Sowers continued:

The gag order went well beyond Boeing. Senator Shelby reportedly ordered a ban against talking about propellant depots where talk of propellant depots was needed most: NASA.

The underlying message to NASA was cross Shelby, and your funding will disappear.

Time is money

If Boeing had continued its work on propellant depots, that work would have someday revealed a bottom line. It would have revealed that the Space Launch System from which Boeing was making $2 billion a year was unnecessary. Beyond being a total and complete waste of money, it was a waste of something much more valuable—time. A full decade’s worth of it.

A robust fuel depot program might also have clued the public into the fact that the Space Launch System was way over budget, way behind schedule, and might not ever fly.

And if it ever does fly, the cost for a single launch could buy 22 launches of SpaceX’s heavy-lift launch vehicle, the Falcon Heavy.

As it turns out, putting all the chips on the Space Launch System and deep-sixing propellant depots was a bad long-term move not just for the United States, but for Boeing as well. Because no matter how many years (or decades) Boeing was able to stretch out the development of the rocket, profits would ultimately dry up at some point.

A space transport infrastructure based on launching existing rockets and refueling them in space would have created a sustainable long-term industry.

It’s a strategy that would have helped the US actually pioneer a space economy; an economy tapping the resources of asteroids and the moon, an economy that could have taken some of the massive resource burden off of Earth. An economy that could have harvested solar power in space, transmitting it to Earth, and eliminating the need for fossil fuels in energy production, thus cutting greenhouse gases by 45%. An economy that could eventually triple the world’s gross domestic product.

Establishing fuel stations in space would have helped the US take a space business that’s already worth $350 billion well past the trillion-dollar mark.

It also would have put Boeing smack dab in the middle of that burgeoning new business. When Boeing shut down its fuel depot development, it shut down an extraordinary US-led space future.

Safety … second?

The fear today is that the space military industrial complex is now applying the sort of tricks that Boeing pulled in killing propellant depots in another area vital to our nation: our military procurement program.

My fear is that when Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin create a new weapons system, they don’t look for what will work the best, be the least costly, and move the fastest. They look for what will be the most profitable.

We should all be afraid that the space military industrial complex sells us vastly overpriced yet ineffective weapons. I’m afraid that our war planes will experience software problems like the ones that crashed two Boeing 737 Max aircraft and that kept Boeing’s Starliner capsule from reaching the ISS.

In a war, the high price of planes can kill you. In World War II, the US produced 10 aircraft carriers for every one Japan turned out. That’s one reason the Japanese lost and we won. Today, both China and Russia are outpacing the US in terms of military equipment production, including planes.

In a war, those who can produce the most weapons, and the best weapons, win.

The space military industrial complex has knifed the US space program in the back. And I’m afraid it might be doing the same to the US military.

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