What Won't Nasa Invent Next?
Could you imagine if any press outlet reported on the successful landing of each domestic or international flight? The resulting product would most likely resemble the smorgasbord of numbers and symbols typified by stock quotes and would take up an entire section of the daily newspaper.
Yet NASA and the entire socialized space establishment are given a free pass whenever they succeed. Take for instance STS 116, the most recent shuttle mission into low-earth orbit. Space shuttle Discovery landed Friday night in Florida … without blowing up and every major media outlet reported on it.
A Numbers Game
During its development, shuttle management testified before various committees as to the predicted success rates of this complex machinery. The failure number continually recited was 1 in 100,000.
In its 20+ year lifespan, the shuttle program has a failure rate of around 1 in 50 launches. Yet with this abysmally low success rate, its ever-increasing budget requests are approved annually.
Could you imagine the economic impact on the domestic airline industry if there was a 1-in-50 chance of your plane crashing? In all reality, it would not exist beyond the research and hobbyist industries.
Flying the Friendly Skies
However, as it stands today, traveling on planes is still statistically considered the safest form of transportation. The reason perhaps most overlooked for this success is the business model with which these airlines (usually) must operate: they have to remain profitable.
They must satisfy consumer demands; otherwise, they go bankrupt.
In contrast, the space shuttle could conceivably fail every time. Yet because it is politically controlled and taxpayer funded, it can continue receiving funds indefinitely. Bankruptcy is out of the question.
So if you cringe at the murderous idea of nationalizing the airline industry or any mode of transportation, imagine what a low mortality rate privatized roads could provide in the marketplace if public roads (road socialism) were abolished.
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
In addition to the free ride the agency gets from reporters, NASA has also been incorrectly credited with inventing numerous widgets, ranging from personal computers to freeze-dried ice cream:
- Tang: Originally developed by General Foods Corporation in 1957, it initially suffered poor sales. NASA used it in their Gemini missions starting in 1965 (astronaut John Glenn apparently liked its taste); it was then forever incorrectly cited as their own creation.<./li>
- Velcro: Originally invented in 1948 by Georges de Mestral, a Swiss engineer and mountaineer who noticed burrs stuck to his wool pants while he hiked. He worked with a French weaver to design the nylon hooks. Velcro predated NASA's use by more than a decade. NASA popularized its use; astronauts could move about freely and attach tools to their spacesuits.
- Microwave Oven: Originally invented by Percy Spencer, an engineer at Raytheon in 1945, it initially did not sell well and failed to penetrate mainstream markets until the late 1960s. Spencer was running some experiments with radar equipment and accidentally melted a chocolate bar. Popcorn was the next logical guinea pig.
- Teflon: Discovered by Roy Plunkett of DuPont in 1938. Reportedly, he was trying to make a new CFC refrigerant. Teflon cooking pans were common in households prior to Yuri Gagarin's flight, let alone the Apollo missions.
- Nylon: This is yet another polymer developed in-house at DuPont during the 1930s. Its commercial debut was in an everyday bathroom item: as the material within a bristled toothbrush. The atmospheric pressure suits NASA astronauts use in space have a layer of nylon-based compound in them.
- Semiconductors, microprocessors, and integrated circuits: The integrated circuit was originally developed by Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments in February of 1959. Neither the Mercury nor Apollo orbiters used these. Furthermore, other firms such as Intel played a key role in the research and development of the microprocessor, none of which involved NASA.
- The Internet: Originally called ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), this cross-country, packet-switching computer network was developed in part by the US Department of Defense, not NASA. And while some urban legends claim the original purpose for ARPANET was to allow institutions to communicate with one another in the event of disastrous war, this is a myth. Charles Herzfeld, who was director of ARPA at the time, has noted that it was designed to effectively and efficiently manage and utilize relatively scarce computing resources across the country.
Back on Terra Firma
In the end, regardless of what the state did or did not fund or invent, the take-away principle is the unseen. While everyone with a TV has been able to see the hordes of chemical rockets dramatically blast into the cosmos over the past decades, they were similarly unable to see the productive opportunities foregone and ignored via the reallocation of scarce resources.
The perceived benefits of a vain, nationalized space program include, among others, the fallacious need to fight the mythical shortage of scientists and engineers. Whereas in reality, it has stymied private tourism, exploration, and research for nearly half a century.
It is a monumental drain of capital resources to simply satisfy a nationalist ego; and its motto should be changed to reflect the only groups that benefit from its existence, politicians and contractors: For Benefit of Few.
 These are the same people that sold the public on a $10/pound payload when the real costs are much closer to $10,000/pound. In addition, during the Challenger investigation, Richard Feynman corrected a manager who tried to use the 1-in-100,000 argument, noting that it was actually 1-in-50. In fact, NASA's own engineers developing this vehicle estimated that the risk was very high, closer to 1-in-100.
 Despite the 2003 Columbia explosion, the 2004 budget was increased by $469 million to $15.378 billion. The 2005 budget: approved for $16.2 billion. 2006 budget: approved for $16.456 billion. See also Time magazine's piece "Space Pork" as well as that from Reason.
 Despite various superficial endeavors to deregulate and privatize portions of the industry, the FAA and other political entities continue to have a heavy hand in artificially controlling this market. Furthermore, the federal bailout of the airline industry after the events of 9/11 undermined the natural progression of the market place for failure. This raises the question: why let any enterprise fail, why not bail everyone out?
 The word Velcro originated by combining the two French words, "velours" (meaning 'velvet') and "crochet" (meaning 'hook'). More of its history here. See also "NASA Plan Needs a Little Spin" from Boston University.
 In fact, physicist Robert Goddard (namesake of NASA's Goddard Flight Center) pioneered the American rocketry industry by inventing the first liquid-fueled rocket in 1926 — more than three decades before the creation of NASA itself.
 In terms of economics, trying to gauge the negative redistribution effects on productive resources to this human space flight program involves the real-world analysis of Broken Windows and opportunity costs. For more economic discussion see: 1 2 3
 One example out of many, see Andrew Beal's (of Beal Bank) full page ad in Space News. See also "A Free Market In Space" by Robert Murphy and "How much should companies spend on research and development?"