Most advocates of Human Space Flight programs always model HSF with the airplane model. Government subsidized at first and eventually private for profit companies would take over. Airplane companies that got too dependent on the government subsidies failed, but airlines that developed their commercial base succeeded. But, maybe that is the wrong model to use. Some programs will never be totally commercial and profitable, such as military defense with their submarines, aircraft carriers, etc., and Human Space Flight.
The airplane model worked because mail, people, and cargo needed to be moved from point A to point B. That could be done for a profit. But human space flight is not a profit making venture. It is pure science and engineering in an extreme and hazardous environment.
Commercial companies are in business to make a profit. That’s the way it should be. Commercial companies do not do pure science or human exploration unless there is a potential for a profit. Take a look at pharmaceutical companies for example. Millions of dollars are put into research for new drug compounds not for the sole purpose of saving human lives and alleviating suffering, but for the potential for profit.
Though I am an advocate for a limited constitutional government, there are some things that only governments can do and do pretty well. Take the military for example. Many military equipment and weapons are designed not for public use, but for the military’s use to defend our nation. You’re not going to find cruise missiles or nuclear weapons for sale at your local gun shop. Even such equipment as Humvees was designed to transport troops in all types of terrain, not sit in five o’clock rush hour traffic in downtown Los Angeles. Built with that in mind, the manufactures did try to cross over into the commercial market with limited and diminishing success as a status symbol and eventually Humvees production for civilian use was ceased. It just wasn’t profitable over the long run. Even Ben Franklin’s postal service was better suited to be a government function and broke even while running efficiently until the unions infiltrated it. Though FedEx and UPS, among others, now deliver packages for a profit, the common letter delivery is still primarily a government function that would bring no profit for a commercial company especially in this day and age of email.
Human Space Flight advocates always point to the day when it will become commercial and the everyday Joe will be able to buy a ticket to low Earth orbit or to the Moon. Until much cheaper methods of leaving the Earth come into being, that day is very much unlikely. Human Space Flight is a science, not tourism for the common man. And, maybe we should be accepting that it is a science that will not necessarily produce a profit, but benefit mankind in the long run. It is truly pure research and problem solving that would have applications here on Earth in some areas, but if a “profit” motive is added, then the science suffers. SpaceX, Boeing, and Lockheed will never take up tourists unless they can make a profit. This is not an airplane trip to a tropical destination, but a hazardous and beneficial science experiment/endeavor. Trying to use the commercial airplane model and apply it to Human Space Flight is like trying to put a square peg in a round hole. It is the wrong model and way of thinking.
But, our nation is now stuck with commercial space, correct model or not. As a friend told me once who has worked in HSF since the Apollo days, we must “shore up what we have left.” Since the Obama administration has killed our government HSF and is working very hard to kill the Space Launch System or Nelson’s Folly, passed by Congress, all we have left are the commercial companies. And it seems the Obama administration, through NASA, has set the commercial companies up to fail by passing the mantle of HSF to them way before they are ready and are still learning rocket science, and by preparing to hit them with onerous bureaucratic regulations such as FAR.
In the following posts, I will examine the various commercial companies that are trying to develop their own HSF programs and what progress they have made. I will review their history, their current status, their predictions on when they will fly humans into orbit and to the ISS, etc. Currently no commercial company has even passed the stage of sending a monkey into orbit as we did with Ham back in 1961. I will NOT be discussing companies such as Virgin Galactic, for they are not a serious HSF contender, but a thrill ride to sub-orbital for very rich thrill seekers. (Though if I had $200,000 to spare, I would be booking a ride on their ship.)
Though the New Space Boys or commercial space are full of Powerpoint presentations and bravado, they still will have to produce for these United States of America. And it is up to our nation to hold them accountable and expect results. It is also up to our nation to make sure that the Obama administration and NASA don’t sabotage commercial space and cause it to fail deliberately. We are paying for them right now through our tax subsidies and that makes the taxpayer their stockholders and partial owners. Obama has already cost our nation $9 billion dollars, thousands of jobs, and seven years worth of work by killing Constellation. Our nation cannot allow Obama, NASA, nor the commercial companies to waste anymore of our tax dollars.