During the 2012 election, former Speaker of the House and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich pledged to construct a permanent lunar colony that could potentially become the country’s 51st state. Most of his rivals and the media chuckled at the policy proposal, and then-opponent, Ron Paul, said he would prefer to send politicians to the Moon instead.
President Donald Trump appears to be shooting for the stars, too.
Earlier this month, the president signed Space Policy Directive 1, mandating NASA refocus its resources on sending astronauts to the Moon, to Mars, and beyond. By coalescing government, the private sector, and international organizations, the president wants humans to return to the Moon, lay the foundation for human exploration on the red planet, and travel to other worlds.
The president’s space policy would substitute former President Barack Obama’s 2010 objective. He did not want to return to the Moon, but to travel through deep space and even an asteroid sometime between 2025 and the mid-2030s.
Vice President Mike Pence said in a statement that America will tackle space travel under Trump’s leadership:
“As the President has said, space is the ‘next great American frontier’ – and it is our duty – and our destiny – to settle that frontier with American leadership, courage, and values. The signing of this new directive is yet another promise kept by President Trump.”
Skeptics are wondering if this is something worthy of the federal government’s focus. Considering the fiscal troubles in Washington, this seems more like a vanity project for the Trump administration.
The U.S. faces a $20 trillion debt, the government is enduring a massive budget deficit, and NASA is a bureaucratic mess. Every launch of the U.S. space-shuttle has cost about $1.5 billion – was it worth it?
But, hey, this means more money for the aerospace industry and science community, so they are rejoicing right now.
Here is a novel idea: why not allow the free market to take on the costly burden of space exploration? The private sector has done an admirable job in recent years in both commercial ventures and technological development. Despite the errors of their cronyism and leftist ways, Elon Musk and Richard Branson are better fitted to combat the Icarus-like task of venturing to other planets and star systems.
Profiting From Space Tourism
Billionaire Branson is beating the U.S., Chinese, and Russian governments to space.
Branson founded the Virgin Galactic Spaceship, an exorbitant undertaking to send non-astronauts to space. To fund this scheme, Branson sold private tickets in advance for as high as $250,000, and celebrities have gotten in on the action: Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie.
It is true that there have been setbacks. In 2014, a test flight crashed, killing the co-pilot after he unlocked the braking system too early. After some trial and error, the company now aims for its first spaceflight next year. But when mistakes happen, taxpayers are not left footing the bill.
If all goes well, Branson will move on to his next endeavor: an orbital hotel, funded by profits from space tourism. Once he achieves this vision, Branson wants to erect a lunar hotel.
That is all quite impressive, and will not cost taxpayers a single dime, whether he triumphs or sputters.
It Isn’t Rocket Science!
Whatever your impression of Elon Musk, you must concede that he is ambitious.
SpaceX is a pet project for the tech billionaire. The goal of the organization is to improve the cost and reliability of access to space. Everything from advanced reused rockets to sending supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), Musk is accomplishing what he set out to do: reducing the cost of space travel, and it isn’t over yet.
The group’s Falcon 9 mission cost is about $60 million, compared to that of NASA’s average mission cost of $450 million. The reuse of rockets was a work of science-fiction, but not today, thanks to private investment.
Like Branson, there have been numerous mistakes made, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars, which nearly bankrupt Musk. Fortunately, taxpayers are not bearing the burden, and the population will benefit from all advancements without having to suffer for the setbacks.
Mars One Settling Humans on Mars
Bas Lansdorp and Arno Wielders made headlines when they announced that Mars One would fund an expedition to send humans to Mars permanently by 2032. The initial estimated price-tag was $6 billion, but analysts say it will likely cost a lot more – NASA has pegged its own eventual mission to Mars at $100 billion (it’ll probably cost more because it’s the government).
How is Mars One going to fund this? Private investment, donations, crowdfunding, merchandise sales, intellectual property (IP) rights, and astronaut application fees. Zero tax dollars.
Organizers have also considered a live reality television series, but after discussions between production and distribution companies fell apart, Mars One said that it would instead produce a documentary. With the sale of future broadcasting rights, it will also help fund the expedition.
There have been many legitimate criticisms levied against Mars One. Even if their doubts are correct, it is no skin off the taxpayer’s back.
If they can succeed, then good for them. If they can’t, oh well. At least they tried.
Throwing Piles of Money at the Stars
The U.S. government’s foray into space during the 1960s was immensely successful. Many say this was the greatest accomplishment in human history. Unfortunately, there was an unintended consequence: Republicans and Democrats learned that the best way to solve a dilemma and gain public support is to throw billions of dollars at the problem itself.
To fathom how much NASA wastes, here is one example: in 2009, the space agency launched the $278 million Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite, but it immediately crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Just imagine if that $278 million had been left to the private sector.
Yes, a few of the key objectives for humanity is to colonize the stars, ensure that we don’t die on Earth, and discover or meet other civilizations. Since the government can’t even balance a budget, it is unlikely that it will ever produce a Star Trek universe. Nor should it. That is the responsibility of private industry.
The private sector – investors, intrigued minds, and billionaires obsessed with space – is problem-solving (how to fight increased radiation levels on Mars, as just one example) and finding the cheapest and best ways to go. Once there is a profit to be had – the Moon, for instance, is rich in resources such as water and Helium 3 – even more venture capitalists will dole out money for these initiatives. The only hurdle is government red tape.
Entrepreneurs developed personal computers, smartphones, software, and easy access to the Internet. Just think what they can do when they employ the force and cross the next galactic frontier. And when it’s their fortunes at risk, they are a lot more careful about spending.
Economist Robert Murphy said it best in 2005:
“In a free market, the maverick pioneer just needs to convince one or a few capitalists (out of thousands) to finance his revolutionary project, and then the results will speak for themselves. In contrast, an innovative civil servant at NASA needs to convince his direct superiors before trying anything new. If his bosses happen to dislike the idea, that’s the end of it.”
And, no, just because NASA scientists promise to discover extraterrestrials sometime after 2025 doesn’t justify handing over billions of dollars every year.
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