The Private Frontier

For once I’ve actually got a few minutes to sit and think about blogging, as opposed to the stream of consciousness personal journal style entries I’ve been forced to stick to lately.

I’ll admit, when I first heard that private companies were taking on the conquest of space, I was excited. Government budgets clearly have their limits, and have to constantly prove that what they’re doing with their budgets for space exploration is more important what the other things the government could be doing with that money. It’s easy to look at space missions and grumble because the government obviously has the money to see how squirt guns work in space, but they can’t be arsed to fix the one foot wide pothole on your street. Private companies have no such problems, especially if their only purpose is space exploration. People expect them to spend all their budgets out there with no other pressures apart from mission success.

This past week, SpaceX, a private company, launched a manned unit into space, had it dock with the International Space Station to trade supplies, and returned to Earth successfully. It was inspiring.

It was also disappointing.

Let’s be honest: Corporations don’t have a great track record of putting people first ahead of profits. Some would argue that corporations are alien overlords. I look back back at some of the old optimistic Sci-Fi, stuff like like the various Star Trek series. There, space is explored and managed by an international cooperative governmental group with directives and priorities that typically put the citizens first. The series in which corporations drive space exploration are typically not so optimistic (Alien and sequels, anyone?).

True, SpaceX is currently doing things under government contracts, basically doing things for NASA so that NASA doesn’t have to do it itself (such as shuttle supplies to the space station), but it is also doing private contract work and wants to set up a human presence on Mars. I don’t like the idea of Mars being colonized in the name of a private corporation. Mining asteroids for metals and materials is one thing, but I think it sets a bad precedent when companies start being the ones to break ground on other worlds.

Imagine corporations establishing presences on faraway worlds and denying others access, to the point of using military might if necessary. Heck, a well-supplied organization could probably set up a series of space stations in Earth orbit for the express purpose of stopping others from getting off the planet.

Like I said, disappointing. It’s disappointing that we couldn’t get our collective act together to explore space as one global community. I suppose it was always naive to think that it was possible for everyone in the world to agree on how to get along, but it’s really disappointing that the immediate future of space exploration seems to be privatized, because it’s hard to legislate what people can do when you have no way of getting out there to stop them.

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