A cool picture from the Webb telescope (www.nasa.gov).
by Dan Burns
Apr 12, 2023, 8:00 AM

Is privatizing spaceflight working?

Today is the sixty-second anniversary of my birth. April 12, 1961 also happens to be the day on which Yuri Gagarin became the first human launched into space. So, and admittedly partly in order to distract my attention from marking another year’s nearer approach to the grave, I’m writing about rockets. Plus, I was a science nerd as a kid, and I still am.

First, when I started looking around for source material for this I quickly found that the title I’m using is arguably misleading.

Privatization of space exploration and travel has been a long-term bipartisan goal of the US federal government. Indeed, private companies first entered the realm of space exploration in the 1960s, when they participated in the manufacturing of communications satellites, but it wasn’t until Congress passed a law in 1984 allowing private companies to engage in their own launches that corporate space launches became plausible…

Part of the impetus behind privatizing space launches is that, from a strictly fiscal standpoint, many critics thought it was unfeasible to have the government bankroll America’s endeavors beyond our own planet. During the Cold War, of course, the United States was determined to defeat the Soviet Union in the so-called “space race”; as a result, in 1966 the budget for NASA equalled roughly 4.41 percent of the total federal budget. Since 1993, however, NASA has never managed to take up even 1 percent of the total federal budget, forcing the agency to work with the private sector in order to continue performing many of its most basic operations.

(I apologize for the photo that you’ll see, if you click on the Salon link. That guy is a butt-ugly twerp, isn’t he? But the article is highly informative.)

That said, certainly things are not like they were before building rockets and launching them started being directly farmed out to non-governmental entities. I can’t sit here and claim that it’s been a disaster, yet, in practical terms. Satellites are being launched less expensively than when NASA or the Russians were still doing most of that. And the wasteful at best and disastrous at worst space shuttle program was a government thing, though with the “what’s public and what’s private” caveats noted above.

But to the anti-privatization crowd – that is, those of us who believe in people over profits, rather than the reverse – it’s long since become pretty much self-evident truth that privatization ultimately sucks, always and everywhere. Since it really took hold in the 1970s most people have had to work more and more for less and less, while wealth, and the power that goes with it, continue to be concentrated among the ultra-privileged. And we all know what the greedheads are really all about, regardless of the antics of their propagandists in the corporate media that they, after all, ultimately own as well.

Most progressive efforts are going to continue to be concentrated in fighting privatization, and before much longer reversing it, where it matters most. Education and health care are the most prominent examples of that. But it would be good to see it end in spaceflight as well. Just continuing to hand things over to narcissistic super-rich fuckers is as stupid as it gets.

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