Can We Afford Space?

Although affordability is the biggest objection to space, it happens to be the easiest to rebut. The answer is not the usual “It’s a great investment,” although space is indeed a superb investment. The government space program actually offers a bigger payoff, in the form of a rich intellectual resource. This book will explore this resource, created from space research and technology. It remains one of the least understood, most hidden of our national treasures.

First, though, to understand this treasure, I want to share with you one of the most important concepts of this book:

Space is more than an act of exploration. It is an act of creation.

Invention is the twin of discovery. The intellectual public asset created by the American space program generates more wealth than all the timber on our public lands. This is not counting the immediate economic effects of the program itself. In Chapter Six, we’ll explore the astonishing range of products and innovations that came out of the creative harvest of this virtual ore of knowledge.

The indisputable value of space’s intellectual public prop- erty makes a powerful argument for the role of government in catalyzing American entrepreneurship. And that’s without mentioning the value of increased international in uence, and the demonstrated value of inspiring young people to go into STEM.

But we have other budget priorities.

America has urgent unmet needs: poverty, education, security, infrastructure, health. Back when NASA took up 4% of the federal budget, the “nondiscretionary” part of that budget, comprising Social Security and social welfare programs, were a fraction of the size they are today. Where is the room for space in that budget today?

This question will take much of my book to answer. Briefly, though, the answer comes down to this: the federal budget needs a healthy economy to fuel it. Aerospace catalyzes the markets and industries that drive our current economy, including air transportation, aviation, airplane manufacturing, satellites, weather prediction, and a host of high-tech ventures from software to materials technology. The space program lies quite literally at the leading edge of the economy. Fail to maintain that edge, the economy slows, and government tax receipts fall. The space economy drives the American economy.

But why government? If space is such a valuable way to invest, why not leave it up to the free market? 

I'll answer that in the next post.