By now, I'm sure everyone has heard that the private space launch by Orbital Science exploded six seconds into takeoff (side note: They called it a "vehicle anomaly." I'll have to remember that the next time I have to call my insurance company...)
Naturally, this led to a round of navel-gazing and finger-pointing and NASA swearing up and down that this means we CANNOT RELY ON PRIVATE MEANS for launching satellites and such.
Because, you know, NASA's never lost an unmanned rocket, right?
This time, they got lucky. It was an unmanned rocket and no one was hurt on the ground. A shame about the equipment that was lost, of course; I suspect that Orbital Science is going to be seeing an uptick in their insurance policy. Even Flo at Progressive couldn't overlook this one...
It's funny how we seem to have this ingrained need to divide ourselves into camps. Republican vs. Democrat. Left vs. Right. 1911 vs. Glock. OC vs. CC. No matter what the issue, you'll find folks with passionate beliefs as to why their way is the ONE TRUE WAY and that other guy is an idiot/evil/stupid/etc. In this particular case, you've got the battle lines being drawn over whether private space exploration should be allowed/encouraged/banned/etc.
Some feel that an undertaking this large should be the purview of the government, that it is so large and encompasses so much that it's better left to the folks that build the roads and man the armies. Also, since there's much in space that is either directly or indirectly related to the military or to vital communication, the government has a clear need for access to the means to launch satellites, repair crews, etc.
Others feel that private exploration and launches are the only way that space will be conquered, that the same entrepreneurial spirit that gives us lightning fast broadband internet, near-universal wi-fi, and computers so inexpensive that most Americans own at least one will be the wave of space exploration. A generation raised on Star Trek (ironically a government-funded, quasi-military organization) and Robert Heinlein (pretty much the polar opposite) believes that allowing man to reach for the stars on his own will yield great dividends.
It's hard to pick a camp, really. The government has shown a shocking tendency to screw up pretty much everything it comes in contact with, leaving horror stories of graft, corruption, and breathtaking incompetence behind. Need proof? I'll give you two words' worth: Big Dig. We were sold this tremendous bill of goods there, with promises of alleviating traffic in Boston and keeping the cost low. Cut to the end of the project, and it's billions of dollars over budget, traffic is as bad as ever, and large swaths of the ceiling are falling down and killing people.
The only other large-scale work that private industry can point to is the railroad system, and history tells us how that worked out. Robber barons and monopolies led to dynasties like the Vanderbilts and Goulds, people that made (for the time) obscene amounts of money and essentially held the nation hostage to the allure of rapid, easy transit. Compared to horseback, traveling by rail was light-years ahead. In a fairly rapid turn of events, though, rail was superseded by air travel and the interstate highway system.
There's a balance: with the government in charge, we're unlikely to see advances like we do in the private sector. Government wheels move slowly -- the old saw about the heaviest element being Administratium. True innovation is driven by private industry and the chance to have the next big thing -- the next Google, Apple, MicroSoft, or IBM. Clamp down on space travel, leave it solely in the government domain, and we see things like the space shuttle, a vehicle designed by committee that was innovative for a short period, then collapsed under its own weight.
Losing millions of dollars of equipment isn't going to help the private sector argument, though...
That is all.
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