Eric Berger, the redoubtable writer for Ars Tehnica, asks a question that sometimes arises. Are #Space reporters too much in love with the subject that they cover to be objective about it? It is a fair question. However it is an objective fact that the things that companies like SpaceX and Moon Express and even the current NASA are doing are indescribably cool and wonderful. No amount of trying to be “fair and balanced” is going to change that.
It has always been thus. Look at old footage of news coverage of the Apollo moon missions if the gentle reader does not believe this. Walter Cronkite wept tears of joy when Neil Armstrong made those first footsteps and his voice shook with the awe of the moment. Space exploration is among the greatest things that human beings have ever undertaken. Deal with it.
Then Berger makes a stab at being fair and balanced by gently suggesting to Elon Musk that he ought to get his portion of commercial crew up and running before he starts his private #Mars exploration program. Here Berger may be wide of the mark.
Two things are inhibiting commercial crew aside from the usual technical problems of getting a new space system operational.
First, during the early years, Congress underfunded the commercial crew program. A lot of finger pointing has occurred as a result, with Elon Musk at one point comparing House Republicans to the Soviet Politburo. However the root cause of the funding problems Commercial Crew ran into during its initial years had to do with the way it was started. President Barack Obama, without consulting anyone, cancelled the Constellation space exploration program and started the Commercial Crew program and fully expected Congress to bend the knee and fall into line. Congress, blindsided by this decision, did neither for a long time. The president’s arrogance and the sense of entitlement from some in the commercial space industry combined to stoke congressional opposition.
Second, NASA safety procedures seem to be holding things up. An eight week process has morphed into a months long exercise, with the result that the first commercial crew flights have been pushed back into 2018.
Berger is right about one thing. #SpaceX has to ace Commercial Crew before it moves on to Mars. If the company botches the job it will not go to Mars because the company likely would not survive such a disaster.