For every problem, there is almost always a free-market solution
Science, perhaps even more than tourism, could turn out to be big business for Virgin and other companies that are aiming to provide short rides above the 62-mile altitude that marks the official entry into outer space, eventually on a daily basis.
A $200,000 ticket is prohibitively expensive except for a small slice of the wealthy, but compared with the millions of dollars that government agencies like NASA typically spend to get experiments into space, “it’s revolutionary,” said S. Alan Stern, an associate vice president of the Southwest Research Institute’s space sciences and engineering division in Boulder, Colo.
I think it has escaped the general consciousness that up until the last one hundred years or so scientific research was privately funded. It looks like technical advancements combined with economic forces are driving research back in that direction, however slowly. Personally, I couldn’t be happier about that, because private funding disengages science from whatever government orthodoxy happens to be in place at the moment*.
[* Full disclosure: I have benefited from federal research grants.]
Big Science suffers the same problems as any government funded bureaucracy: inefficiency, inscrutable PC rules, adherence to current Party orthodoxy and all the soul destroying conditions any bureaucracy contents with, all wrapped up in the clock of respectability.
Of course, those that worship the State will complain about the free market solution. They always do. Best not heed their cries and be awesome instead!
In my biz (astrophysics), the two biggest problems with .gov funding seem to be fads and risk-aversion.
There is a tendency for certain topics to become fashionable for a while — not for any nefarious reason, but because a group will get an interesting result and then it becomes a hot field — so priority for funding goes to groups working in that field.
Even in hot fields, astronomers are often expected to be virtually assured of the outcome of their experiments or observations when they’re submitting a proposal. Because funding and telescope time are so limited, allocation committees are less willing to take risks on experiments that may fizzle. We need to get back to the wild scientific frontier days, and I think private funding is the key.
Fads, eh? Why, it’s almost like scientists behave like any other group of people!
“Even in hot fields, astronomers are often expected to be virtually assured of the outcome of their experiments or observations when they’re submitting a proposal.”
Which is sad. Sucks the fun out of doing something that has a high chance of failure.
Heck, sucks the fun out of doing something with a low chance of failure!
“We need to get back to the wild scientific frontier days, and I think private funding is the key.”
Sometimes people are surprised to find that scientists are every bit as human as everyone else.
One of my colleagues lamented that we don’t go on many “fishing expeditions” with the big telescopes and just try to find cool stuff. Maybe someday an eccentric gazillionaire will donate funds to build a huge telescope dedicated solely to fishing expeditions and high-risk projects. One can hope!