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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

December 14, 2011 at 10:25 AM

Paul Allen is my kind of 1 percent, but he can’t fill U.S. space void

I’ve never understood the lagoon of local resentment about Paul Allen. He’s invested much of his fortune in Seattle, rather than just adding more money by gambling on Wall Street trading (or losing it with Jon Corzine). One result is the vibrant redevelopment of South Lake Union, including Amazon’s new headquarters. Most cities would die for a civic steward who would invest in the heart of town, in ventures that will add to productive economic activity. If more of the 1 percent acted like Allen — or Bill Gates — America wouldn’t be in trouble.

That said, my first reaction to his plans for a plane that could fly high enough to launch things into at least low-earth orbit is that it’s a big dream, big risk with the potential for big disappointment. That’s fine. Out of failure grows success. And if the venture succeeds, it might offer at least some further options for satellite launching. But to say it’s a “space plane” overstates the case, and the prospect if using it for human flight are far off.

Like Allen, I am a child of the Space Age, and by now we were supposed to have a base on the moon, if not Mars. Instead, even the delivery truck of the space shuttle that, again, only reached low-earth orbit, is gone and America is becoming an also-ran in space exploration. My country landed men on the moon. Now we can’t even run the post office, much less build high-speed rail or mount a real space program. The private sector will not fill this void.

Private ventures may range from heavily subsidized defense missile defense and spy satellites to commercial efforts that, again, heft satellites into orbit for a hefty fee. Even the latter may not be viable without NASA’s infrastructure. But the private sector won’t take us into deep space. We are apparently ceding that to China. But, hey, we have derivatives.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

The Fed’s paralyzed

Ben doesn’t want to tee off

The next president

Comments | More in Aerospace/Boeing

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