NASA has grounded the shuttles again. That’s because they saw some more foam fly off during take off the other day. You remember what happened the last time foam flew off, don’t you? That was a tragic day, and NASA doesn’t want to be responsible for more such tragedies. Considering that they’re a tax supported organization that’s a good policy. One way or another, our taxes pay for enough death and destruction to satisfy most people’s need for, well, for death and destruction. Unfortunately, trying to keep everyone safe will only ensure that nobody will ever go anywhere. Which is why private enterprise is going to start exploiting our neighboring planets rather than NASA. You can bemoan the commercialization of space all you want, but it’s going to happen, because the first explorers will be privately funded, and they’ll assess the risks and decide that the downside (they’ll die if they fail) is far outweighed by the upside (they get all the plutonium on Mars, or whatever.)
Whatever slack private companies leave will be taken up by the space programs from countries with less to lose, countries such as India or China. They’re not on top of the world, neither is the world’s only superpower, neither has any international position of authority to protect (at the moment, that is) so either will be much more willing than the USA to risk citizens’ lives in pursuit of an outer space dream. It may sound crass to consider that a country with over a billion citizens can afford to risk a few, but it’s the truth. So the private companies planning on grabbing a piece of the solar system had better hurry up or the best asteroids will all be taken. One thing there probably won’t be is much of an actual “American” presence in space per se. In the twentieth century we went to the moon several times, but the twentieth century was the “American Century.” This is the twenty-first century and nobody can tell yet who it belongs to. That’s a fact that gives Americans pause when we bother to think about it, but what the heck?
Consider the dominant power of the nineteenth century: Great Britain. Are the citizens of this no longer imperial nation better off or worse off than they were under Victoria? Consider that they live longer, healthier lives, jet around the world, use the latest technology to communicate and entertain, eat international cuisine (almost anything is a step up from traditional English food, trust me), drive nice cars, and so on. The Victorians didn’t have a single one of those advantages. The poor saps. What I’m saying is that the evidence suggests that we may well be better off when somebody else takes on the mantle of world Kahuna. It will be the latter half of the century that truly tells the tale of course, just as it was with the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Will India rule from a base on the moon? Will China impose chopsticks on a reluctant world? We’ll just have to wait.
The only way for America to stay on top would be for us to give it all up and start over. Anybody for that alternative?
That’s what I thought.