Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I Want My (Private) Space

Growing up with Alan Shepard as the first American in space, then later literally watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, I am a child of a space exploration culture.

Going to the moon and beyond was what most children wanted to do growing up. Seeing the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" convinced me that I was going to fly into space on a Pan Am spacecraft.

Of course, Captain Kirk and the other Star Trek stories had me convinced that I wanted to explore the cosmos.

Needless to say, a lot has changed since my younger years. Cars still don't fly and neither are we able to go into space.

But the dream of space flight and space exploration continues.

When President Obama announced a scaling back of NASA last year, I was dumbfounded. How could we take a national treasure such as space exploration and slash the budget and "privatize" it?

It's taken me months before I can actually understand and kinda sorta agree with President Obama's decision.

The good news is that NASA will still work on very large, expensive missions, such as going to Mars. The bad news is that the Shuttle program has ended. We now rely on the Russians to transport crews to and from International Space Station.

What has brought me around to thinking that the decision to cut NASA's budget for "local" spaceflight might be a good thing is the Internet.

The Internet was originally a government project to connect colleges, universities and the government. While the core technology for the Internet was developed as the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) and funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Internet really took off when the commercial ventures became involved.

I recall when the Internet was struggling to decide whether commercial, for-profit (.com) domains should be allowed on the Internet. Previously, only .edu (education), .org (not-for-profit), .net (network providers) and .gov (U.S. government) domains were on the Internet.

When the commercial entities came to the Internet, its use quite literally exploded overnight and has continued to change our planet.

A number of companies have seen the opportunities for space businesses. These include Richard Branson who has started Virgin Galactic (, offering sub-orbital spaceflights to the paying public, and Scaled Composites (, also offering sub-orbital manned rocket flights through SpaceShipOne,  There's also International Launch Services (, a company that has been launching satellites into space since 1995.

In thinking about it, if NASA were the only player in the space business, the odds of me or my children ever going into space would be slim to none. With commercial ventures working on scaling space flight and gaining efficiencies in both safety and cost, I still think the chances of me going into space are slim.

But I would not at all be surprised if my children are able to affordably and safely take a ride into space or even to the moon in their lifetimes. What a wonderful experience that will be!

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 11 January 2012.

1 comment:

  1. Its true that technology shape us, it creates new behaviors for the users, both good and bad. On the other hand, we shape technology only by acknowledging it.

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