Goodbye to NASA’s Apollo Era

The new generation of youth in the United States will not miss the government space program. The age of Apollo is over.

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NASA, we salute you. But your time is up.
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Austin Petersen
On 21 July 2011 08:30

Last weekend I engaged in an attempted coup of the Communist leader Fidel Castro in Cuba. During a daring jungle raid I broke into his complex and personally offered Castro a bullet between the eyes, only to realize I had been tricked. It was his double I had killed.

Bored by the lack of release, I switched off “Call of Duty: Black Ops” to watch Netflix streaming from my Xbox 360.

Microsoft’s Xbox Live service has advertising campaigns and offers free content such as news reports and short cartoons. The U.S. Military sometimes will buy ad space for the purpose of recruiting some of those armchair warriors.

The thought is that some might be swayed to put down the controller and pick up the gun. So, it wasn’t a surprise that the cosmic arm of our military industrial complex would offer itself a pat on its back in the form of an advertisement suggesting we “Celebrate the space shuttle.” What’s to celebrate exactly?

Manned missions in space have little utility for American taxpayers at the moment. With the current fight over the debt ceiling giving Americans pause to question what they really need, it’s obvious that space flight is a low priority.

We’ve grown accustomed to the fact that government programs will cost much more than they are billed for. The current shuttle mission costs $860 million per launch in non-inflation adjusted dollars. NASA told us it would cost about $7 million. That’s not a subtle difference.

Even John F. Kennedy, who never saw a national debt higher than $2 trillion (inflation adjusted), would have paused before sending manned flights into space faced with our current $14.3 trillion dollar national debt.

It is not a difficult argument to make that the security threat faced by the United States due to her spending habits is a more dire threat than the Communism Kennedy faced. Ratcheting up a space race must have seemed like a good idea at the time when you are all out of other ideas to counter a superpower threat. But the unchecked arrogance of politicians & bureaucrats combined with a decades long collective national “shrug”, has given us a crisis looming larger than any cluster of missiles offshore.

It’s not over ‘til it’s over.

The cover story in the June 30th edition of the Economist sensationalised what amounts to a trivial cut of another bloated bureaucracy as “The End Of The Space Age”. That is hardly serious.

Space technology continues and it offers mankind incredible tools, without question. Orbital Satellites power our GPS systems, phones and other devices. Apologists for the space programs point to the development of these technologies as proof of the usefulness of the space program.

However, commercial use makes an activity profitable and profitability means there’s no necessity for government intervention, as the market will seek to develop more uses for the benefit of society. Faced with the current debt crisis, these dollars are better spent here on Earth.

Richard Branson has demonstrated the feasibility of offering an option for manned space travel with the debut of his “Virgin Galactic” program. The barrier to entry is high as it should be. High price is an excellent signal to show that there is little reason for most people to engage in space flight.

But that could change as surely as it was once improbable for the middle class family to own a car, let alone several. One-day, expensive and dangerous rocket powered space flight will be the remnant of a bygone era unaccustomed to interplanetary transport powered by a space elevator.

When the productive capabilities of the American citizenry are so tied up merely with servicing the interest payments of over $400 billion on our national debt, there is no room for wasteful government programs; no matter how nostalgic they may be to stubborn, overly romantic bureaucrats.

Recovering from recession will require a strong correction that puts productive capital back in the hands of the producers. That means that every program should be under the microscope and making tough choices every step of the way.

Welcome the Age of Hermes.

NASA’s space flight program is the end of the dream of the era of Apollo. It’s the end of their dream, but not the dream of today’s youth. For them it is the age of Hermes. Youth unemployment numbers at all time highs means that college graduates must be dynamic market actors with a wide range of skills.

Like the god of commerce, they will float from job to job. The realistic ones will plan for the eventuality of no social safety net in their retirement years. They must be swift, light footed and ready to build a new economy that is not dependent on the cold war mentality of Military Keynesianism.

NASA’s manned space flight program is gone. The new generation of American youth won’t miss it. Perhaps that’s for the best. 

Austin Petersen is a writer based in New York City

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