Friday, 7 December 2012

Golden Spike and the Private Space Industry

As a follow-up to my post from a couple of days ago, I thought I'd comment on the announcement by the Golden Spike company to land on the moon by the end of the decade.  In a more general sense, there's the question of commercial space travel; I'd somehow missed the news that the SpaceX company successfully delivered cargo to the ISS earlier this year.

My general feeling is that the rise of the private enterprise suggests the maturation of the space industry.  Space travel no longer serves only as a sign of national pride or pure scientific exploration; not that those things are bad, but they limit what can be done.  The commercial prospects with satellites or speculative resource gathering, combined with technological progress lowering costs, means it is possible to at least anticipate a profit from the space industry.

And that's probably a good thing.  I have mixed feelings about markets; I disagree with Harrison Schmitt, Apollo 17 astronaut, when he espouses common dogma about the inefficiency of governments.  Remember that in the last few years, it has been the Soviet-era Soyuz that has ruled space travel.  But there are some things that markets do well, and transportation is often one of them. The only question is if the potential market is sufficient to support multiple competing companies, since all the benefits of the market are really the benefits of competition.  There's also the question of environmental and safety concerns; the former, especially, is not a high priority to the private sector.

Of course, one question is: will private travel to the moon finally end the moon landing conspiracies?  Sadly, I think the answer will be no; though I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the idea of private companies going to Luna is more palatable to those people.

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