FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

NASA and Private Enterprise

by BINOY KAMPMARK

Space has become an extension of the capitalist project.  Not that it should surprise anybody. The market, when allowed, has a tendency to be all-consuming, and allowing the Russians the sole means of supplying the international space station was not a situation those at NASA would have tolerated indefinitely.  In 2006, NASA announced it would supply two industry partners with half a billion dollars to develop appropriate transportation services to the ISS.

Only the previous year, the agency was given the go ahead through the NASA Authorisation Act to advance the cause of space commerce.  The Commercial Orbital Transportation Program (COTS) marked, in the words of Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of the Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office at NASA, ‘a significant NASA activity to implement the commercialisation portion of US space policy’.

One of those to first receive assistance from NASA was the US company SpaceX, an example of how the US hopes to catch up with Japan, Russia and Europe in being able to supply the ISS.  The situation became more acute once the shuttle program was retired in 2011.  Uncle Sam was falling behind.

SpaceX is owned by the modern, mercantile South African Elon Musk, PayPal’s co-founder, a billionaire who fancies himself as something of a modern Vasco da Gama, or, more likely, the brigand-like qualities of a Francis Drake.  The modern comparison has been to the fictional stinking rich character Iron Man, whom he is said to have inspired.  ‘We are really at the dawn of a new era of space exploration, one where there is a much bigger role for commercial space companies.’

That commerce is receiving funding from Washington in what are bound to be examples of space mercantilism.  SpaceX itself has a $1.6 billion contract, Orbital Sciences somewhere in the order of $1.9 billion.  As NASA administrator Charles Bolden explained, NASA’s interests are elsewhere – ‘exploring even deeper into our solar system, with missions to an asteroid and Mars on the horizon’.  The drudgery of transport was best left to the ‘private sector’.

Bolden’s own historical frame of reference is smaller. ‘The Internet was created as a government endeavour but then the introduction of commercial companies really accelerated the growth of the Internet and made it accessible to the mainstream.’  He might well go back to the European courts of the fifteenth century, when aggressive colonial forces were unleased upon much of the world, courtesy of government trading companies.  An empire on earth can well move to one in space.  Indeed, Michael Milstein, writing for Popular Mechanics (Oct 1, 2009), did not shy away from the words ‘solar-system conquest’.

The Dragon space capsule, attached to the SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, is a versatile beast, able to carry both crew members (up to seven) and cargo.  And it will have few rivals.  The reality remains that space travel is a frightfully expensive business. The only individuals who tend to go into extra terrestrial orbit, leaving aside astronauts, are rather wealthy earth gazers with a fetish.  Till a formula is found to bring down costs and build cheaper equipment, space will, thankfully, be a less crowded place.  We might even claim it will be a less imperial place.  NASA is determined to change that.

 

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

 

 

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:
July 27, 2016
Richard Moser
The Party’s Over
M. G. Piety
Smoke and Mirrors in Philadelphia
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Humiliation Games: Notes on the Democratic Convention
Arun Gupta
Bernie Sanders’ Political Revolution Splinters Apart
John Eskow
The Loneliness of the American Leftist
Guillermo R. Gil
A Metaphoric Short Circuit: On Michelle Obama’s Speech at the DNC
Norman Pollack
Sanders, Our Tony Blair: A Defamation of Socialism
Claire Rater, Carol Spiegel and Jim Goodman
Consumers Can Stop the Overuse of Antibiotics on Factory Farms
Guy D. Nave
Make America Great Again?
Sam Husseini
Why Sarah Silverman is a Comedienne
Dave Lindorff
No Crooked Sociopaths in the White House
Dan Bacher
The Hired Gun: Jerry Brown Snags Bruce Babbitt as New Point Man For Delta Tunnels
Peter Lee
Trumputin! And the DNC Leak(s)
David Macaray
Interns Are Exploited and Discriminated Against
Brett Warnke
Storm Clouds Over Philly
Ann Garrison
Rwanda, the Clinton Dynasty, and the Case of Dr. Léopold Munyakazi
Chris Zinda
Snakes of Deseret
July 26, 2016
Andrew Levine
Pillory Hillary Now
Kshama Sawant
A Call to Action: Walk Out from the Democratic National Convention!
Russell Mokhiber
The Rabble Rise Together Against Bernie, Barney, Elizabeth and Hillary
Jeffrey St. Clair
Don’t Cry For Me, DNC: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Angie Beeman
Why Doesn’t Middle America Trust Hillary? She Thinks She’s Better Than Us and We Know It
Paul Street
An Update on the Hate…
Fran Shor
Beyond Trump vs Clinton
Ellen Brown
Japan’s “Helicopter Money” Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure for Debt Deflation?
Richard W. Behan
The Banana Republic of America: Democracy Be Damned
Binoy Kampmark
Undermining Bernie Sanders: the DNC Campaign, WikiLeaks and Russia
Arun Gupta
Trickledown Revenge: the Racial Politics of Donald Trump
Sen. Bernard Sanders
What This Election is About: Speech to DNC Convention
David Swanson
DNC Now Less Popular Than Atheism
Linn Washington Jr.
‘Clintonville’ Reflects True Horror of Poverty in US
Deepak Tripathi
Britain in the Doldrums After the Brexit Vote
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Threats: Arbitrary Lines on Political Maps
Robert J. Gould
Proactive Philanthropy: Don’t Wait, Reach Out!
Victor Grossman
Horror and Sorrow in Germany
Nyla Ali Khan
Regionalism, Ethnicity, and Trifurcation: All in the Name of National Integration
Andrew Feinberg
The Good TPP
400 US Academics
Letter to US Government Officials Concerning Recent Events in Turkey
July 25, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
As the Election Turns: Trump the Anti-Neocon, Hillary the New Darling of the Neocons
Ted Rall
Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans
William K. Black
Doubling Down on Wall Street: Hillary and Tim Kaine
Russell Mokhiber
Bernie Delegates Take on Bernie Sanders
Quincy Saul
Resurgent Mexico
Andy Thayer
Letter to a Bernie Activist
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan is Strengthened by the Failed Coup, But Turkey is the Loser
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail