Tuesday, August 09, 2005


I'm of two minds in this most recent shuttle launch.

On the one hand, I fully support the thought that after the Columbia disaster, it was important to get back on the horse, so to speak. And naturally, the "bad" news at the beginning of the flight was partly an overreaction to the perceived risks. It seems clear that this insulation problem is one of long-standing, and in fact, if you view footage of the Challenger take-off, you can see chunks of ice falling off the main booster and scraping the underside of the craft. It would not be farfetched to think that Columbia was an accident that was waiting to happen.

On the other hand, the shuttle has turned into precisely what we don't need in the exploration of space: a crap shoot. Delays for this, delays for that, altered landing spots (today's landing was the 50th in California, with one further landing in New Mexico, as opposed to 64 in Florida. Not really good odds.)

The evidence suggests that we need a sturdier and yet more flexible vehicle to really begin a practical exploration of near-space. The X Prize last year was an attempt to pool together the massive parallel "computing" power of the private sector. Make it a competition and watch how evolution works in action.

There are some things that government does extremely well, things that require massive coordinated efforts and large immediate sums of money: research, food distribution, welfare, highways, wars.

And yet, in all of these, there comes a time for the government to step aside and let the private sector enhance what's been done. That doesn't mean taht government turns the entire enterprise over to the private sector, but partners with it.

Because there will come a time yet again when the massive resources of a government are required to nudge a project either back on course or jump it ahead a bit in its progress.

And this, I think, is the major flaw of capitalism: it pays lip service to this rather useful and convenient methodology for advancing great causes.

Pity we are governed by such small men, isn't it? We could be destined for greatness.
tags technorati :