Hope for space

Published 7:05 am Friday, July 22, 2011

Daily Herald editorial

As sad as it was to see the space shuttle program make its last landing this week, there remains some possibility that the United States might regain prominence in outer space via private enterprise.

Several dozen groups are competing to earn a $30 million Google-sponsored prize by successfully landing a spacecraft on the moon. The competitors see big opportunities not only in winning the prize but in developing the capability of getting a vehicle to the moon, one presumably capable of carrying with it scientific or commercial cargo.

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In a way, the competition is laughable, because NASA has routinely demonstrated the ability to land unmanned vehicles on surfaces much more distant than the moon. Doing so via private enterprise is an entirely different venture, however, because few businesses or individuals can afford the massive budgets that NASA previously enjoyed. The competitors for the X Prize need to be frugal in their approach. Some are concerned that turning lunar exploration over to the private sector will result in commercialization of the moon (and perhaps the entire solar system). Those critics, however, ignore the reality that throughout history much of the exploration and development of the world, on every continent, has been by businesses and individuals, often dodging government intervention to push the boundaries of knowledge.

The United States is not, today, in a good place when it comes to space. Perhaps this new approach will change that situation.