Saturday, May 26, 2012

The SpaceX Dragon: The Future Returns

I was just having a discussion the other day with a colleague regarding government services.  He was lamenting the fact that no matter where you look, it's all a huge mess.  Public Works, Police Departments, Libraries, Tax Services, Road Repair, you name it.  None of it functions the way it should.  It's all too big, too unwieldy, and all the wrong people are in charge.
I told him there's a very simple reason for it: No profit.
Let's say you have a garbage collector working in Philadelphia.  He's the most motivated garbage collector in the City.  He flips cans like they were bowling pins, picks up any stray piece of trash on the sidewalk, and always has a smile.
His co-worker is the absolute opposite.  The guy's a bum.  A slug.  He makes dryer lint look busy.
Do you know who makes more money?  It's a trick question.  They make the same.  And they will continue to make the same unless one of them is promoted.  Of course, anyone who works in any government position will tell you that getting promoted has very little to do with how well you flipped those trashcans.  It's got a lot more to do with who you know.
In any private industry there is one clear, concise goal: Make money.  You can measure it.  You can chart it.  You can see it.
To achieve this goal, competitive companies will provide their people with the best equipment and training.  The most advanced capabilities of achieving this goal.
In public service, you have no real demonstrable way of showing you achieved your goals, because it's all based on elusive data that's pretty much out of anyone's control.  If a gang war breaks out in the middle of a city and people start shooting each other like crazy, the homicide rate is going to go up.  It doesn't mean the police did anything better or worse than the year before.
If a frigid winter sets in and ice starts cracking the asphalt on every street leaving enormous potholes, it isn't the fault of your Town's Road Repair.  They just have to deal with it.  And deal with it they will, using their out-of-date equipment and understaffed resources.
It's a government job.  They'll get to it when they can, because at the end of the day, what can anyone really do to them?
And in a strange way, this all plays into commercialized space flight.
Bear with me.
On May 25th, 2012, a company called SpaceX sent a privately-funded spacecraft into space to meet with the International Space Station.  The vessel, called Dragon, delivered supplies to the crew of the ISS and is going to return with discarded items the crew no longer needs.
None other than Buzz Aldrin said the Dragon's docking demonstrates “Continued American leadership in space.”
As our tax dollars become ever more choked up with wars, social programs, and politician's various pet projects, very little advancement is going to occur in areas where we most desperately need it.  However, by allowing the private industry to take a crack at it, we are opening ourselves up to unimaginable results.
Manned flights to Mars, Interstellar travel, Deep Space exploration, and so much more.  By letting our keenest minds and visionaries loose on the mysteries of space, we are once again turning to face that finest, final frontier.
Yesterday, with very little fanfare, we all took an enormous step forward into the future.  Congratulations, SpaceX.  I can't wait to see where you take us all from here.


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