There are times when I just have to
say, “I warned you!” That especially applies to the zealots of “All Commercial,
Many years ago when Elon Musk first
implanted the concept that private companies could do spaceflight better, and
cheaper than NASA, the social media sites lit up. Between the “Down with NASA”
crowd and the “NewSpace” mob there were endless usernames and newborn arm-chair
experts who were delighted to take out their surfboards and ride this wave of
all-private spaceflight. It’s here, it’s new, it’s really cool! Who needs NASA,
Elon can do it all. “When the Falcon 9 Heavy comes out, it’ll replace all of
the heavy boosters.” “NASA is finished.” Were some of the common quips.
Early on I stepped into this rapid
current of all commercial spaceflight zeal and added a single note of critical
Be careful what you wish for.
All-private spaceflight is exactly that…
They can do whatever they want and
unlike NASA, which is paid for with U.S. tax money, the commercial carriers don’t
have to show spit to anyone, especially the zealots who cheered them on. We’re
so used to NASA’s onboard public broadcasts from space that we have a whole
generation of space fans who think that’s the way it has to be done. Now, the first
“All commercial” space mission, monikered “Inspiration 4” just gave the NASA
haters and private spaceflight fans a good dose of the word, “private” while
also fizzling the word “inspiration.”
Upon reaching orbit, the mission- which
had a five hour live TV buildup, was blacked out.
Other than a tweet or two saying
everything was great, about 9 minutes of recorded video and a few photos dumped onto Facebook, there was pretty much nothing from the crew. Suddenly the
questions began… is there a widespread case of space adaptation syndrome going
around the crew? What’s going on?
Folks- it looks a lot like private
One clue may be that the pay-per-view
Netflix service, which was said to be an affiliate of the mission, and which
will be selling subscriptions, for those not already in their pocket, to allow
viewing of the entire mission after splashdown, may have something in hand
here. Unlike NASA, SpaceX owns every single thing that goes on during this
mission- including the inspiration. And it is simply good commercial business
for them to sell it to those who will best feed the company’s bottom line. A
global network of paid in-home, or on the net subscribers would fit nicely. But…
nawww say the SpaceX zealots… Elon would never do that.
Why do you think that SpaceX has bought
a strip of Texas beach to build their own launch site? So they can avoid range
delays- sure. But also, so they can slam the gates and keep out whoever they
want. Private spaceflight is exactly that… it’s private. I was a corporate
pilot, and our flights were private. Even when people asked who was aboard or
who owned the jet, we simply said that information was private. Sure you can
stand a mile away and watch the ramp with binoculars and maybe catch the time
that we depart, but that’s about it. The fact that your favorite rock star or
movie star is aboard, and where they’re going is all up to you to guess.
Likewise, the day is coming when rockets will depart from Texas and all of you commercial
space buffs who didn’t pay to get inside the gate will have to stand miles away
with your binoculars and watch from a distance while guessing about what’s
really going on.
Burt Rutan stood at the Oshkosh airshow
two decades ago and walloped government spaceflight. Exalting the purpose of
private spaceflight he half shouted into a microphone to a crowd of his fans, “…NASA
is screwing you!” His was the concept of private spaceflight for everyone… yep,
everyone. Early this year, we saw the product of his vision as Sir Richard
Branson opened the doors to space with a Rutan vehicle, that only billionaires can
afford to ride. Looks to me, like Rutan is screwing you. Now here comes Elon
and SpaceX and private orbital spaceflight… blacked out to the public until
after the mission is over- sort of the way the old Soviets did it. But, unlike
the Soviets, you can subscribe to Netflix, and see it post mission. Gee… how
inspirational. At least NASA let us see things live… because we’d already paid
for it in tax dollars.
You wanted non-government spaceflight and
now you’ve got it.
Be careful what you wish for… you just may get it.