The Space Industry: Apples to Apples

by Mark Reiff

A little metaphorical tale to attempt to decribe what is at the "core" of the NASA vs. commercial space issue.

I hope that this little "slice" of fiction helps explain to folks just what is wrong with a "space program" and what the consequences of continuing it are.

Sorry, but I just couldn't help lightening up such a serious discussion with a few puns.

Why isn't private industry actively pursuing commercial space projects?

Private money won't play in an industry dominated by government political whims. NASA's actions, and frankly NASA's current role in commercial space regulation are the problem.

Try selling apples next to a public orchard (of course you have to stand in the appropriate line and fill out the proper forms to receive those "free" government apples). Better yet, try selling apples next to a public works office that pays people to pick apples and either give them away or re-sell them (of course with the accompanying forms and lines).

What does this have to do with commercial space or NASA?

well, I think folks aught to compare apples-to-apples when talking about NASA's effect on commercial space business. Commercial space companies can't compete in an fair market if NASA is dumping products and services on the market.

What's even worse is that government (i.e. NASA) controls (or greatly influences) the issuance of "apple" vendor licences, permits for commercial harvesting of apples, and discourages private orchard development. It withholds (or interferes with the processing of) these required licences and permits for political leverage in securing funding for the government "apple program".

Now everyone loves and probably will catagorically agree that private businesses should be allowed to sell privately grow "apples", but when will we finally reach a concensis that the same principle applies to space?

Leaving aside the issue of national security, the government's role in the market economy should be in pioneering new areas and providing a minimal infrastructure to make them appealing to businesses.

Now why can't we get "the boys in the beltway" to sing this tune in harmony?

Answer: Because these guys have a lot of money riding on exploting the government "apple program" to make contractor "sour mash".

After 30+ years of getting that "cheep high" at the public's expense (while occassionally picking a few apples to make it look good), they take it "real personal" when some "goody-toe-shoes, reformers "want to "upset their apple cart". Of course the government guys (NASA) don't mind sharing "the jug" (what the hell, it didn't cost them anything and it sure makes passing time at their boring job easier).

After neary-everyone is hooked on this "apple juice" and most of the workforce is working for the government "apple program", the price gradually increases and the quality rapidly decreases.

Some rogue politicians denounce this an unhealthy industry and stir up some radical students, who protest under the banner of the "rotten apple corps."

Some inspired entreprenuers decide to open their own apple stands, to "sell quality apples at a fair price". Between the government bureaucratic red-tape stalling of required permits and licences, and "apple" contractors' harassment, most of the free market "apple" entreprenuers are driven out of business or out of the "apple" business.

Now this would only be a minor tragedy if it wheren't for a few little noticed discoveries - "eating a lot of apples" seems to have curative powers for a list of diseases and "refined sour mash" can be used as a potentially low cost and environmentally friendly fuel.

The government finally convened a study which showed that while there is potential for developing these new markets, they just didn't make sense because of the high cost of "apples".

Given a free manned space access market, private astronauts would greatly out number civil servants in spacesuits.

Copyright © 1995 by Mark Reiff. All Rights reserved.