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OPINION | EDITORIAL: Starship Enterprises

To the moonshot and beyond September 19, 2021 at 1:46 a.m.

Capitalism is a dynamic force, and sometimes a revolutionary one. As in the Industrial Revolution, when businessmen moved trade into high gear. Or these days, as the next Information Revolution takes off.

The various Information Revolutions were once explained to us thusly: The first Information Revolution came when people began writing, effectively sending messages to the future--as people could read later what is written today.

The Second Information Revolution came when Gutenberg invented his printing press and everybody could afford books.

And today, we are all watching the Third Information Revolution unfold, as people are now able to talk to everybody else in the world in a second, without editing or buying the first sheet of paper.

The current Information Revolution--and its worldwide Web--has changed the world. And made many millionaires and not a few billionaires. And some of these visionaries don't restrict their vision to the horizon. The sky is no longer the limit.

There are a handful of billionaires trying to turn low-space orbit into a playground for the rest of us. The first one to put an all-amateur group of astronauts into space is Elon Musk. It happened last week.

SpaceX's first private flight blasted off Wednesday from Cape Canaveral. The lift-off deserved more spectacular coverage than it received. Once again, it's a new world. It happens with some frequency these days.

The amateur crew of four--a billionaire not named Elon Musk paying the bill, with a data engineer, a physician's assistant and a community college educator in tow--has gone higher than the Hubble Space Telescope. Their (fully automated) capsule has already been used once, when SpaceX sent a professional American astronaut to the space station earlier this year.

So now private enterprise is helping ferry government workers to space, too. We are witnessing a revolution in space travel as well. The revolutions come fast.

We get goosebumps talking about space flight--not that we'd want to participate. But it's an awe-inspiring thing to see Homo viator, man the voyager, going where no man has gone before. Isn't that what "Star Trek" is all about? It's no longer fiction.

We feel much better about the final frontier than we did only a few years ago, when the United States government shut down its space shuttle program with nothing waiting in the wings to replace it. And the Americans had to bum flights off the Russians. Actually, it was worse than that: We had to pay the Russians.

But where government has scaled back, private industry (led by people like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and others) has charged forward to fill the gaps. SpaceX has already proven it can reuse rockets and has displayed the ability to land them on platforms in the ocean. That must take a lot of math. And a lot of expertise.

And it cut down on the price of space flight so much that the enterprise became profitable. Which means more people will want to do it.

Suffice it to say the magic of the free market has and continues to do well when it comes to the future of space exploration. Talk about building a better mousetrap. Now paying customers are beating a path to the door. And the successful companies will have deserved all the profits they can rake in. What a country!

The darkness above still calls out. And the people down here on the blue planet keep answering. We think back to the days when man used wind to move himself around on Earth. For endless nights, a sailor looked up at the Milky Way, and figured out where he was, and where he was going, by looking at where the stars were guiding him.

He adjusted his sails so that he moved under this constellation or that order of stars, so he could anchor his ship in the right port. Or, after a period of clouds and storms, adjust his direction to right the ship.

We imagine some sailors, in some downtime as the stars passed above, thinking about how long it would take mankind to figure out how to invent machines that would sail that high. And instead of being guided by the lights above, to actually join them.


American ingenuity, combined with courage, combined with resources, keeps the stars within reach.

To the moon and beyond!

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