President Calvin Coolidge is famously reported to have said the business of America is business. That is actually a misquote, but it does sum up the traditional  view of America as an industrial, and industrious, society.

Today, however, politicians seems to have embraced a new view: that the business of America is government. This is not a partisan criticism. No one would deny that President Obama is a  supporter of big government, including President Obama himself. What’s more surprising is how many of his Republican  opponents feel the same way.

An example of this is the recent statement by Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee  for Commerce, Justice, and Science, on the future of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

The statement has been hailed by some in the commercial space community, since it represents a compromise. Rep. Wolfe had previously called for an immediate down-select to  a single commercial supplier, on the basis of the strange belief theory that a monopoly approach would be quicker, safer, and reduce costs. Now, he seems willing to allow some limited element of competition to continue, with the number of awards reduced to “two and a half” rather than one.

The distressing part of the “compromise” is summed up in this statement: “As part of this understanding, NASA and the committee have affirmed that the primary objective of the commercial crew program is achieving the fastest, safest and most cost-effective means of domestic access to the ISS, not the creation of a commercial crew industry.”

With millions of Americans out of work, one would expect politicians like Wolfe to welcome the creation of new industries. Strangely enough, that is not so. NASA, it seems, does not exist for the benefit of American industry. According to Wolfe, American industry exists for the benefit of NASA.

This is as if Congress had told the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics that its primary objective was not to promote the creation of a commercial aviation industry, but merely to achieve the fastest, safest and most cost-effective access to its own laboratories.

If Rep. Wolf had forced the NACA to “affirm” such an objective in the 1930’s, America would have been at a significant disadvantage going into World War II.

The companies competing for ISS commercial crew and cargo contracts will profess nothing but happiness with the compromise, publicly, but the implications of this policy are discouraging for those who care about opening space for America. Spending tens of billions of dollars merely to provide access to space for a few government employees is not an inspired policy, or even a sustainable one.

We should not be discouraged, however. Wolfe’s lack of vision might hamper the development of orbital spaceflight, but the fact is, what happens to Boeing and SpaceX (and even NASA) may not matter much in the long run. The International Space Station may capture headlines, but the real action is taking place in small hangars in places like Mojave. The suborbital spacecraft being built in those hangars will revolutionize the human spaceflight industry, just as the machines that were built in Steve Jobs’s garage revolutionized the computer industry. In the last 50 years, only about 500 people have traveled into space. Soon, there will be hundreds of people traveling into space every year, almost all of them on suborbital spacecraft – and just like microcomputers, those spacecraft will evolve. If shortsighted policies prevent SpaceX and Boeing from developing a commercial orbital spaceflight industry, it won’t be long before the Lynx Mark 5 or Virgin SpaceShip Four begins flying into orbit. Because the business of America is more than just operating government laboratories.

Written by Astro1 on June 16th, 2012 , Commercial Space (General)

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