Ambition and Greed On The Final Frontier

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Mankind has always had a fascination with outer space. Its unimaginable size and inspiring beauty have captivated humans for thousands of years. Now, with the information age in full swing and technology advancing at a rate previously unseen at any point in history, more and more people are now gaining access to that great void. In 2004, multimillionaire Dennis Tito became the first ever ‘space tourist,’ with seven others in the years since. And yet, each and every one of these people was flown to space by a government – the Russian Space Agency – rather than a corporation or other privately held organization. Now, with space tourism group Virgin Galactic announcing its plans to begin offering sub-orbital flights beginning in 2011, it is important for us all to consider what changes the commercialization of outer space will bring.

Successful entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and politicians all have one goal in common: they want power. This is true of all humans, whether they admit to it or not. Whether it is power through knowledge, popularity, wealth, or fear, everyone is driven by human nature to seek it. The difference with entrepreneurs, executives, and politicians, is that they have the capability to achieve much more power than the average citizen. This is not necessarily detrimental, though, since competition has always fostered the efficient use of resources and advancement of technology. The problem is that, if left unchecked, power becomes consolidated in the hands of very few people and an oligopoly is born.

The space tourism industry is currently in such a state, with very few organizations being capable of amassing the wealth necessary to conduct research and build prototypes. For this reason, a small number of businesses and governments will – at least for many decades or even a century – have absolute control over outer space commerce. Like with the American Gilded Age of the late 19th century, (for those not familiar with U.S. history, that was the second industrial revolution, marked by monopolistic corporations that gave no regard to the safety of their workers or consumers) regulation of activities space will initially be weak and any commercial industries in space will be very difficult for new businesses to enter. Virgin Galactic will be the 21st century Standard Oil Corp.

Unless there is a successful effort of cooperation among the world’s nations to regulate outer space commerce, and the technology for sub-orbital and orbital space flight becomes relatively inexpensive, there will not be a fair amount of competition in any outer space industry. If there is, however, then the commercialization of space will prove to be very advantageous for science. Despite the negative connotation placed on greed, the competition the greed of entrepreneurs will foster will force them to commit themselves to a level of engineering research and development that will only serve to benefit humanity.

With the Space Race over, the U.S. and Russia have no reason to continue with their research on space technologies at the same rate at which they did during the Cold War. It is for this reason – a lack of competition – that the budgets of NASA and the Russian Federal Space Agency are lower than they have been since the 1950s. With the commercialization of space, competition between organizations working in space will be restored and the consequential advances in technology they will attempt to use to outperform each other will be available for the benefit of mankind. The role of government will be to regulate what happens in space and make sure that the organizations making profit there do not abuse the freedom associated with it.

Thus, commercialization of outer space is inevitable, and it all comes down to ambition and greed. Ambition for knowledge, freedom, and resources is what led to the exploration of the Earth in ancient times, and it is why corporations will be more than willing to capitalize on outer space. The difference between the commercialization of outer space and the commercialization of land today is that there is no limit to the area available for use in space. That, in addition to the presence of asteroids and planets throughout the solar system, will allow for a nearly limitless number of industries to thrive in outer space. Whether this commercialization proceeds smoothly, or is plagued by problems, will depend on whether governments are willing to regulate businesses to the extent that oligopolies are prevented but businesses have some freedoms. Assuming that it is regulated to that proper extent, we can expect ambition, greed, and competition to supply us with cutting-edge technologies for many years afterward.





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