Space Shuttles and Scarcity: It Takes a Willing Country

The Bay Area just wonk bonkers watching the Space Shuttle Endeavor, as it flew over, low, atop a modified 747, on its way to its final resting place in Southern California.

We don’t build those things any more. Or fly them into low outer space. I think that’s a shame (though it might just be that Endeavor buzz hitting me . . . ).

Now, I’m not an expert at space policy (for expertise and good reads on space, I recommend The Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait, at Bad Astronomy) (and to him I give credit for the idea of using playful made-up replacement labels to mean “click on this to make it bigger,” today’s version of which is, “Click to encontinentenate“).

So my non-expert understanding of our space industry is that (a) we are looking at privatizing and for-profiting more and more of our program, and (b) we hit “pause” on our NASA programs sometime in the last several decades and, as a result, (c) today we are experiencing a lull in our space program, with no peopled [sic: manned] flight to the moon or beyond until at least 2025 (landing on an asteroid), but with (d) at least one big-dreamer, named Bas Lansdorp, planning on entrepreneuring his way to building a permanent settlement of humans on Mars by 2023.

That’s a far, far cry from what it once was.

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I believe that our — America’s — financial wherewithal is not vastly different from what it was 30 and 40 years ago, when we were still dreaming and building big. True, we’ve lost some of our first-mover advantage (which for us truly was an advantage) and have now been leapfrogged by some more recent entrants (e.g. China), just as we leapfrogged others when we first entered (e.g. the UK).

Rather, I think the baby is drowning in the bathtub (that’s an important reference, so, if you are like most folks and therefore find that reference meaningless, please, if you want to click on but one link in this piece, that’s the one to click on).

Building big is typically a collectivist activity. Plain and simple.

I wish the best of luck to Bas on going it alone, but I suspect that establishing a human-populated base on Mars is a bigger task than any one person can accomplish (with hats off to Elon Musk for accomplishing something in space that is big, but not nearly as big as, say, going to the Moon, Alice, to the Moon . . .  or to Mars, Alice, to Mars, for that matter).

Rather, it takes a country — and a strong, willing and willful country at that — to go to the Moon or to Mars.

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I view this space-lull as one of many scarcities we all are contending with now. It ain’t fun.

For instance (I hate sounding like an old geezer when saying this, but say it I must): when I was young and a student at University of California (in the 80s for law and the 90s for MBAing), it was affordable. It wasn’t free, but you could do it.

That’s gone, probably forever.

Nowadays many, many students get screwed (royally and utterly screwed) by private for-profit schools and end up with tens of thousands of dollars of debt (or more) and no job to show for it.

That’s what an MBA would call a Bad Return on Investment, to say the least. And a real transfer of wealth.

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The big question, then, is whether the scarcity is unavoidable, or self-generated. I am not sure. But even if your answer is, Some of each, why, then, all I can say is, Stop It! Stop generating even an iota of scarcity.

Scarcity is, after all, a very real thing. There’s only so much of anything in the world.

So, just as I believe that you (and all of us, for that matter) should be extra kind and gentle towards yourself (because the world is, by and large, predisposed to not be all that kind and gentle towards you, so why pitch in and help?), so, too, do I believe that we should all be extra careful not to increase the scarcity in the world (because there is already plenty of it to go around).

Add, yes, if that last parenthetical made your head hurt, well, then, you definitely read it as it was intended!


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