Liam Proven (lproven) wrote,
Liam Proven

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Why I support private spaceflight over, say, charitable giving by sportspeople

Unchecked capitalism is rapidly destroying the climate and most of the life on the planet. The Earth will be fine -- it's survived at least half a dozen mass extinctions before. But we might not.

We face a choice of 2 options:

• End capitalism, free markets, consumerism, globalism, and democracy. Move into a period of degrowth, massive population shrinkage, switch to green technologies, a low-power way of life for the remaining population: no international travel, no flying, no cars, etc.

This is probably the best way but it's extremely hard, nobody really knows how to do it, and there are a vast number of extremely powerful entrenched entities implacable opposed to it.

• Or, embrace growth and expansion, in which case there is only one place to go: move industry and power generation off the Earth and into space. Meantime, switch to greener tech here, such as mass solar power generation, electric cars, telecommuting, etc.

To do option 2, we need cheap, accessible space transport. Governments only did it in the 1960s to show off, and once the race was won, they stopped trying. They did it with extremely expensive, disposable vehicles, and as soon as their flags were planted, they stopped doing the hard stuff.

Some will now exclaim "but the ISS!" The ISS is about 220 miles, 350km, above us. You could bicycle that in a couple of days and drive it in an afternoon. No human has been further from the earth than that in about half a century, and there is no prospect of any government doing that very soon. Only Russia and China can currently do it; the American government gave up on it with the end of the Space Shuttle programme.

But SpaceX has done it repeatedly in the last year.

Yes, billionaires are going to space (or at least out of the atmosphere). Because only the biggest wealthiest companies can afford to do it. Because it costs billions, so only billionaires can afford it.

Yes, arguably, we shouldn't have private citizens who can afford their own space programmes. Our governments ought to be doing it, and they ought to be taxing those people to pay for it as well as for free healthcare and education and much more.

But they aren't.

So be glad that somebody is.

It doesn't matter why. What matters is that if the economy continues to grow on Earth and only on Earth it will kill all of us. There is only one place else it can grow, and that is space, where there is no air or water to pollute, no life to exterminate.

We need to embrace and support SpaceX and Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. They are, for venal reasons, the trailbreakers of literally and precisely the only place we have to go.

The human race needs cheap spaceflight. We need solar power satellites. We need cheap lunar helium for fusion reactors.

It is by far the easiest path out of the mess we're in.

Yes, these early efforts are a bit poor. They are short hops, barely out of the atmosphere, not really into space at all and only just out of the atmosphere. They fall straight back.

But look at the context here. SpaceX nearly screwed the pooch. Falcon-1 launches #1, #2 & #3 all went wrong and were aborted, destroying their science payloads. Only the 4th worked – and delivered a bunch of scrap iron to LEO.

So many companies/efforts have tried and failed: Xcor, Armadillo Aerospace, HOTOL, Planetary Resources, Deep Space Industries...

This stuff is hard. Spaceplanes are hard. Launching from a plane is hard. Landing rockets is hard: no superpower ever managed it, because governments aren't much worried about cost.

No, Virgin "Galactic" aren't going into orbit with their current tech. Blue Origin are planning to, although they can't yet. But they got humans out of the atmosphere and back safely and that's a big deal. Only a handful of major nations ever did that before, and just 3 private companies have ever managed in history.

But the Wright Brothers only flew less than the wingspan of a 747 first time. They only managed 26 seconds and 846 feet. Not so impressive. But look what it eventually led to.

I used to live within walking distance of arguably the first public railway in the world. It was horse-drawn, and it was replaced by a canal -- arguably a step backwards.

But still, it was an important forerunner, and today a tramline I used to use a lot runs on that track. It wasn't a big deal in itself but my points are that what it led to was hugely important, and it's still around in some form.
Yes, the first efforts at anything are a usually rubbish compared to what comes later. But SpaceX set a benchmark and now others are striving towards that, and that IMHO is wonderful stuff.
Tags: blue origin, space, spacex, virgin galactic

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