Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Final Frontier? That'll Do Nicely

Splendid article here on why all the private enterprise spaceship stuff going on is so much flummery nonsense. I mean, Virgin Galactic is obvious bullshit, but it's worth reading just to see how fatuous the media coverage has been. And there's a deeply unfashionable but rock-solid point at the core of it all.

What we are meant to believe is that private firms managed by brilliant entrepreneurs can and will take over responsibility for human space exploration from government agencies. We will soon be touring the solar system—or is it the galaxy?—all thanks to the magic of free enterprise. 
The problem with this particular millennial vision is that private firms do not open new frontiers. States do. Private firms profit from frontiers after they have been opened by states. The reason for this division of institutional labor is that opening a new frontier involves accepting high risk and absorbing unrecoverable cost. Businesses hate both. That’s why they wait for governments to do the heavy lifting. Mind you, if the real space frontier that lies beyond low Earth orbit is ever reopened to human exploration and opened to economic development, private investment will have an important role to play. However when humans return to the Moon and if they land on Mars for the first time, count on a state to have paid the freight. The real question is not whether but which state will be writing the check.

Yep, that's what you won't hear about Branson, Musk, et al, even from the dear old BBC. None of these guys are going further than low-earth orbit, if that. Rich men and their toys con't conquer the solar system. I doubt any of them will even risk orbiting hotels, to be honest. Too dangerous, too limited in appeal, and above all too expensive. But when you're sucking up to tycoons, pretending they're brilliant pioneers is always a good line to take. And not a word about the real heroes and the real achievements.


  1. I won't be staying in any orbiting space hotel until they can guarantee that there are no Vermicious Knids there.

  2. I had to look that up. Now I know.