Space Travel: In Which We Admit to Agreeing With James Cameron and Barack Obama


The Falcon 9, a privately built rocket which will supply the International Space Station

We spend the majority of our time in opposition to the policies put forth by President Obama’s administration. Only one of us (Tim) has seen “Avatar,” but he can vouch that it’s a grab bag of leftist tropes wrapped in stunning visuals. Yet today we find ourselves in agreement with both the President and “Avatar” director James Cameron.

Cameron has an op-ed in today’s Washington Post praising Obama’s decision (by way of the Augstine Commission and the new NASA budget) to scrap a $100 billion program to develop entirely new rockets to send astronauts back to the moon by 2020. Instead, the new NASA budget provides funds to contract with private companies who are developing and will continue to develop commercial rockets and manned spacecraft for orbital uses such as transferring crew and cargo to the International Space Station.

Blue Origin's New Shepard, a Vertical-Takeoff-and-Landing spacecraft.

This strikes us both as a wise choice (and makes us wonder why Cameron painted the private space exploration company in “Avatar” as so unswervingly evil and greedy, but that’s another debate for another time). Manned exploration of space is, for its fans, a romantic notion. Cameron’s op-ed says that “rockets run on dreams.” But spending $100 billion to do something that was done over forty years ago seems silly. Obama likes to talk about pragmatic solutions–and this is exactly that. Companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Scaled Composites are already building exactly the type of rockets and crew vehicles that the Constellation program was intended to produce, at a lower cost and with greater efficiency. This plan also reduces the amount of time–5 years with Constellation–where the only way Americans would be able to get into space would be on rented Russian rockets.

This is exactly the sort of privatized, market-based solution that we like to see. Imagine, if markets are good enough for space, maybe they’re good enough for some of our problems right here on earth (hint: health care).