M. Evans and Company, Inc. • 1996 • 304 pages • $21.95
Not all that long ago, if someone mentioned NASA to me, my guilty conscience would scream “Warning, warning, warning,” like that robot from the old television show “Lost in Space.” You see, when it came to the space program, I kept a scurrilous secret.
As a free-market economist, I naturally have argued for the elimination of a wide range of government measures, from capital gains taxes to welfare programs. As a classical Lutheran, I also possess some understanding that we can all succumb on occasion to the sinfulness of human nature. In fact, the Lutheran in me recognized that the weaknesses of human nature had crept into one tiny area of my economics. My dirty little secret was hidden support for a government space program. I actually liked NASA—that big pork project to the stars. I had given up on my free-market, limited-government philosophy when it came to NASA. Fortunately, I finally repented of my sin, came back to my principles, and gave up on NASA.
In speaking with, reading, and listening to various individuals in the free-market community over the years, I detected that I was not the only one facing this dilemma. For those still suffering from this government space-program affliction, I heartily recommend G. Harry Stine’s Halfway to Anywhere: Achieving America’s Destiny in Space. It offers redemption.
Much of the first two parts of Halfway to Anywhere—covering 20 chapters and 200 pages—reads as a fairly straightforward look at recent developments in spaceships and related public policy. Unfortunately, the author even seems to lend a little credence to the misguided notion that government military and space ventures can spur private-sector opportunities. (It actually works the other way around.) However, sprinkled among these early pages, the reader finds a few strands of hope.
For example, although Stine has been involved with analyzing, writing about, and consulting on the space program over the years, he reveals a sound skepticism about NASA. He derides NASA as “a huge nationalized jobs program,” and “a high-tech jobs program.” Regarding the space shuttle, he writes: “The government owned it. The government operated it. It was historically equivalent to the initial attempts of the United States Post Office to fly the airmail in 1919. Within a year, the Post Office had lost 31 of its 40 pilots.”
Most important, he sets straight the mistaken notion that government funding is essential for there to be a space program. Since 1960, NASA and the major aerospace companies have perpetuated the idea that “space travel is so difficult, dangerous, and expensive that only the government can afford it.” Stine counters: “Actually, space access was difficult, dangerous, and expensive because it was a government monopoly.”
The author goes on to mention a few entrepreneurs looking to capitalize in space using private investor dollars rather than tax dollars. Strikingly, he notes that as of 1995, 15 telecommunications companies had plans to launch at least 1,385 satellites before 2005. The author observes that such opportunities have “not gone unnoticed by numerous private firms,” with practically all entrepreneurial firms shying away from government funding and support. Stine writes, “If those new companies wanted anything at all from the government, it was for the government to get out of the way.” This is the critical message that dominates the final 75 pages of Halfway to Anywhere and makes the book well worth reading.
Stine projects dramatically lower costs and considerable profit opportunities for private firms looking to launch what are known as single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) vehicles, especially compared with bloated, visionless NASA. The author notes some of the likely early uses, like satellites, as well as overseas delivery and transportation (35 minutes from Arizona to Australia!). He also writes quite seriously and extensively about manufacturing and tourist opportunities in space.
Stine unequivocally declares, “Private space launch vehicle companies that understand the moneymaking nature of the new spaceships will build them without government assistance, regardless of what NASA does.” The author, though, does warn of government’s ability to muck up the market, not only through NASA’s protection of its bureaucratic turf but also because of current international treaties that could restrict or freeze commercial space activities.
In the end, Stine seems to possess a healthy understanding of the inherent creativity of man when unencumbered by the plodding hand of government. He eloquently states: “Frontiers are opened by people, not governments. They are opened because people seek wealth or the betterment of their lives and those of their children. Frontiersmanship has always demanded taking risks with your life, your fortune, and your sacred honor.”
Halfway to Anywhere will make a believer out of those who remain skeptical about the private sector’s role in space. Indeed, the economic opportunities are so remarkable that we should soon expect to see space entrepreneurs launching for the heavens, leaving government’s space bureaucrats shackled to their desks back on earth.