A group of space veterans and big-name backers today took the wraps off the Golden Spike Company, a commercial space venture that aims to send paying passengers to the moon and back at an estimated price of $1.4 billion or more for two.
The venture would rely on private funding, and it's not clear when the first lunar flight would be launched — but the idea reportedly has clearance from NASA, which abandoned its own back-to-the-moon plan three and a half years ago.
Golden Spike's announcement came on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 17, the last manned moonshot. Backers of the plan, including former NASA executive Alan Stern and former Apollo flight director Gerry Griffin, were to discuss the company's strategy at a National Press Club briefing at 2 p.m. ET, but some of the details were laid out in a news release issued before the briefing.
A key element that makes our business achievable and compelling is Golden Spike's team of nationally and internationally known experts in human and robotic spaceflight, planetary and lunar science, exploration, venture capital formation, and public outreach," Stern said in the news release.
Mr. Masnick's techdirt post is a welcome call for calm and even optimism. It is a reminder of the importance of perspective, the sort of wisdom encapsulated in the expression "This, too, shall pass" -- that is, just as most joy and glory is transient, so will the troubles and woes of today eventually vanish.
That said, his post is revealingly presumptuous. He writes about people trying to "hold back progress" and describes his frustration at not being able to convince them "of just what opportunities moving forward provides." But perhaps the reason he is so frustrated is that he misses a basic truth: that the people he describes aren't actually seeking to "hold back progress" -- they just have a different understanding of what is progress and what isn't, of what counts as "moving forward" and what doesn't. People do not agree on what is in the public interest; they do not agree about what is best for society, for the state, for the family.
Persuading those who disagree with you is not always a matter of marshalling facts or, as Mr. Masnick puts it, "clearly paint[ing] a picture." Often the people who disagree with you already understand the facts full well and already see the picture clearly -- they just disagree about whether what you call progress is indeed progress. This disagreement might well be rooted in a vision of the future that is fundamentally in conflict with your own. (See, for example, Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions and Yuval Levin's Imagining the Future
This, incidentally, is why the book that Mr. Masnick approvingly cites, Robert Friedel's excellent A Culture of Improvement, deliberately eschews the term "progress". You might think human cloning or nuclear weapons or Windows Vista are all examples of unambiguous progress; your neighbor might well disagree.
"[W]hy are programs so buggy? A general answer has already been given: because it is human nature to push until we get into trouble -- and then blame our tools. We load the elephant with feathers until the elephant collapses, whereupon we conclude that feathers are too heavy for elephants. No matter how amenable software is to our efforts, it can overwhelm us if we pile the code high enough -- and we often do, because it's so fatally easy. But the special reason for software's bugginess is that we almost never demand that it be bug-free (I use "demand" here in the economist's sense: not just desire, but desire backed up by ability and readiness to pay).
"Software manufacturers are rational economic actors; if they can sell us software without going to the expense of thoroughly debugging it, they will. The copy of Microsoft Word that occasionally drives me crazy cost around $200; if Microsoft had been forced to debug it thoroughly before releasing it, its price would be closer to $2,000. Would I pay that much for a version that I could be sure would never crash at a critical moment, losing hours or days of my work? Probably not; apparently, I don't value my sanity that highly. I am neither blaming anyone nor apologizing for anything; I am simply reporting Microsoft's behavior and mine, in the belief that they are typical of just about all software developers and computer users. In a word, we have buggy software because we consumers won't pay what effectively bug-free software would cost.
"The reasons why software is almost always buggy are not inherent in the technology and thus inevitable, but spring from human choices and practices that we can understand and could change if there were a compelling reason to do so. Those habits include piling the code on until it overwhelms us, and taking our chances with buggy software in order to get it more cheaply. Both problems could be overcome if we wanted to overcome them badly enough."
[Mark Halpern, "Buggy Software and Missile Defense," The New Atlantis, Number 10, Fall 2005, pp. 47-57.]
COMPASS [for the CDC-6000 series] is the sort of assembler one expects from a corporation whose president codes in octal. -- J.N. Gray