If you know me, then you know that I am a big fan of all things Elon Musk, but especially his spectacular endeavors at SpaceX. I have long believed that the commercial exploitation of space–as opposed to its continued government monopoly–is the future of human space travel, and I believe Elon Musk represents the bleeding edge of that reality.
What has amused me for some time about Musk’s and SpaceX’s endeavors is the number of detractors and naysayers he attracts. There are a host of smart people determined to be the first who says it can’t be done and be right, yet time after time, Musk and crew prove them wrong, if not exactly on anyone’s timetable.
This fact brings to mind an idea from American history fraught with peril and controversy, and that idea is Manifest Destiny. I’m not referring to the part where people believed it was the white, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon right to own North America, but rather the part where so many people risked their time, fortunes, and lives to do things so many people said could not be done. We forget that Manifest Destiny had many, many detractors, yet those pioneers and prospectors proved them all wrong.
I see Musk and SpaceX in much the same light. He said he would build a reusable rocket, lots of people said he couldn’t, and he proved them wrong. He said he would build the first commercial crew capsule, lots of people said he didn’t know how, and he’s proving them wrong. He says he’s going to send people to the Moon and Mars, and well, you get the picture.
In the end, I think Musk represents what’s right with the American spirit. He’s the kind of man, a naturalized citizen with an idea, who helped make America the nation that it is and who will shape the nation it will yet be. We need more Musks, not less, the critics be damned.
In case you missed it, the Mars Science Laboratory, dubbed “Curiosity” by its builders, landed safely on Mars last night. Trust me, even if you don’t care, it’s a really big deal, and an important step for NASA after shutting down the Space Shuttle program.
What’s more, compared to a lot of things the government spends money on, Curiosity was cheap and produces a measurable good result in terms of raw science, development of technology, and inspiration.
We should do more of this stuff.
My first thought on reading the predictable backlash against Newt Gingrich’s moon base idea was, “Americans suck.”
I thought that because the backlash is so short-sighted of all the positive things building a moon base would bring to the table. It’s not like the money and effort to build a moon base would be poured into a hole. It’s not like the science and technology needed to make a moon base happen would not spin off into all sorts of other applications. It’s not like a moon base would go unnoticed, failing to fire imaginations and motivations.
One of America’s great historical strengths has been its capacity for embracing and solving hard problems in ways that benefit all of humanity in some way. Yes, that is a grandiose claim, but it is also true. Time and time again, Americans have done things that have boggled the minds of the rest of the world. Look at our industrial prowess during World War II. Look at what we accomplished with the Apollo Program. Look at what we did by inventing the Internet.
Yet, I think most Americans think those efforts and the idea of a moon base are a waste of time not because those ideas are not worthwhile but because they imagine the money better spent on themselves.
You see, the reason there has been such a backlash against a moon base is because people want to use that money to pay for their non-production. Sure, we call it Social Security and Medicare, universal healthcare and unemployment, but I call it not doing anything except consuming more. Harsh? Yes. True? To a great extent.
Let’s say, for example, that putting a permanent base on the moon would cost $1 trillion. That’s $1 trillion of scientists and engineers developing the technology. That’s $1 trillion of factories building the parts. That’s $1 trillion of an army of technicians building and launching things.
Further, that’s $1 trillion of houses being built for the people doing those things. That’s $1 trillion in tax revenues for localities and school districts. That’s $1 trillion in groceries and restaurants feeding people. That’s $1 trillion in shopping malls, gas stations, and hair salons.
Besides the fact that $1 trillion opens the door to all kinds of possibilities we can’t even imagine right now simply because we don’t have a base on the moon.
Nope, instead we’d rather retire and hang out on the taxpayer’s dime.
Meanwhile, the Chinese, Indians, and Russians don’t feel that way at all. One of those nations is going to build a moon base even if we don’t. Then, suddenly, nobody will be talking about the amazing things America once did. They’ll be talking about the amazing things the Chinese or Indians or Russians are doing wile the Americans were all retired and hung out.
Yeah, Americans suck.
I know a lot of people shrug their shoulders at this kind of news, especially because the government has been doing space launches just like this for decades. Yet, if a private company or companies gain the ability to reach space without governments, it opens the door for private space ventures for which there is no limit, and it is the potential of those ventures that could fuel the future of innovation.
The fantastic company SpaceX successfully launched one of its Falcon 9 rockets carrying its Dragon reusable capsule today. If all goes well, they will recover the capsule this afternoon in the Pacific, making SpaceX the first private company to launch and recover a capsule capable of carrying cargo or humans into space.
This event marks another milestone on the inevitable road toward commercial exploitation of space.