JUNE 6, 1962
NEW YORK —There seems to be such a very general division of opinion on the question of private or of government ownership of the space satellite communications system that much consideration seems essential.
There is a bill before the Senate that will shortly be considered. If the decision is to turn the whole enterprise over to private control this will mean that a few large corporations, dominated by AT&T, will be able to say how we should proceed in our research and how we should use the knowledge acquired through research in the whole new area of outer space. If the system is retained in government hands, there are those who feel that in the course of the next year or so we will know much more technically as to what the best system to be followed should be. We will also have had time to study what international arrangements should be entered into.
If the space communications system is turned over now to private ownership, two things may result:
(1) Development may be slowed down. Private companies cannot be expected to scrap existing facilities until such facilities have had an opportunity to earn what they cost. We have seen this in many areas where new discoveries would have meant giant strides technologically, but which were held under wraps by private industry. Only the pressure of war forced some of these advances into the open.
(2) In addition, it seems to me that outer space is a field in which perhaps eventually we will all feel that the cold war could be overcome and cooperation among nations could be brought about by submitting the knowledge acquired by individual governments to ultimate control by the United Nations. This perhaps would be the easiest field in which to take one of first real big steps to remove present fears of annihilation.
So far this has been an area for delay on making a decision as to how space operations shall be owned and operated. One of the reasons for this delay is that it will give us as a nation the opportunity to think through our basic philosophy. The taxpayers of this country have already spent very large sums of money on the developments and discoveries that have so far been made.
This is a new field and to some people it holds very little interest because they cannot see how it would help to solve their daily problems on this earth. I frequently get letters from readers protesting that we put far too much importance on knowledge that we are not as yet sure will be of benefit to the daily lives of our people. And they add that since we have not yet solved many problems here why should we be trying to add to them in enlarging our knowledge of other unknown spheres around us.
The answer, of course, is that man's curiosity can never, and should never, be curtailed. It is this curiosity that made for the development of man.
However, in our complex modern civilization there is a question, I think, of whether certain things that are done not only for the benefit of our own country but of the world should be government-controlled and, therefore, financed by the people as a whole or whether they should be allowed to become a part of the free-enterprise financial system in which we believe.
It seems to me that there is an argument to be made that certain things under government control can actually encourage competition and make for better management in private industry. This was one of the theories in the development of the Tennessee Valley Authority. The TVA certainly proved its value to the economy of that area by bringing down the cost of electricity furnished by the private companies in the area. TVA acted as a yardstick and the competition was met by the private companies, resulting in much economic development of the whole area.
Outer space is, of course, a much more far-reaching project and involves our whole international planning and how we begin to draw in other nations so that there is a mutual benefit in this great new world that has opened up all around us.
I would hope very much that the present Administration and our government as a whole would delay its final decision on these questions and take a year or more to study the whole picture. I should think we should continue to operate as we are now doing, under government control, until we can develop more knowledge and experience as to what are the best methods of operation and control.
(Copyright, 1962, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)
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About this document
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, June 6, 1962
Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007
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