Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

If You Ask Business Community, It's Space, the Fizzled Frontier

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

If You Ask Business Community, It's Space, the Fizzled Frontier

Article excerpt

Long before Americans landed on the moon, space enthusiasts were promising cities in orbit, space factories turning out exotic materials and hotels where tourists could play zero gravity golf.

It hasn't happened. Almost 40 years since America launched its first satellite, and billions of taxpayer dollars later, the business community has turned its back on space.

No one is recovering from heart surgery in the weightlessness of a space hotel, no superpure medicines are being produced in orbiting min i-labs, and no child can claim birth away from Mother Earth. Commercial ventures that have come into being are limited satellites that relay telephone and television signals, photograph the weather on Earth, survey the Earth for mineral deposits and advise farmers where to plant and when. Through global positioning, satellites can let the driver of a car pinpoint his location. And that's about it. "Corporations contacted tend to assume that space access is, and will remain for some time, impractical, dampening enthusiasm for ventures which require human space flight," says the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. "Without the eager participation of an innovative private sector, commercialization cannot develop wings." In Congress there is a periodic clamor to "privatize" space - taking it out of the hands of the government. But research is too expensive and profits too iffy for even the largest corporations. "To this day, industry access to space is much more complicated, much more regulated and much more expensive than the usual research and development costs here on Earth," says Charles D. Walker of St. Louis, who flew on three shuttle flights in the mid-1980s to run a drug purifying experiment with great commercial promise. It worked, but advances in genetics made space manufacturing for the drug superfluous. …

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