Saturday, January 30, 2010

Can Capitalism Survive in Space? 

Watching the Americans figure out what they're going to do with their broken, bleeding and bankrupt national space program is turning into a series of useful lesson for Canadians and others interested in developing space focused industries.
But few are aware  that the present situation follows logically from a series of past decisions and historical events and the best way to learn about these events is from one of the people who influenced and contributed to those decisions.

Jeffery Manber, is one of those people. According to Wikipedia, Manber has been involved in several of the key breakthrough commercial space projects, principally those revolving around the commercialization of space assets as well as the integration of the Russian space industry into major space programs, including that of the International Space Station.

Here's a talk he gave recently at the University of Michigan on the topic of whether capitalism can survive in space.

The most interesting point he makes is that while private companies can certainly survive and thrive in space, they can only do so only if the government is not opposed to such ventures. In the 1980's and the 1990's the US government and NASA were opposed to commercial space activities and so no independent space focused industry developed in the US.

However, some interesting lessons were learned and space focused businesses did develop in (of all places) Russia. Now the US plays catch-up and Manber provides useful insight into why this is so (for example, he doesn't think NASA was terribly helpful).

The Canadian government, the Canadian Space Agency, the various organizations administering and contributing to Canadian science policy might want to take note of these interesting historical lessons.

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