Wednesday, June 23, 2004

SpaceRaceTwo

I find it interesting to note the parallels between what I call the ‘first’ space race – the governmental push for man into orbit and into space and this week’s ‘second’ race – the race to do on private money what governments did and do on expropriated funds.

Both used man’s conquest and exploration of space as a backdrop for a much wider philosophical and political debate. Both wanted to prove a point using technological advancement and breakthrough.

The Russians sent an astronaut into orbit, the Americans a man to the moon. The journeys, sadly, weren’t the point of the whole expensive exercise. They were conducted for a “My dad is bigger than your dad, so I’m right.” type debate. Which government would do it first? Which government would be ‘right’. Ummm…the one who wasn’t sending people to gulags, one would have thought.

Thankfully, the use of technology to prove a point makes a hell of a lot more sense in the more recent scenario.

For years, I was used to entering into debates about politics with people. Eventually, they would hear my ideas about how much government should be restricted (like a well trained gimp, I say) and naturally start to prattle about the ‘necessity’ of government schools, housing, education, health care, roads…et cetera. These were easily debated and some conceded that government perhaps shouldn’t be in each respective field (well, besides roads, that’s always one that makes people squirm).

Then they would get all clever on me and talk about research, scientific breakthrough, big projects for the good of humanity as a whole. Projects so big that it simply wasn’t possible for private money to fund them. Projects like….well…..NASA.

This is where I ran out of historical examples of private achievement without government help – it simply hadn’t been done. I had to get back to the morality – it’s wrong to tax people and force them to contribute to a space program, period.

My debating opponents would get all misty eyed and start sounding like the compulsory speech at the end of a blockbuster – something about all of us pulling together for the common good. I would fight down the nausea and come back to philosophical argument about the rights of man. I would talk about the fact that it should be possible to do independently. It can be very, VERY tough to convince some that ordinary people pulling together can do bigger and better things than governments. All I had to go on was logic and faith in man and those of excellence I saw around me.

The success of SpaceShipOne feels like a reward for my faith. I can’t say I’m terribly surprised – relief is more the word. If I were anywhere near the Mojave desert instead of freezing through a London summer, I would have travelled myself to witness it.

It’s a shining example of what like-minded people would say is the ultimate freedom – the freedom to create, to produce, to take risk, to try and also to fail. The freedom that can only fully be realized where our money (our very lives) isn’t taxed away for a variety of hare-brained political schemes and our lives aren’t regulated to the point of absurdity.

Most Americans reading this would have paid for NASA through their taxes – where’s your return on investment? I’m willing to bet that the VC’s who stumped up for SpaceShipOne are looking forward to some long term return on their money.

I hope that those who advocate the big-government nanny state for various reasons sit up and take notice this week. This is what we humans are capable of – without the interference, guidance or regulation of beaurocracy.

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