Zac Manchester with KickSat sprite satellite prototype

Make magazine has an article on 10 Maker Jobs That Didn’t Exist 10 Years Ago.

Only one of the jobs comes from space exploration / space development, and it isn’t from any of NASA’s megaprojects like Orion, SLS, or the James Webb Space Telescope.

The one space-related job is “Personal Space Engineer,” illustrated by Zac Manchester, creator of the KickSat project. Manchester started KickSat as a graduate student at Cornell University, but he now works for NASA Ames Research Center.

Politicians often talk about how the US space program is important for creating jobs, but you won’t hear them talk about KickSat anymore than you heard them talk about the Apple II in 1977.

Instead, they boast about how many jobs they are creating with expensive, big government projects like the Space Launch System and Orion capsule. Unfortunately, those projects are not actually creating new jobs. They are merely transferring dollars from one person (the “taxpayer”) in one job the another person (the “government employee”) in another job. On some level, the politicians must know this, but they continue to perpetuate the myth because it brings in votes.

Politicians continue to get away with this slight of hand because the amount of pain felt by an individual taxpayer is very small (“NASA is less than half a percent of the Federal budget, not worth arguing about!”) while the benefit to the government employee is quite large. Still, politicians are not creating jobs; they are rearranging deck chairs on the proverbial Titanic that is the US economy.

What really creates jobs is innovation, like KickSat and the Apple II. (In one recent year, Apple Inc. added 20,000 new jobs — more than the total number of civil servants who work at NASA. No one would have forecast that in 1977.)

One advantage of innovative projects is that they usually start on a small scale, so they don’t cost much money. That also means they don’t have much political visibility, however, so politicians are unlikely to show much interest. In government circles, expensive megaprojects like SLS can be easier to start (and much harder to stop). NASA is supporting some innovative small-scale projects, such as Manchester’s KickSat, but more and more, innovative space projects are occurring outside the Federal government. And that is not a bad thing.

A few decades from now, we will have an Apple Inc. of space that’s larger than NASA (more likely, several). The politicians will point with pride and pretend they had something to do with it, long after Orion and SLS are forgotten.

Written by Astro1 on July 6th, 2013 , Innovation, Space Policy and Management

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