What’s the biggest challenge to commercial space travel? No, it’s not the technical challenge of launching men 100 miles high on top of a huge explosive, but H.R. 3752, a piece of pending legislation with ominous consequences. Already, contenders for the space race are lobbying for regulation that is most favorable to their preferred method of rocketry. Before a single private rocket reaches space, pull-peddlers in Washington are already competing for government permissions and favors. Since space travel is currently popular with voters, it is just as likely to receive federal dollars as federal regulations, but either result is likely to keep rockets grounded.
Anyone who has faith in government-run space travel should take note of the space shuttle program. It’s problems go far beyond the “NASA culture,” (compare it to the single-minded vision of Burt Rutan) safety compromises with environmentalists, or their ancient and dilapidated condition. The very notion of a government run “shuttle” should set of warning bells for anyone who has experienced Amtrak or government-run airlines. The shuttle’s creation and stagnation was the result of a compromise between clashing constituencies, a need to justify funding, and (ironically) an inability to take risks and seek bold new direction.