Falcon 9 launching the Dragon Spacecraft
The U.S. government’s lock on space technology is about to be shifted from the military’s “Munitions List” to the more porous “Commerce Control List.”
This comes as we prepared to enter the great Commercial Space Age as we saw SpaceX’s rise, and its scheduled launch May 22. That’s when SpaceX launches the Dragon spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station.
The major flight-ready review zipped through channels at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. I’m certainly ready. I’ve listened to SpaceX test the rockets at McGregor for quite some time. You first confuse the sound and vibration for thunder, then bombs at the nearby Fort Hood range, and finally, as an earth shaking roar continues in a sustained blast a bit different from a nearby tornado. You realize it’s SpaceX testing a rocket engine again. I welcome the sound for it’s evidence that we’re gearing up for real space and science discovery, finally, again.
But not so fast. There are concerns that we may give our closely guarded, moldering crown jewels to other economies. The government’s recommendation comes from its number one finding that “Compared to the United States, other nations have fewer controls on commercial space and space-related items.”
Obviously. I don’t like the logic, or lack of logic, to that finding. The United States has more invested and more development of commercial space than other countries.
Disturbingly, it reminds me of Steve Jobs raid on Xerox in 1979 in Palo Alto Research Center in California. He took the best ideas of Xerox, which also had sat untapped and unused in its West Coast research facility, with that befuddled company's blessing. Due to that raid, Apple made major leaps with the mouse, networking and friendly virtual file interfaces that became what we remember and still know as the world's main computing platform.
However, perhaps moving this to the private sector is best. The paralysis towards space exploration for the last forty years after the moon landing, even though we put a shuttle up for awhile, and a space station, and other small projects, is discouraging.
No, it’s depressing. It’s not good to slow and thwart the scientific method. It’s not good to slow technological development. State and federal leaders treat science as if it is was a competing religious belief with a state religion. Thus, the space program probably is better off in the commercial world which has to react with both technological and economic realities with the evolutionary force of the profit incentive.
However, I am concerned that most communication satellites are being moved from the United States Munitions List to the Commerce Control List with the statement that this can be done without harm to national security.
Lest you forget recent events with the Secret Service in Cartagena's Hotel El Caribe, lest you so quickly forget Wikileaks, lest you have forgotten the sale two years ago of classified documents and access to the Pentagon’s most sensitive computer networks by a low-level Navy clerk with top-secret clearance to Afghan war intelligence, consider this your reminder.
Information always flows out of the government’s cache of secrets. It’s a matter of how fast and easy the flow becomes. I suspect the commercial side has more trickles to patch than the military. It makes economic sense for the government to invest in space and keep tight reins. However, the government has squandered its time and opportunity. Hopefully, commercial interests friendly to the U.S. economy will pick up the dropped ball and play. It may be the Commercial Space Age will be shortlived. As some astronomers like Neil deGrasse Tyson predict, this era will last until some perceived threat, real or imagined, from China’s space program.
Then we’ll enter the next Great Space Race.