L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 318, May 8, 2005
Special to TLE
"The process ... just about ruined my program. It resulted in cost overruns, increased the risk for my test pilots, did not reduce the risk to the non-involved public, destroyed our 'always question, never defend' safety policy, and removed our opportunities to seek new innovative safety solutions. The regulatory process was grossly misapplied for our research tests and, worse yet, is likely to be misapplied for the regulation of the future commercial spaceliners."
Richard Branson has a problem. He's British.
Ordinarily, that would be problem enough for anyone to overcome. British subjects, even knights and peers are property of the monarchy. Very occasionally, one or two British subjects do something which is noteworthy or credible, and by the graciousness of the Queen, are allowed to keep some of their wealth.
In this case, the problem Sir Richard has isn't being caused directly by the Queen. This time, the problem comes from the USA government export control laws which pretend to license the export of technology that could have military applications. Even though Scaled Composites developed its SpaceShipOne technology for American Paul Allen and did so entirely without government assistance (and, as Rutan explains above, in the face of direct government attempts to prevent it), the would-be masters in the USA government wish to prevent the licensing of SpaceShip technology to Virgin Galactic.
It's a bit of a pity, too. Virgin Galactic has already booked revenues of $20 million from their hundred customers who have signed contracts for $200K trips into space. Virgin Galactic has a further $580 million in anticipated customer advances from the 29,000 people who have been asked to pay $20K deposits on future flights (yours truly included). Assuming that all trips are sold for $200K per person, the space tourism market is at least $5.8 billion in revenues.
Naturally, the whores in government are doing everything they can to prevent this industry from coming into existence. It was easier when all they had to do was throw false charges of felony gambling promotion of a lottery at two entrepreneurs from Houston. It was a bit more complex when Walt Anderson arranged to fly space tourists to Mir, and Mir had to plummet to an untimely death through the machinations of diplomacy. Then NASA tried to drag their heels on letting Dennis Tito aboard the Internationalist Socialist Space Station, but as Russia had control over who it flew there, NASA ended up unable to stop the first space tourist flight.
Now, you might think that Britain is a friendly country. They are, after all, one of the few coalition partners left with troops on the ground in Iraq. Oh, sure, there was that messy business in 1812 with the Russians keeping Bonaparte busy and the red coats sacking Washington and setting the White House ablaze, along with nearly every copy of the constitutional amendment punishing titles of nobility. So, what's wrong with a few Brits buying some space tourism craft?
"At this point, due to uncertainty about possible [export] licensing requirements, we are not able to even view Scaled Composites's designs for the commercial space vehicle," says Will Whitehorn, president of Virgin Galactic. "After US government technology-transfer issues are clarified and addressed if deemed necessary, we hope to place a firm order for the spacecraft."
Isn't that special? Burt Rutan invents a safe way to fly people into space on routine, airliner-like operations, winning a ten million dollar prize posted in part by an Iranian multi-millionaire. Virgin Galactic plans to operate its commercial spaceflight services within the USA. Yet, the USA government won't let the British nationals even look at the designs for their spaceships. A great way to put a wet blanket over a $5.8 billion industry and smother it. What's next?
They've already locked Walt Anderson away on trumped up charges of tax fraud. Shall we anticipate an IRS audit for Burt Rutan?
"This is a subject that FAA seems to be afraid of," says Burt. "They seem to be happy that they're not required...to certify these ships. I think it really comes down to the problem that they flat don't have the people that are qualified to do it."
You can see where things are going. If the USA government is so blind it cannot permit a $5.8 billion industry to get going, where are the tax revenues going to come from to pay for their multi-trillion-dollar budgets? The system is reaching that dizzying level of authoritarian control where it is too rigid to do anything. And, as Gerard K. O'Neill, Ph.D., pointed out in 1992, a system is at its most rigid just before it fails completely.
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