Whoever thought up the name "Rocketdyne" deserves a Nobel Prize for branding. The name invokes - rightly for a company that has literally powered the USA's space programme for 60 years - images of a science-vision fusion-blazing a trail to the future.
Alas the company has, along with the US space programme, run into the sand. Its latest in a series of owners has it up for sale, to knock a chunk out of the cost of acquiring the less evocative, but more promising, Goodrich. As United Technologies puts it, Rocketdyne may be a national asset, but it has no growth potential in the absence of a US space strategy.
Fortunately for Rocketdyne, its expertise should attract a new owner, although probably outside aerospace. But the problem of there being no space strategy raises a serious question for the USA and other cash-strapped countries whose national assets are managed by private companies. Corporate bosses are hired to make money over the medium term. They rarely do vision, and are not hired to manage national assets.
Visionary national asset management is the job of governments. Politicians have a duty to divine, guide and foster the vision of the people they lead.
Whether in space, defence, transportation or any number of other arenas, people who delegate national asset management to corporations should not be surprised when reality trumps dreams.
(This first appeared as the second leading article in 5 June Flight International)