Paul Jacob

NASA's most newsworthy efforts are something else again, its probes into deep space. Now, it's very hard to argue against research. The accumulation of knowledge is a good thing. But these efforts come at great expense to the American people, whose representatives seem congenitally unable to restrain themselves and rationally prioritize spending. American public debt is accumulating at a much higher rate than scientific knowledge, and in this context a moratorium on pure research is surely in order.

Maybe NASA should remain, as an umbrella or watchdog organization. Maybe not. The Office of Commercial Space Transportation seems to be doing a good job. But no matter what its ultimate size and shape and scope, NASA can and should built down. Now.

And what about the Bush administration's proposed manned mission to Mars? Yeah, right. Let's not get caught in that ludicrous boondoggle. We're already building a rain forest in Iowa!

What to do with the over-expensive, problem-riddled Space Station? One idea: auction it off to industry, and see what happens.

Americans and scientists and the current space industry must wean themselves from the idea of subsidy ? a point I often make, of other industries, in my Common Sense e-letter. No matter how expertly NASA charges corporations for its services, such as satellite placement and repair, the very existence of a government-funded service bureau introduces a corrupting element into the industry.

Private enterprise can bloom in space. But only by getting NASA and government subsidies out.

Arguably, that's exactly where some industries should be: in a place where pollution has almost no chance of harming life. And business will find all sorts of uses for weightlessness, for minerals, for the power of the sun's radiation. The sooner business makes the Earth-Lunar system a thriving cosmic cosmopolis, the sooner deep space exploration and planetary protection from asteroid hits ? things that might argue for a continued role for NASA or another government agency ? will be funded as a matter of course. Without onerous taxation.

As all this happens ? as businesses start up, fail, regroup, achieve, and progressively recreate the world as we know it ? keep in mind Burt Rutan's words, long before he won the X Prize, soon after he and his brother circled the planet in an aircraft without once refueling:

I want to thank Ronald Reagan for providing and maintaining this environment that was devoid of government regulations that would've made this thing impossible in any other country that I can think of. I only filled out two pieces of paper for the U.S. government. I'm serious. We have an application for air-worthiness and an application for the tail number on the airplane.

There's nothing like killer regulation to kill enterprise. Instead, let the Space Age be an age of freedom.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.