Jewish World Review Feb. 10, 2003 / 8 Adar I, 5763
Should the shuttle crash be the end of NASA?
We're a nation of space cadets again.
It's too bad seven innocent astronauts had to die. But the crash of the shuttle Columbia and the ensuing multimedia circus of shock and grief might actually serve a valuable national purpose.
If we are lucky, Columbia's sad but statistically inevitable fall to earth might result in the long-overdue elimination of what's left of the entire idiotic shuttle program, and, for good measure, NASA itself.
Abolishing NASA is the expert opinion and fond hope of one Gregg Easterbrook, a New Republic senior editor and author of a persuasive essay in Time magazine that explains why "The Space Shuttle Must Be Stopped."
Time and Newsweek each scrambled Saturday morning to redo their covers and produce their shuttle packages. Understandably, given the rush, both magazines padded their reports with lots of pictures and insta-profiles of a crew that had suddenly lost its well-deserved anonymity and become world heroes.
Newsweek got old John Glenn, a true space hero, to write a quick, mostly worthless first-person account of what it's like in a shuttle during re-entry. And Newsweek's Jerry Adler emits a few puffs of criticism about the shuttle program's high cost ($500 million per launch) and low utility.
But the killer piece is by Easterbrook, a smart writer/thinker who recently was trashed in this space for his silly anti-SUV rage but has long been a voice of reason when it comes to environmental issues.
Why we have heard so little about NASA's inherent faults and flaws from CBS, CNN, et al. over the years is a question for a real media critic. But everything Easterbrook says in Time this week - that the shuttle program is "too expensive, too risky, too big for most of the ways it's used" and it sucks up budget money that could be used for safer, more modern launch systems - has always been true.
In fact, Easterbrook wrote it all in April 1980, before the first shuttle was ever launched. He dissected the program's inherent safety problems, design flaws and dubious goals and budget projections in a long and prescient cover story for Washington Monthly called "Beam Us Out of This Deathtrap, Scotty!"
NASA, as Reason magazine and others have argued for nearly 25 years, is a just another government monopoly, only with wings and rockets. A flying Post Office, a low-orbit government transit system, it is inefficient, technologically backward, dumb with its money and interested in perpetuating itself at almost any cost.
As Easterbrook points out, NASA is a fatty pork-barrel program. It has built a powerful constituency - Washington politicians and aerospace contractors in states such as Florida and California - who have a vested interest in keeping the shuttle program (and the equally useless and even more expensive manned space station) from being reformed or replaced.
Easterbrook is a great critic but, unfortunately, comes to the wrong conclusion. He wants to replace NASA with a new federal agency. But the real answer is to privatize outer space and let a thousand rocket-ship companies bloom. If aviation had been monopolized by government for the past 100 years, airplanes would still carry only mail and bombs.
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.
02/06/03: Dear Joan ...
01/31/03: Newsweek, Nation ponder pros, cons of Gulf War II
01/24/03: 'Original' ideas follow New Deal philosophy
01/22/03: When handicapping 2004, watch the economy: Ten minutes with … Charlie Cook
01/17/03: New Republic fans hatred for SUVs
01/14/03: 10 minutes with Santorum on ... taxes, steel and Lott
01/10/03: Newsweeklies move on to latest menace
01/07/03: The best of the Q&As
12/30/02: Rosie's demise tops list of 2002 highlights
12/23/02: GOP must stick to its principles: 10 questions for ... Bill Kristol
12/20/02: Lott fiasco uncovers bigger problem
12/18/02: Free markets king in Sweden, at least for a day: Ten minutes with …. Donald Boudreaux
12/13/02: Corruption of Indian casinos no surprise
12/06/02: Giving credit to young philanthropists
12/02/02: Ten minutes with …. Chris Matthews
11/26/02: It's critical to memorialize communism's victims: 10 minutes with … Lee Edwards
11/22/02: JFK's secret health woes are revealed
11/19/02: It's best to contain Saddam: Ten minutes with … Col. David Hackworth
11/15/02: Brushing up on the affairs of a wild world
11/12/02: Make Dems filibuster … 10 minutes with … Robert L. Bartley
11/08/02: National Geographic: Urban overpopulation is good
11/05/02: The bloody consequences of a broken INS: Ten minutes with … Michelle Malkin
11/01/02: Going to pot; thank heaven for media overkill
10/29/02: It's all about federalism: Ten minutes with … Jonah Goldberg
10/25/02: Frank Sinatra, Kurt Cobain, Mad Magazine will never die
10/22/02: Here's why Orwell matters: Ten minutes with … Christopher Hitchens
10/18/02: The sniper knocks Iraq off the covers
10/15/02: Iraq, oil and war: 10 minutes with ... economist/historian Daniel Yergin
10/11/02: England's gun-control experiment has backfired
10/04/02: Buchanan the media baron?
09/27/02: Analyzing Esquire, GQ is not for the squeamish
09/20/02: CEOs: The rise and fall of American heroes
09/13/02: Skeptics remind U.S. to calm down
09/10/02: 'A failure to recognize a failure': 15 minutes with ... Bill Gertz
09/06/02: Rating the 9-11 mags
08/30/02: Bad trains, bad planes, and bad automobiles
08/28/02: Baseball, broken, can be fixed: 15 minutes with George Will
08/16/02: 9-11 overload has already begun
08/13/02: Tell us what you really think, Ann Coulter
08/09/02: A funny take on a new kind of suburb
08/02/02: It's not the humidity, it's the (media) heat wave; the death of American cities
07/12/02: Colombia's drug lords are all business
07/09/02: If capitalism is 'soulless' then show me something better: 10 minutes with … Alan Reynolds
06/25/02: Origins of a scandal: 10 minutes with … Michael Rose
06/21/02: 9/11 report unearths good, bad and ugly
06/18/02: The FBI is rebounding … 10 Minutes with Ronald Kessler
06/14/02: U.S. News opens closet of Secret Service
06/11/02: 10 minutes with … William Lind: Can America survive in this 'fourth-generation' world?
06/07/02: America, warts and all
05/30/02: FBI saga gets more depressing
05/13/02: The magazine industry's annual exercise in self-puffery
04/30/02: 10 Minutes with ... The New York Sun's Seth Lipsky
04/26/02: Will the American Taliban go free?
04/23/02: 10 minutes with ... Dinesh D'Souza
04/19/02: Saddam starting to show his age
04/12/02: Newsweek puts suicide bombing in perspective
04/09/02: How polls distort the news, change the outcome of elections and encourage legislation that undermines the foundations of the republic
04/05/02: Looking into the state of American greatness
03/25/02: The American President and the Peruvian Shoeshine Boys
03/22/02: Troublemaking intellectual puts Churchill in spotlight
03/20/02: 10 minutes with ... Bill Bennett
03/18/02: Suddenly, it's cool again to be a man
03/12/02: 10 minutes with … Ken Adelman
03/08/02: TIME asks the nation a scary question
03/05/02: 10 minutes with ... Rich Lowry
02/26/02: 10 minutes with ... Tony Snow
02/12/02: Has Soldier of Fortune gone soft?
© 2002, Bill Steigerwald