A lot of the criticism of the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Oklahoma to be NASA administrator revolves on whether or not he is a “climate denier” or as a politician not experienced enough in science and engineering to head the space agency. A recent article in Salon by Keith Spencer opens a new line of attack against the gentleman from Oklahoma. Bridenstine is in favor of “privatizing” NASA, whatever that means.

Commercial partnerships with NASA are evil

According to Spencer, programs such as the Bush era Commercial Orbital Transportation Systems program and the Obama era Commercial Crew program constitute subsidies to the big aerospace companies.

These companies are run by evil plutocrats such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos who want to grab wealth from the American tax payer and fatten their bottom line. Asteroid and lunar mining are also evil since the mineral wealth of the heavens are the common heritage of all humankind or something like that.

Robots vs. astronauts argument trotted out

The British Royal Astronomical Society put to rest the robots vs. astronauts argument in a land mark 2005 study that concluded that astronauts are a vital component for the scientific exploration of space. Nevertheless, Spencer trots out the long discredited notion that robotic space exploration is better than sending astronauts. He makes the patently false assertion that the International Space Station has not generated a lot of science.

Yet he praises the Hubble Space Telescope, which was deployed and serviced by space shuttle astronauts.

Science in the public interest

The Salon article concludes that Bridenstine would “politicize” science (the climate change charge again) and would subordinate it to the needs of greedy capitalists, Science should only serve the common good, according to the article.

However, the author forgets that enhancing economic growth and job creation is a common good. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos may get richer sending cargo and crews into space. The first lunar and asteroid miners could make trillions of dollars. However, these people and entities are creating entirely new industries that will employ millions of people and generate untold wealth.

Spencer will no doubt yell “trickle down!” The slogan is a well-known screed from the Reagan presidency. The problem is that the Reagan tax cuts worked. The 1980s and 1990s were an era of unprecedented economic growth. Space exploration has always had a side effect of benefiting the economy and those evil capitalists who seem to make Spencer irate dating back to the Apollo program. Those wicked captains of industry built the rockets that sent men to the moon and then took some of the technology thus created and made a host of products and thus made even more money.

Like it or not, NASA has always served the free market. The whole point of the Apollo race to the moon was to prove the superiority of free market capitalism over Soviet communism, a task it performed with great alacrity. The current drive for commercial partnerships is just an extension of that theme.