Earlier this week, Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen joined numerous other billionaires hoping to privatize spaceflight when he announced his new business venture, Stratolaunch Systems, which aims to build the world's largest airplanes, capable of launching spaceships into orbit. Upon reading this, my inner nerd cheered. Allen’s goals may be ambitious, but privatizing the space industry should continue to be encouraged. If these companies follow safety standards and are well-managed, then they may usher in a new wave of exploration and expansion.
At a press conference for his new company, Allen stated, “Stratolaunch will build an air launch system to give us orbital access to space with greater safety, flexibility, and cost effectiveness, both for cargo and manned missions.”
If these are the goals of companies like Stratolaunch, how harmful could privatizing space be? If there were a privatized space industry, it could offer improvements on current technology and potentially yield new inventions that would aid spaceflight (such as Allen’s massive planes).
The Obama administration currently supports the privatization of spaceflight, and is considering using these companies to ferry cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station. If government support for these companies continues, product development would flourish and the general public may eventually have access to spaceflight. That may be a long-time coming, but it’s certainly not impossible. Public access to space could offer exploration of the unknown aspects of our galaxy, and it would increase scientific discovery. NASA can’t necessarily offer these opportunities to individual scientists, and in this way the privatization of space could benefit the scientific community.
I may just be a nerd with a dream, but it’s not unrealistic to want expanded space programs. Similar to traveling with private plane or automobile companies, privatized spaceflight is another mode of transportation, but it has the added bonus of an opportunity to discover aspects of a galaxy not fully explored.
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