Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Friday, May 25, 2012

Enter the Dragon: Why I Am Not A SpaceX Space Vegas Space Cadet

The SpaceX Dragon became the first commercial vessel to successfully dock with the International Space Station. I will admit that with this achievement SpaceX has finally managed to become something more than the smarmy impresario offering brief low-gravity low-earth-orbit amusement park rides for breathtakingly huge sums of money while breathlessly pretending that this is the same thing as an actual space program (which it is not).

But those who would crow about how historic this moment is should recall the assurances offered at the start that privatizing this service would render it one-tenth as expensive as the government version and should also note how the price predictably, indeed inevitably, rocketed up and up and up (certainly faster than any of its actual rockets ever did) and how tax-payer subsidization became ever more and more and more indispensable to the project as it convulsively stumbled its way forward.

I do indeed think that this particular commercial exploitation of already existing technology should be remembered, though. Although Apollo, say, managed to be glorious even with a non-negligible share of for-profit private contracting being involved and even subject as it was to changeable public attitudes that led to more than its own fair share of reckless short-cutting and PR nonsense, still Dragon represents an important step along a path which will eventuate, at best, in a space program for which tax payers end up paying more than they otherwise would have for services and outcomes that will be more expensive than they would otherwise have been in order to compensate the irrelevant introduction into space research and exploration of a whole host of parasitic salesmen and PR shills, not to mention a layer of enormously loud entirely dispensable celebrity CEO sociopaths without whose soopervisionary soopergenius we will be endlessly told nothing would ever have been possible in space at all, even if in a sensibly run secular social democracy devoted to public investment in substantial science and developmental commonwealth, the costs, risks, and benefits of which equitably distributed to all, we would have much more much better much faster much cheaper much more real and much more wondrous space exploration without any of these carnival barkers elbowing their way in and making a crass spectacle of themselves in the first place.

But, yeah, sure, by all means, cheers to the Dragon. I always rather preferred the Star Trek future myself (though of course without any hopes of warp drive or replicator magic), but I'm sure the crappy Space Vegas we seem to be aiming for instead will also have its moments (on the off chance we don't pollute or bomb ourselves for parochial plutocratic profit into oblivion before the whole orbital love motel asteroid strip mining McTopia comes online, that is). 

1 comment:

jimf said...

> I always rather preferred the Star Trek future myself. . .
> [rather than] the crappy Space Vegas we seem to be aiming for. . .

Well, just rev up your camp and think of _The Jetsons_.

(Tallulah Bankhead as G. G. Galaxy. "Ah yes, Jetson. Spacely
told me to expect you. He neglected to mention you'd be
in shock.")