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Tuesday 23 January 2018

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An Anti-NewSpace Conspiracy?

by michael belfiore
“Inner space is useful. Outer space is history.” Thus reads the subhead of the cover editorial in the current issue of The Economist. It’s just another major media outlet taking the opportunity of the Space Shuttle’s retirement to declare the end of human space exploration.

The Economist magazinecover.

At least this magazine mentions Elon Musk and Sir Richard Branson, two of the entrepreneurs working to make space truly accessible for the first time. In editorials last week, the New York Times didn’t even do that, saying, for example, “America still has no vision at all for its space program, no plan for where to go next or how.”

Fact is, with the competition of the Shuttle out of the way, NewSpace, as the burgeoning commercial space flight industry is sometimes known, is number one on the runway, and there’s no good reason to assume that it will fail. SpaceX became the first private company to launch and then recover a spacecraft from orbit last year, and is on track to begin cargo deliveries to the International Space Station this year. Certainly it’s not fair to say that America has no plan in space. In fact it’s completely inaccurate.

If I were slightly more paranoid, I’d say there was a conspiracy afoot, especially since I pitched an editorial to The Times summarizing the President’s and NASA’s commitment to foster the development of commercial spaceships and return to the kind of blue sky research that got us to the moon. My pitch was well received, and then…silence. After that initial enthusiastic reception, I got no further replies to my queries. Next came the gloom and doom stories about how the Shuttle’s last mission is the nail in the coffin for America’s preeminence in space. Did the editors I pitched get overruled by their bosses?

A case could be made for a conspiracy. Billions of dollars of NASA pork are at stake. Powerful politicians are doing everything they can to stave off the inevitable commercial space age. They’re working to preserve the fiction that only big government programs can get people into space, cut the relative pitance NASA is awarding NewSpace for working hardware, and add billions more to those already spent on a succession of government concept vehicles.

Nevertheless, I choose to be optimistic, chalking up the inaccuracies in the media to misinformation. After 50 years of government-owned space flight, it’s hard for people to let go of the idea that space is a government program and not just another place to do business.

about the author
michael belfiore is an author, journalist, and speaker on the innovations shaping our world. He has written about game-changing technologies for Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, New Scientist, Smithsonian, Invention & Technology, Financial Times, and other outlets. Contact him at http://michaelbelfiore.com

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4 Responses to “An Anti-NewSpace Conspiracy?”

  1. I wholly agree with you. I wrote a response to this issue on my website as well at http://bmseifert.com/2011/07/05/end-of-the-space-age-i-think-not/

    People have been lamenting the end of the shuttle program for some time now, however this conclusion has been planned for quite awhile and we always knew that the shuttle was merely a milestone in extraterrestrial transportation to be passed by continuously developing technologies. Here we are, beginning our movement from the shuttle towards the development of newer technologies (Lockheed Martin’s MPCV) one day possibly capable of taking us to Mars, and everyone is preaching the end of NASA and the end of American space supremacy. People (ahem, Newt Gingrich among others) also decry NASA as a failure. They label NASA a good example of why large-scale, federally-funded scientific efforts do not and cannot work and call for complete privatization of the space industry. I call shenanigans. The shuttle is not the end of space exploration or the Space Program, NASA has been incredibly successful and has potential to become even more so, and passion for space exploration still ferociously exists in America.

  2. Rocketman says:

    This is the end of America’s dominance in HSF for the foreseeable future. New Space Boys are still learning how to launch rockets, and will not be proficient for many years to come. I expect it will be at least 10 years before we see an American fly on an American ship and I’m not talking about Branson’s thrill ride, but actual American ships going to the ISS.

    There is no “conspiracy” but an acknowledgment of reality that at best our future in HSF is “uncertain” and at worst, it is destroyed for the time being.

  3. How did you feel when sitcoms ended? You know, with the retirement of Seinfeld?

    Ask Hank. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aml4u8JMn5A

  4. Rocketman says:

    I don’t know, I don’t watch much trash TV. I prefer documentaries.

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