Last night I watched Jay Leno’s interview with Burt Rutan, the designer of Spaceship One and Mike Melvill, the first civilian astronaut. One of the things that struck me is how badly we have hamstrung our development of aviation in general, and space in particular, by allowing the Federal Government to regulate such development.
Ever since I started flying and associating with pilots, I have become aware of the generally deep loathing in the pilot community for the FAA. This came out in last night’s interview with Rutan and Melvill when they pointed out that the man who was capable of piloting Spaceship One was unqualified by FAA regulation to pilot a commercial airliner because he is 63 years old.
There are myriad other regulations that are just as stupid. For example, it would be illegal for me to put a standard automobile green tinted window visor in an airplane. I would need to buy one that was manufactured and tested for use in an aircraft. Now the visor may be identical in all its physical characteristics, but its price will be different by a factor of 5 to 10.
The general rule is that government regulation increases the prices of the products we buy without improving their safety or efficacy. Why is this so? Because like all bureaucrats public or private, government regulators do not care about what is actually occurring, they only care that the paperwork is correct and up to date. For example it does not matter whether you are producing toxic waste that actually harms the environment, what matters is that you have the proper paperwork from any transporters or disposal firms and that your files are up to date. That’s all the inspectors will look at. Melvill’s actual abilities do not matter, only the date on his birth certificate.
The same is true at NASA. It does not matter if the Space Shuttle will actually work or if it can complete the missions at the cost the designers sold to the people who approved the project. It only matters that the paper work is correct.
Rutan struck a nerve for me in one of his comments in particular. He said that U.S. Citizens had been giving their government hundreds of billions of dollars to spend on NASA and had, by and large, done so happily. The reason they were happy to spend the money is because they believed that one day they could fly in space. But now, 50 years into the space program, we are no closer to being able to by a ticket to space than we were when we started.
What have we bought for our money? The same thing that we usually get with government, not much.