18 August 1999
Media - General (None)
President Clinton Supports Economic Benefits of Space vs Mars Mission
...but he still doesn't "get it"
by Patrick Collins
A short article entitled, "Human Mars mission not a priority, Clinton says" (_Space News_, August 2, p 2) reports that on July 21, 1999, the US President told a press conference "...the benefits to us here on Earth of continued advances in space..." would capture the imagination of the American people more than going to Mars. This reflects what public opinion polls show and is perhaps to be expected from a President who became famous for his campaign slogan, "It's the economy, stupid".

However, he spoke of "...NASA-led breakthroughs in medicine and Earth sciences" as examples of the economic benefits of government space spending. This shows how badly advised the President is - this is standard space industry publicity material concerning space technology "spinoffs". Luckily for NASA no-one looks at these claims too closely - because the benefits come nowhere close to a commercial return on the $14 billion that NASA spends every year. (That would require commercial space sales turnover growing by more than $10 billion/year!)

It also shows how much work Space Future still has to do, sadly, because the potential economic benefits of space tourism development are still so poorly recognised - despite NASA's own report recognising that space tourism will become the biggest business activity in space.

The depth of this lack of recognition is shown also in the recent special century-end issue of Business Week magazine - "21 ideas for the 21st century" - which does not even mention space tourism!! This is despite the fact that sub-orbital space tourism is going to start within a few years; orbital tourism will become a $100 billion/year industry by 2030; it will be massively popular; and it will surely become a major new axis of activity in the world economy. But it doesn't fit the current paradigm that "space is for government", and so it gets overlooked.

With its record trade deficit approaching $300 billion this year, the USA needs new industries in order to maintain economic growth and create new employment. And for all its excitement, the Internet is not enough! If a national trade deficit of almost $1 billion/day isn't proof of that, the dangerous lack of profits of Internet companies should be.

Economic growth is a good reason for supporting space development - but it should focus on realising what is going to become the biggest business in space - TOURISM not non-stick frying pans, etc!
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Patrick Collins 18 August 1999
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