Ed Driscoll

P.J. O'Rourke on Space: the 'Great New Private Enterprise'

“The decline of NASA and the senseless priorities of our government,” is the subject of P.J. O’Rourke’s latest article at the Weekly Standard, in which he drops by the 29th National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, and has rather mixed emotions about what he sees, including the pitiful current state of NASA:

The Space Foundation gave its Lifetime Space Achievement Award posthumously, this year, to Neil Armstrong, for one small step for man. Neil’s son Mark spoke briefly at a reception after the award ceremony. “I’m 50,” he said, “so I’ve just had time to see the U.S. space program go from its peak to what I hope is its nadir.”

Meanwhile other people have been taking one giant leap for mankind. Space turns out to be extremely valuable—a great new private enterprise. Commercial revenues from space services, products, support industries, and infrastructure totaled $225.87 billion in 2012. That’s almost three times the amount that governments around the world spent on space last year. And let us not forget, when governments spend money on space, much of it is spent on intercontinental ballistic missiles, spy satellites, military command and control, drone guidance, and—for all that those of us who have a “Bottom Gossip” security clearance know—orbiting death rays. (DoD’s space budget is 65 percent larger than NASA’s.) Governments get world domination. We get SiriusXM satellite radio. And we’re outspending governments in space anyway.

The words “Space Age” have a quaint, nostalgic tone—sitting on midcentury modern furniture watching The Jetsons. But get out of the butterfly chair and fold the rabbit ears on the Philco—you’re living in the Space Age.

Without the space industry all those dishes hanging off window sills, receiving HD television reception and providing high-speed Internet connection in even the most remote corners of the world, would be just so many woks gone wrong.

Without the space industry, the only way you could use your satellite phone to communicate with someone would be by bonking him on the head with it. And satellite phones aren’t even big enough anymore to be very useful for that.

Meteorological predictions would be Grandpa’s mutterings about how his joints ache. There would have been no forewarning of Superstorm Sandy, and former members of the Jersey Shore cast might have been blown all the way to Canandaigua. What a natural disaster that would have been for New York’s Finger Lakes region.

Your GPS would be an old coot perched on your dashboard, chewing a stalk of hay. “Git on over to Old Pike Road. ’Cept they call it County Route 738 nowadays. An’ turn left where the Hendersons’ barn burned down in ’63.”

Air traffic control is largely satellite dependent. Absent satellites, when you’re squeezed into the middle seat on a flight to Orlando, you might not just wish you were dead, you might get that way.

And you couldn’t go to Google Earth to find out whether your neighbors are raising pigs in a backyard pen. You’d have to take a stepladder and peek over the fence. Nope, just dirty kids and a very dilapidated swing set.

Read the whole thing.™