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In April 1981 Newsweek published a cover story on the Space Shuttle program, then just getting underway with the launch of Columbia that week from Kennedy Space Center. In it, the editors call the program “the most spectacular sales promotion in history,” predicting that the future in space lies in fact with private industry—a belief mirrored by the Obama administration nearly three decades later:
Once investment in space loses its element of risk, predicts NASA’s Bekey, “industry will jump in.” If so, Columbia’s historic voyage may turn out to be not only a splendid technical and scientific achievement, but also perhaps the most spectacular sales promotion in history. Even as mankind’s great adventure in space is getting under way, it is also, in a sense, ending. Impelled by the dual human imperatives to explore—and to see if some money can be made at it—we have begun to probe the very fringes of a great uncharted sea; already, we want to know where the best fishing is.