More Delays, Bad Economy: Good Time For Private Spaceflight

News hit today about yet another NASA delay: the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is being delayed until 2011. Not only will this slip cost NASA an estimated $400 million, it also signals some bigger issues within NASA. Another one bites the dust?

I recently read an interesting article by Daniel Roth that suggested that economic downtimes are really one of the best times to start a company, and in turn a great time for innovation:

In July 1993, Tom Siebel launched Siebel Systems, which made software for managing corporate sales staffs. The US economy was faltering, and the market for his product was new and untested. In other words, the timing couldn't have been better.


One person who thinks that now is the time to go all-in: Tom Siebel. He sold Siebel Systems to Oracle in 2005 and has since been working on personal projects. But a few months ago he started collecting résumés and locating office space in Silicon Valley for a new startup. It's still under wraps, so he's shy about the details. But he's excited about the market conditions.

I firmly believe the same holds true for space firms as for software: this economic downturn is the perfect reason to start innovating. For starters, just because venture capital is tight right now, doesn't mean that the same will hold a year from now. Since most startups begin on zero-budget anyhow, you may as well spend your zero-budget time in a zero-funding economy. And not to belittle the engineers, but the best engineering is done when you aren't getting paid. It's only then that you can pursue projects simply because you love doing so.

Think of it in terms of prize economics: the goal is the journey, and a pendulum can only swing two ways.

Nick Azer said...

With Bill Richardson as Commerce Secretary, too, there's going to be a lot of support from the administration---Obama seems to see a booming private space industry as a big part of his agenda for turning the economy back in the right direction.

I think that's a main reason Richardson was the choice for that particular post (with his experiences developing Spaceport America in N.M., and his outspoken/proactive support of the private space industry).

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