Philobiblon: A real case for privatisation

Thursday, July 28, 2005

A real case for privatisation

So many times, governments have privatised institutions and organisations that have only suffered from the experience. But there is one case, today, in the United States, that is crying out for privatisation: Nasa.

No, I don't think you could sell the organisation off, but take a large chunk of its funding and use it instead for a series of space prizes - the ultimate might be to send a three-member crew to Mars and back, perhaps, with several incremental awards for progress towards that goal.

Why? Well as the events of today have only further demonstrated, with the suspension of the space shuttle programme, while space exploration and development is an inherently risky business, governments (at least Western governments) are becoming increasingly risk-averse.

In many ways this is a good thing - that governments should value human life and not waste it needlessly is not something to complain of - but it simply cannot be matched to space exploration. What would have happened had the European explorers of the early modern age counted the inevitable cost in our terms? They would have stayed at home.

If this is done by private enterprise, with volunteers freely choosing to take the risks, only then can real progress be made.

It is getting on towards 40 years since Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Think of the progress that has been made in Earth-bound technologies since then, but human space travel has gone nowhere.

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