Space.Com – The Final Frontier?

Every year around this time, the stock market goes into panic.

Every year I hope this means the Internet IPO boom is ending. I know you’re wondering why. It’s all good, isn’t it? Well, it’s not all good. In some cases, it’s just a distraction.

In the last year, the lure of Internet riches has drawn thousands of good people with real jobs into cyber-mania. Like their ancestors who dropped everything for a pick, a shovel, and a ticket to California or the Klondike, folks like Lou Dobbs all figure they’ll be the next Internet brand-name gazillionnaire – didn’t it work for Dr. Koop?

Dobbs, like Koop, is betting his celebrity will draw money the way Tom Hanks does (name above the title), and for many of these people (like Dobbs) it’s working (so far).

Dobbs left CNN early this year to become chairman of Space.Com, and quickly drew funding from Venrock Associates, the venture capital arm of the Rockefeller family. He’s since gotten mo’ money from Greylock and has PaineWebber’s CEO on his board of directors. John Patrick of IBM is on his board of advisors. Sally Ride (yes, that Sally Ride) has signed-on as President.

The only problem is, there’s no there, there at Space.Com. The site bills itself as the central location for news and views on space exploration and science fiction. That’s great, but where’s the revenue model? There are banners on each page, an email newsletter, and a “space shop” selling mugs, shirts, and pens that write upside-down. This is not going to get the j-o-b done, if by that you mean the revenues (and potential profits) leading to an IPO.

In fact, what we’ve got here are a bunch of space nuts hoping to spin some hope by getting together. What space needs, however, is a serious business plan leading to for-profit research and manufacturing.

Start by buying slots and payloads on shuttle launches, and a lease on space in the new space station, for use in making something people need. Put that money into creating some new uplift capability, like running a “string” from an equatorial geosynchronous orbit to the Earth for use as an elevator. Arthur C. Clarke wrote about it decades ago, and admits it wasn’t original with him.

The fact is we’re just a year removed from the world of Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and we have no moon shuttles, no anti-gravity toilets, and the closest thing we have to a monolith is Yahoo’s search box.

There are limitless opportunities in space but Space.Com offers only a fairly static web site with no business model. We wouldn’t even have that except for the hot Internet IPO market, which leads me to believe the whole thing is a distraction for those of us who want off this Third Rock from the Sun.

If you’re not serious about space, if all you want to do is talk about it and profit from that, please go away. I’m too old for the tease.

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