American Consequences - August 2020

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Competition then cut the cost of space travel to a fraction of what it was. Why couldn’t NASA have done that? Because after the moon landing, it became a typical government agency – overbudget and behind schedule. Zubrin says NASA’s purpose seemed to be to “supply money to various suppliers.” Suppliers were happy to go along. Zubrin once worked at Lockheed Martin, where he discovered a way for a rocket to carry twice as much weight. “We went to management, the engineers, and said, ‘Look, we could double the payload capability for 10% extra cost.’ They said, ‘Look, if the Air Force wants us to improve the Titan, they’ll pay us to do it!’” NASA was paying the development costs of contractors and then adding 10% profit. The more things cost, the bigger the contractor’s profit. So contractors had little incentive to innovate.

few weeks ago, American astronauts returned to Earth. Their trip to the space station was the first manned launch from the U.S. in 10 years.

By NASA? No. Of course, not. This space flight happened because the government was not in charge. An Obama administration committee had concluded that launching such a vehicle would take 12 years and cost $36 billion. But this rocket was finished in half that time – for less than $1 billion (1/36th the predicted cost). That’s because it was built by Elon Musk’s private company, SpaceX. He does things faster and cheaper because he spends his own money. “This is the potential of free enterprise!” explains aerospace engineer Robert Zubrin. Of course, years ago, NASA did manage to send astronauts to the moon. That succeeded, says Zubrin, “because it was purpose-driven. (America) wanted to astonish the world

[with] what free people could do.” But in the 50 years since then, as

Competition then cut the cost of space travel to a fraction of what it was. Why couldn’t NASA have done that?

transportation improved and computers got smaller and cheaper, NASA made little progress. Fortunately, President Barack Obama gave private companies permission to compete in space, saying, “We can’t keep doing the same old things as before.”

American Consequences

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