The Electric Commentary

Monday, June 21, 2004

The Mother of Invention
Kudos to Burt Rutan, Paul Allen and company for their success with SpaceShipOne. It is an amazing time we live in. Private Citizens, albeit rich private citizens, can fly to outer space.

Space exploration is important. However, since the time of the Apollo missions and the early days of the Shuttle, it isn't getting the attention it deserves. The government doesn't fund it as much, the media doesn't cover it as much and people don't seem to care about it as much. Many view it as an unnecessary ego display that has no practical, useful results. Many people would rather see its funding diverted to more "humanitarian" type causes. But NASA and its scientists have provided more than nice snapshots of planets and stars and galaxies. They have provided new, useful technology and answers to many difficult and important questions.

The prospect of private groups shooting for the stars may prove to be even more productive for humanity. Groups like Rutan's are well funded but the $20 million Paul Allen spent on SpaceShipOne is still pocket change compared to most government sponsored missions. This may be good. It forces them to be creative, to inexpensive ways around the barriers that stood in their way and removes the constraints that a bureaucracy would put on them. I think it was Carl Sagan who said that if government employees would have been charged with finding a cure for polio they would have come up with the best iron lung possible but would not have created a vaccine. Who knows where this will lead or what serendipitous discoveries will be made. With interest in space exploration somewhat rejuvenated and people like Allen willing to take the financial risk the sky is the limit. Or maybe its not.

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