The Final Frontier

I am a little disappointed by Charles Krauthammer‘s latest column, in which he laments the end of the space shuttle program.

As the space shuttle Discovery flew three times around Washington, a final salute before landing at Dulles airport for retirement in a museum, thousands on the ground gazed upward with marvel and pride. Yet what they were witnessing, for all its elegance, was a funeral march.

The shuttle was being carried — its pallbearer, a 747 — because it cannot fly, nor will it ever again. It was being sent for interment. Above ground, to be sure. But just as surely embalmed as Lenin in Red Square.

Is there a better symbol of willed American decline? The pity is not Discovery’s retirement — beautiful as it was, the shuttle proved too expensive and risky to operate — but that it died without a successor. The planned follow-on — the Constellation rocket-capsule program to take humans back into orbit and from there to the moon — was suddenly canceled in 2010. And with that, control of manned spaceflight was gratuitously ceded to Russia and China.

As s Conservative, Krauthammer should know better. He seems to be following the Liberal line that if the government does not provide a good or service, than it will not be provided. In fact, America is not ceding control of space. Private enterprise is picking up where NASA has left off. There are already several companies ready and willing to provide launch vehicles, including SpaceX and Virgin Galactic. As for Constellation, Rand Simberg has pointed out repeatedly that it is a waste of taxpayer money with no defined mission except to provide jobs to the aerospace industry, a kind of space Solyndra, if you will.

Krauthammer goes on.

Nor for the private sector to get us back into orbit, as Obama assumes it will. True, hauling MREs up and trash back down could be done by private vehicles. But manned flight is infinitely more complex and risky, requiring massive redundancy and inevitably larger expenditures. Can private entities really handle that? And within the next lost decade or two?

But they are. The first private manned spaceflight was back in 2004. Granted it was only a suborbital flight, but Space Ship One showed that a private manned space flight is not too complex and risky. Even now, there are plans for more manned flights and eventually space tourism. We are  not retreating from space. We are taking space exploration to its next step, ending the government monopoly on space travel and opening space up to private enterprise.


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