We wanted flying cars and colonies on Mars but instead we got 140 characters. That line, and different variations of it, is commonly used to express frustration at how scientific progress has in some ways stalled in the past few decades.
Its first usage is generally attributed to tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel, who regularly laments that while we’ve done a great job in the gadgetry side of things (creating the iPhone and making apps like Twitter), we haven’t actually advanced to the degree we’d previously predicted on things like space travel and cancer care.
The leading outlier is Thiel’s former business partner at PayPal, Elon Musk, whose company SpaceX essentially took the reins on space exploration away from the public sector and made it something the private sector can get behind.
While space enthusiasts used to sit around and wait for NASA to announce a project, the default assumption is now that SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, and other private companies will drive the sector forward. It’s the billionaire commercial space race.
With this in mind, it’s a positive sign that Canada’s federal Liberal government has just announced they intend to make commercial space launches easier.
“Today’s announcement will help position our country as a leader in commercial space launches, which will benefit our economy and create good jobs for Canadians,” said MP Marc Garneau, a former astronaut and Canada Space Agency president.
The government’s press release touts that “Canadian and international advocates have demonstrated interest in conducting commercial space launch activities from Canada,” and that we’re geographically well-positioned to host these launches.
Whether it’s building a colony on the moon, putting people on Mars, or expanding the commercialization of space with projects like asteroid mining, any progress should be deemed good progress.
The question though is whether Canada’s plans will actually help or hinder the commercial space race. The government’s announcement is short on vision and big on bureaucracy.
Here’s the specifics of what they actually plan to do: “Transport Canada will work in close collaboration with other federal departments and agencies to develop robust regulatory requirements, safety standards and licensing conditions necessary for commercial space launch in Canada.”
Three years is the timeline they’ve set. And that’s not three years until the first commercial launch. That’s three years until they’ve developed these “robust” regulations.
Given how these targets are never met, that means the regulations won’t be done for four or five years. So how long until we actually have the smallest of launches? A decade? That’s depressing.
A leading example regularly offered to show just how slow and small-minded both governments and society in general have become on this front is to look at John F. Kennedy’s pledge to put a man on the moon through today’s lens.
The president said in 1962 that the United States would accomplish this objective by 1970. That goal was met with the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. It’s hard to fathom government ever getting back to hitting such visionary targets.
It’s interesting to note that the recent advances in the aerospace sector have happened not because of government but in spite of government. A number of Elon Musk’s previous space launches have technically been illegal, with the Federal Aviation Authority warning him in advance not to proceed. There are other examples of aerospace companies facing massive fines for breaking regulations.
The new documentary “Return to Space,” about SpaceX’s latest missions, references how government funding had in some ways been holding back innovation. NASA had for years awarded big contracts to established businesses that were lobbying to keep the status quo. They didn’t like the idea of SpaceX elbowing onto the scene and changing the game.
That’s why we should be cautiously optimistic about Canada—and any other country—wishing to get involved in a new space race. Do we want people excited about it? Yes. Do we want countries to back it? Yes.
The recent evidence though tells us that for this to succeed, government’s priority needs to be facilitating rapid developments, not sitting around for years trying to think up red tape.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.