November 25, 2015

"The delusion is thinking that SpaceX is going to lead the space frontier."

The Verge That’s just not going to happen, and it’s not going to happen for three really good reasons: One, it is very expensive. Two, it is very dangerous to do it first. Three, there is essentially no return on that investment that you’ve put in for having done it first. Neil deGrasse Tyson interviewed by Sean O'Kane

'So if you’re going to bring in investors or venture capitalists and say, "Hey, I have an idea, I want to put the first humans on Mars." They’ll ask, "How much will it cost?" You say, "A lot." They’ll ask, "Is it dangerous?" You’ll say, "Yes, people will probably die." They’ll ask, "What’s the return on investment?" and you’ll say "Probably nothing, initially." It’s a five-minute meeting. Corporations need business models, and they need to satisfy shareholders, public or private.

'A government has a much longer horizon over which it can make investments. This is how it’s always been. And the best example, I think, is Christopher Columbus. That was not a private mission. There were some private monies in the public monies that were used, but basically the mission statement was established by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, and they said go plant the flag wherever you land. There’s hegemonistic motivation, and it wasn’t specifically military at the time, but Spain certainly had an armada to back up their land grabs. Only after that, only after Christopher Columbus comes back and says, "Here are the people that I found, here are the foods, and here are the trade winds," only then does the Dutch East India Trading Company come in and make a buck off of it. They didn’t have to make that first investment. The risks were quantified, the cost was well understood, and the return on investment was calculable. That is a recurring model in the history of our civilization, and I don’t see any reason why that would be any different from advancing a frontier such as that in space.

'So what is SpaceX doing now? They’re bringing cargo back and forth to the space station, as should have been happening decades ago. You don’t need NASA to move cargo, you get NASA to do the things that have never been done before. And then when they do it enough and there’s a routine, then you farm it off to private enterprise, which can actually do it more efficiently than you can, and presumably make a buck for having done so.'

No comments: