With the successes in recent years of N.A.S.A.’s Odyssey and Mars Rover missions, the American space agency is flying pretty high. The disappointment of Beagle 2 notwithstanding, the European Space Agency has made great strides in their space exploration programs recently with the success of their Mars Express orbiter. Further, through a communications link established by the Mars Express orbiter and the Spirit Rover the E.S.A. and NASA have helped establish “the first working international communications network around another planet,” according to the E.S.A.’s Rudolf Schmidt.
While international cooperation in space exploration is not unheard of and is to be encouraged, a new form of cooperation is necessary if humans are spread our reach through the solar system and beyond in a more efficient manner. Of immediate necessity is government relaxation of regulations and more privatization of payload launches in order to faciliate more growth in private industry exploration of space.
In preparation for just such a deregulation, some exciting ventures are being planned and funded. One of the most creative approaches to private space exploration would be TransOrbital’s Trailblazer lunar probe project. According to its website, Transorbital:
“…is the only private company to be authorized by the US State Department and NOAA for commercial flights to the Moon. The TrailBlazer® lunar orbiter will be the first delivery service to the Moon. Delivered to the Moon surface in a special capsule will be your certificates, business cards, cremated remains, jewelry, artwork and many other items of choice. The Trailblazer® satellite will deliver commercial and scientific projects and experiments to lunar orbit, as well as conduct lunar exploration and mapping.”
Among the goals of TransOrbital will be to provide computer servers on the lunar surface for storing database backups for corporate clients and archival of historical human records. Further, TransOrbital and Hewlett Packard are working together to allow Earth bound users of HP’s popular iPAQ PDA to be able to communicate with TransOrbital craft and eventually be empowered to download streaming video from space.
The success of TransOrbital and similar private enterprises would be a major catalyst for more corporate investment and experimentation in space exploration. Aside from the obvious financial benefits of getting such research out of taxpayer pockets, private industry successes would undoubtedly lead to quicker innovation and solutions to many of the technical problems facing N.A.S.A., the E.S.A. and other taxpayer funded space programs. Further demonstrating the potential for growth are Richard Branson’s plans to launch a commercial space tourism business and the June and September successes of SpaceShipOne in breaking through the Earth’s atmosphere to briefly enter space.
On November 5, 2003, Gary C. Hudson, founder of AirLaunch LLC, testified before the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics that, “…FAA rules generally prohibit revenue flying of experimental aircraft.” Hudson believes that the government can ”permit certain experimental aircraft defined as space vehicles to operate under a limited exemption for a period of time.” In short, we need a rapid, permanent deregulation plan in order to allow this infant industry the opportunity to grow up. Current F.A.A. regulations stand in the way of developing commercial space flight into a viable industry. In particular, U.S. corporations are at an extreme competitive disadvantage due to regulatory prohibitions, when compared to the Russian and European private space exploration industries.
By deregulating this infant industry, we can protect our own economy by allowing American corporations to compete on a more level playing field internationally. Further, we can help advance our own scientific knowledge through the inevitable advances that private industry will bring. N.A.S.A.’s own programs will benefit through use of technological advances made by these fledgling companies.
In addition, N.A.S.A. will be able to shift some of its lower priority satellite launches and other missions to private industry. By shifting such payloads to private industry, N.A.S.A. will also be shifting risk. Private industry will have immense incentive to get it right the first time, as they do not have large troughs of taxpayer money on which to fall back. This will likely save not only money for all American taxpayers, but it will also save valuable N.A.S.A. human resources as they are redirected and utilized in other areas. As we prepare to send men to Mars, we need to streamline and refocus the efforts of N.A.S.A. in order to accomplish this monumental task. This can best be accomplished by working in concert with private industry through deregulation and shifting of non-military payloads to private industry.
James Landrith is a Marine Corps and Gulf War veteran, libertarian, civil liberties activist and founder of Pious Pagan Publishing.