L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 209, February 3, 2003
GUNG HAY FAT CHOY!
Freedom, Immortality, and the Stars!
Exclusive to TLE
On January 28, 1986, I was walking through the student union of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln when I first saw the footage of the space shuttle Challenger exploding. It was footage that I would watch with great sadness for the remainder of my life. Indeed, I doubt anyone of my generation could avoid the footage, considering that it was aired every few minutes for months.
Understand that I never saw this footage the way that pundits or even the average individual saw it. My point of view was radically different. Everyone always seemed to assume that by that time, government space travel was roughly as safe as commercial airline travel, therefore it was a disaster of epic proportions when the Challenger was destroyed.
This couldn't be further from the truth. Government space travel involves government agencies, government contractors, and government flunkies, which add to the inherent danger of space flight. Engineering and safety decisions that should be guided by pure science are instead determined by politics. Indeed, the entire space shuttle program is itself an exercise in politics, something apty pointed-out by Victor Koman in his novel, Kings Of the High Frontier. [slipcased hardback or hardback from Amazon.com]
The bottom line is that when you take off for space in a government spacecraft, you're sitting atop a controlled explosion that's been engineered by one of the most rickety organizations in human history. Anyone who sits on a shuttle's flight deck understands that they're involved in something inherently dangerous.
There are a thousand new ways to die in space travel on the best of days. When you add in a government bureaucracy controlling the endeavor, it's a miracle that anyone ever gets off the ground alive.
This morning, of course, seven individuals riding a glider at Mach 25 perished 38 miles from home.
Understand that the family and friends of the Columbia's crew have my deepest sympathies. Certainly they understood better than anyone the risks involved. While Joe Average on the street somehow can't conceive that this is a dangerous business, the families of those who choose to accept such danger must understand: when their loved ones choose to ride a controlled explosion engineered by government into space, there is a measurable probability that they simply won't return.
So again, my heart goes out to the survivors of those who didn't make it home today.
However, as I peruse the news, I am deeply troubled by the reaction to the Columbia's destruction. While these individuals didn't make it home and their families have my sympathy, the horrible occasion of their deaths isn't cause for national mourning.
I'm sorry, but it's not.
National mourning needs to be reserved for individuals who go to work in an office building that they believe is perfectly safe, only to discover that their own government's victim disarmament policies have transformed it into a deathtrap.
National mourning needs to be reserved for a country that sends its sons to die fighting to maintain the low price of an about-to-be-obsolete fuel.
National mourning needs to be reserved for a country's dictatorial ambitions depriving us of our true birthright:
Freedom, immortality, and the stars!
In 1986, I watched with shock as the American space program nearly died. As I write this, we have no idea what happened to the Columbia -- and to be honest, given that it broke apart at 200,000 feet while traveling at Mach 25, I have a suspicion that we may NEVER know what happened. Add to this fact that the debris field covers an expanding radius encompassing four states so far, and that NASA is frantically asking everyone to stay away from the "possibly toxic" debris.
Frankly, the paranoid in me wonders if we aren't looking at some strange sort of cover-up. I certainly hope not, but post-Bloody Tuesday, I don't put ANYTHING past government.
In 1986, I was deeply saddened to watch America's space program disintegrate, put on hold for three long years while the government pointed fingers of blame when the technical answer to the problem needn't have delayed any future spaceflights.
Today, I am crossing all of my fingers that the destruction of the Columbia will end government spaceflight once and for all.
There's certainly no technical reason for this to happen. Were this the destruction of an experimental spacecraft owned and operated by Boeing, McDonnell-Douglas, or even American Airlines, it wouldn't impact the launch schedule at all.
However, in this case, the best possible outcome of this event would be the total and complete elimination of anything remotely resembling government space travel.
I'm an enormous supporter of the concept of space travel. When I was very young, I fell in love with the words, "... to explore strange, new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before." As an adult, I'm dedicated to the natural birthright of every human being: "Freedom, immortality, and the stars!"
The problem is that as long as we have government space travel, free individuals will never explore strange new worlds, much less achieve freedom, immortality, and the stars.
Joe Average cannot go to space with government standing in his way. As long as government operates space travel, the only space-travelers will be government- approved. It wouldn't matter, for example, if my being on a government spacecraft meant the difference between the life and death of the entire human species, I am the LAST person government would want in space.
I'm a rabble-rousing libertarian anarcho-capitalist. I believe that war as a concept initiates force, and I'm likely to go on about it at length. In the daily briefings with the shuttle crews, I'd be likely to grab the microphone and say things like, "You know, too bad we're the only ones that the FedGov will allow into space. Because, of course, if they ever let you little peons get out here, they'd have no control over you at all."
They don't want me anywhere NEAR orbit. Or you. Or anyone else. Space is the next great ocean, as the Atlantic was to the British colonies -- only BETTER. Galactic empires are technically impossible, for the same reason that a world government is technically impossible: too many people don't want to be controlled. In order to enforce your will on them, you need to have every person literally watching every other person. You need everyone WANTING your world government.
The moment we have functionally-independent space stations, moonbases, or extra- planetary colonies is the moment it's all over for Earthly governments, and they know it.
(That is, assuming that Earthy governments don't simply collapse, as the present US FedGov seems to be doing. Fortunately.)
Worse, imagine that the moonbase didn't like the treatment it was getting from Earth -- or better still, pick up a copy of Heinlein's The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress [paperback or hardback from Amazon.com], because he WROTE about what might happen. Forget about nukes: imagine the crater made where the White House used to be by a moon rock simply "dropped" into Earth's gravity well.
Government, therefore, CANNOT allow us to actually realize our birthright. How can you be a dictator when your nominal "subjects" can kill you just by dropping rocks on you?
The real purpose of NASA's existence isn't to explore space. It's to ensure that no one but government-approved individuals even so much as make orbit, and make absolutely sure that no one else gets off the planet.
The moment these parasites actually get out of space travel altogether, we can give the "International Space Station" a good shove down into the Pacific, watching it disintegrate in a grand display of fireworks. Then free individuals can get on with the business of conquering the stars.
Once more, I want to express my deepest sympathies to the families of the crew of the Columbia. I certainly don't agree with government standing in the way of my birthright, but I can admire the courage of any individual who willingly rides a controlled explosion into orbit.
Nevertheless, those of us who wish to truly conquer the stars can't do it with government standing in our way. If we're truly lucky, the deaths of the Columbia crew will trigger the end of NASA and government's foray's into space.
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