The race for space
The old NASA system of funding missions into space was extremely susceptible to delays, overruns, and dependence on a single source. Hardly an example of capitalism. The new approach is sleeker. In the new system, NASA puts up some money to get more than one company capable of delivering a product, set the companies against each other to provide the best product and lets the free market decide the winner. Fresh innovative thinking wins the day, and the financial risk of overruns is shifted to the private system. So why would any members of congress vote against it? Well, unsurprisingly a few states and companies have grown fat on the the old system, and they have no intention of having to compete or be innovative.
In this case, the free market speaks, the taxpayer wins, and we can all do better science.
Asteroid mining a reality
One of the best stories of the year.
A bunch of billionaires want to go and mine asteroids for water and platinum. With the depressing news recently regarding government funding of science, the demise of the shuttle, and the lack of jobs, it is actually refreshing to see private money step in. Even if they only do it for profit the spin off for society will be huge. It is natural and human to explore, to see what it out where, to stretch the boundaries. And it could start new interest in engineering and science, similar to the Apollo era.
This is what makes space great.
At first glance at this story I think ‘Great. Another achievement for ESA’
JUpiter ICy moon Explorer
but then the flip side reveals itself as
the Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics
organizes a preemptive strike against a possible forthcoming rejection. At 2 euro per person per year ESA basically is struggling on a shoestring. It is having to make impossible scientific judgement calls on comparing a mission to Jupiter’s moon to X-ray cosmology. It’s like pitting apples and oranges in a fight to see who is ‘most fruity’. And so the decision, although supposedly based on science, often turns to be based on history, politics, and supposed technology readiness level.
Astronomers are left fighting amongst themselves for 2-euro scraps off the table. Economies are bad, money is tight, but is asking for another couple of Euro per person really that bad? After all, UK alone spends 50 billion euro (38 billion pounds) per year in military – 1000 euro per UK taxpayer. And we just ‘awarded’ over 120 billions euros (100 billion pounds) to the banks – 2000 euro per taxpayer.
For less than the price of a morning coffee Europe could have a space agency to be proud of, with missions surpassing all other nations – even NASA.