Sands that I witnessed one of the first flights of the Sprint anti-missile missile as well as other air to ground, ground to air, and ground to ground missile firings.
Of course, all Americans were thrilled when President Kennedy proclaimed, “We will go to the Moon!” and we did. Who can forget Neil Armstrong walking on the Moon in 1969! It was amazing. Less than 25 years after World War II ended, the United States had conquered travel to the Moon. It’s still almost unbelievable to me. Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon just 42 years after Charles Lindberg first flew across the Atlantic in the Spirit of Saint Louis. In fact, our landing on the Moon took place just 66 years after the Wright brothers first flew at Kitty Hawk!
Today we tend to take launches of the soon to be retired Space Shuttle for granted, although we remember vividly the tragic Challenger disaster. Our nation mourned and the lives lost reminded us just how risky it still is to travel into space.
But last week we began a grand, new chapter in space exploration as space entrepreneur, Elon Musk, made history as his Falcon 9 rocket carried a prototype crew capsule flawlessly into a 155 mile orbit. Mr. Musk, a native of South Africa, made his fortune when he sold PayPal, an Internet company he created, to eBay, Inc. He has put more than $100 million of his own money into the high risk opportunity to provide commercial launches to private and military users, as well as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a government agency that started out on the right foot, but soon went the way of all government bureaucracies—fat, bloated, and generally out of control.
The successful launch of the privately funded and constructed Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral signals great things for the future of space exploration and utilization if only the government will stay out of the way. Yes, Mr. Musk’s SpaceX is counting on government contracts, both military and NASA, but his primary target is the commercial launch of communications satellites, and even private transportation into space. Today you need to be a billionaire to afford what governments charge for flight into space, but with private enterprise in the picture there is real reason to hope that the cost of a trip into space will drop dramatically. After all, what is there that government can do that private enterprise can’t do better, faster, more efficiently, and cheaper?
Discussions are already underway to use Falcon 9 to provide manned missions to the US Space Station. I won’t be surprised when SpaceX or one of its private competitors develops the first SSTO—Single Stage to Orbit—rocket system that can deliver men and supplies with an efficient, less costly single stage rocket that can be launched by a small crew instead of a cast of thousands that is necessary to launch today’s out-of-date Space Shuttle. Thanks to President Obama, private enterprise will take the lead in developing and providing space transportation of the future. Great decision, Mr. President, well done!