Commercial Spaceflight Is Far From a Reality

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-07-22 Print this article Print

In reality, Virginia was explored, settled and exploited by a private company, the Virginia Company, which was given a charter to explore North America in exchange for the right to exploit it for whatever riches it found.

And the Virginia Company did exploit the new lands, returning with riches ranging from gold to tobacco. Soon, a number of private companies were growing rich and making money for their investors, and North America boomed. You may have noticed the results.

You may also notice that there's a key difference between what we're doing in exploring space now and what they did to explore Virginia 400 years ago. Now, we're treating space as the domain of government. Commercial spaceflight at this point is just another government contract. There is no means for true commercial space exploration.

If manned spaceflight is going to happen again in the United States, then it needs a reason to exist. Perhaps the U.S. government can grant charters to exploit the asteroids or maybe mine the riches of Mars (assuming there are any). But without some hope of financial gain, a corporation isn't going to spend money to take people back into space. More importantly, without some kind of commercial incentive, companies aren't going to do science in space unless they have a clear understanding that they get to keep the results.

So right now, we have no path to space. The shuttle was killed. There is nothing else going our way in the near future. There's a high likelihood that nothing will be carrying people from the United States to space at any significant level ever again.

Yes, I know about Virgin Galactic and the other companies planning suborbital flights, but where they're going isn't space and there is no exploration involved. It might be a fun ride for the rich, but it's not really spaceflight and certainly not exploration. I know about Space-X, but as I said, they live at the will of NASA, whose track record isn't so great.

So that's how it ends. We brought the last shuttle home and it begins its new mission as a slowly decaying museum display. We quietly walk away from manned spaceflight having lost the will to explore. We have given up. We have retreated. We are no more. 

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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