Freeman Dyson: Congress Should Reject H.R. 5781, Choose “Right Side of History”

Drs. Freeman Dyson, John S. Lewis and Lee Valentine released the following statement about the House’s funding bill for NASA on behalf of The Space Studies Institute:

We believe there is a great benefit to our Nation in the opening of the space frontier. Space is about more than science or exploration. Frontiers are about creating prosperity and realizing potential. The contribution of American space efforts to our national economy and to human welfare has barely begun. We face many challenges: ensuring a permanent supply of clean, low-cost energy, strategic metals and, providing robust protection against asteroid impact. Affordable space transportation is necessary to enable all of these benefits.

The present House bill will delay the time when space can make a greater contribution to our national welfare. The most useful thing this Congress can do to lower the cost of launch is to create a market for space transportation services. The Kelly Act of 1925, which contracted for private air mail delivery, is a successful example. A consequence of the Kelly Act was the development of the DC-3. As students of history note, the commercial DC-3 ( re-designated the C-47) was an important element in winning WWII.

American industry — rather than Russian — will soon be able to supply commercial transportation to the ISS and to commercial space stations. NASA purchase of commercial crew services would accelerate the maturation of this industry.

There is another important role for government to play in space development. That is financial support of pre-competitive research and development. That is the role the NACA played until 1958. The NACA performed critical pre-competitive research on topics necessary to build aircraft. NACA reports are models of clarity. These reports are still used today in the development of the U.S. commercial space industry. By contrast, little of economic utility has come from the past few years of NASA R&D. Development of the unnecessary and wasteful Ares vehicle crowded out useful and necessary research.

We support the administration’s request to reinstate funds needed to pursue precompetitive research. There are several areas that are critical to America’s regaining leadership in space development. The topics of interest require the development of human capital. Congress must give the long-term support needed to develop human capital in the form of engineers and scientists with technical expertise that we have lost.

The magnitude of benefits from space development could be a significant annual addition to our economy within a few decades if the Congress chooses to foster a commercial industry. The benefits include satellite solar power. Clean renewable energy from space could be a $500 billion annual export market in a few decades. Asteroidal resources could supply a resurgent American manufacturing industry with the resources to dominate world markets and ensure prosperity at home.

It is difficult to predict the future. Yet, we already have sufficient knowledge of the resources in space to predict a bright future for space development if transport costs are driven low enough to open the space frontier.

For good reasons, government developed transportation has been costly and uncompetitive. A classic case is Samuel Langley’s government funded attempt to invent the airplane. Langley spent one hundred times as much money as the Wright brothers did. They succeeded, and he failed. Another example is the British government-funded effort to build passenger dirigibles between the world wars. The government-funded R101 crashed on its maiden voyage, but the commercially developed Vickers R100 dirigible flew successfully. NASA’s failures at every new launcher program in the past two decades are more recent examples.

The competition represented by the government’s developing its own unique launch vehicles hinders the emergence of a competitive and improving space transportation sector in the United States. The current House bill perpetuates that mistake.

This Congress can choose to be on the right side of history–or on the wrong side. You can elect to help your country build wealth and prosperity, or you can choose to waste money and talent building an unaffordable rocket to nowhere. History may record your choice in stark terms, but your constituents will thank you now, and in the near future, if you make the wise choice.

Prof. Freeman Dyson, President
Prof. John S. Lewis, V.P., Research
Dr. Lee Valentine, Exec. V.P.

  • Nickolai_the_Russian_Guy

    It’s good to see even more opinions against the house bill. Especially from people so esteemed in the space industry. Honestly, is there anyone out there who supports the bill?

  • it great to saw that he is not a one world kind of guy it great to see someone he is pro america and not pro globalization

  • Dyson is a neat guy who has contributed many creative ideas about our future in space. His daughter, Esther, has a financial stake as an investor in commercial space ventures including Space Adventures, Zero-G, and XCOR.

    However, if the choice is between an expensive government program that will actually reach out and explore space (HR 5781) and an equally expensive program that will accomplish nothing (the Obama proposal), I think that the choice is clear.