The successful launch and docking of the Space-X Dragon (read here) validates the long involvement of private efforts to gain the high frontier.
We have come to accept government involvement in space exploration and exploitation. We perhaps allow for competition between governments as India, Japan, and China join the USA, the European Space Agency, and Russia in launching satellites and astronauts.
In fact, the private efforts were first of course and were only shunted aside during the decades of collectivism in the 20th century. In fact, private enterprise has the long term advantage in exploring and exploiting off-planet resources.
No one in the 17th century who knew only the British East India Company and the Dutch East India Company could have foreseen the Cunard Line, the Northern Pacific Railroad, or TransWorld Airlines and the immense profits made by carrying very ordinary people on very personal missions. The goal then was to haul raw materials (especially gold and silver) back to Europe. No one in 1620 or 1720 could have seen the world of 1820 or 1920. Since then, we have gotten better at imagining the future. We now live somewhere between George Orwell and George Jetson. It is not that science fiction predicted the future, but that we learned to expect a future different from the past. We call it progress. That can only come from spontaneous human action, not from central planning. Progress cannot be directed.
|Anousheh Ansari at Super Science Friday|
U of M Flint, 2009.
Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic in pursuit of a record (and a cash prize) was privately funded. Lindbergh introduced Robert Goddard to Daniel Guggenheim. Then the wars intervened and the governments of the USA and USSR turned to former Nazis in their quest to conquer, command, and control the high frontier.
Meanwhile, private efforts continued. Robert Truax, OTRAG, Space Services, Inc., and CSTAR, all met with failure. However, the Amateur Radio Relay League built its Oscar-1 in 1961 and since then 70 satellites constructed by hobbyists have joined the dense flock of privately-owned birds in orbit. Among those was the pioneering Telstar built by AT&T and a consortium which paid NASA £3 million (yes, UK pounds) in 1962, after the successful launch of Oscar-1.
With profits from selling their network switching technology, the Ansari family funded the X-Prize to stimulate the development of private launch vehicles. Anousheh Ansari used her share to pay the Russian Federal Space Agency to take her to the ISS. Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites won the prize. Despite a horrific setback in 2008, they have renewed their agreement with Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and restarted their association with Microsoft’s Paul G. Allen. Spaceship Two is currently undergoing tests (here and here).