NASA administrators may have listened to Frank Sinatra’s iconic tune, “Fly Me to the Moon,” too many times in recent months, as the space agency announced it is returning to the natural satellite. But it isn’t solely relying on the political bureaucracy to achieve this ambitious project – they’re now partnering with the private sector to explore the stars.
Jim Bridenstine, the chief administrator of NASA, unveiled a series of new “Moon partnerships.” The U.S. government will team up with nine American businesses to send men to the moon and Mars within the next decade as part of “long-term scientific study and human exploration.”
The ultimate objective is to have humans orbiting the moon by 2023 and then land a couple of years later, though all manned expeditions will be preceded with robotic lander missions. It also plans to construct a station in orbit around the moon called the Gateway. The purpose of returning to the moon is to determine what kind of resources are there and study its composition to help us better understand the formation of the Solar System.
The endgame is to have people on Mars by the mid-2030s.
The companies that made the list are Astrobotic Technology, Deep Space Systems, Draper, Firefly Aerospace, Intuitive Machines, Lockheed Martin Space, Masten Space Systems, Moon Express, and Orbit Beyond. Surprisingly absent on the list were Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Officials refrained from elaborating on why they selected these firms. For now, these names will compete for contracts totaling roughly $2.6 billion over a ten-year span, which is a lot cheaper than if NASA went to space alone. While Bridenstine has confidence that these companies can succeed, “it’s not a guarantee.”
“We’re going to buy the service and that enables us to be one customer of many customers spreading the cost. It also enables us to have multiple providers competing on cost and innovation so we can have more access than we could otherwise have if we did it on our own.
We want them to be successful. It’s not a guarantee that they will be, because what they’re doing is unlike anything we’ve done before.”
In December 2017, President Donald Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1, ordering NASA to “refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery.” The president envisioned “long-term exploration” that will lay the foundation for astronauts to travel to Mars and “worlds beyond.” Trump called for collaboration between the government, the private sector, and international organizations. It appears he has gotten his way.
Soon after the mandate was presented, NASA submitted a plan to Congress called the National Space Exploration Campaign, echoing Trump’s remarks. It has garnered bipartisan support in Washington – a rare thing these days.
Any free market conservative or libertarian would view this move as an improvement from depending only on the government to head to the stars. There are two things that are universally accepted: Space exploration is a costly endeavor and government is inept and inefficient.
This requires asking the question: Why should the state even be involved with space?
We have already witnessed incredible achievements with market-based solutions to coming face to face with the stars. Billionaires are investing in space tourism, Elon Musk successfully reusing rockets, and private investment funds are still adamant about putting humans on our neighboring planet before the government does.
So, the answer to the previous query is: It shouldn’t.
Eminent economist Walter Block recently published a book titled Space Capitalism: How Humans Will Colonize Planets, Moons, and Asteroids. As the name suggests, Block promotes the idea of privatizing the final frontier. It highlights the innumerable government-led space boondoggles, how companies could profit from extraterrestrial travel and the timing of playing the guitar in space and golf on the moon. Block contends, for example, that landing on the moon wasn’t necessarily a good thing because it was premature, and the time, energy, and resources would have been better used on researching rocketry and human protection.
These are all valid points, and they pad the idea that NASA, ESA, or CSA should sit on the sidelines.
Politicians in Space
Considering how NASA has refused to explain how it picked those nine companies, you can only deduce that it is a cronyist arrangement – an executive’s friend’s brother is the nephew of a higher-up who has a son sitting in elected office. The right often talks about the benefits of P3s (public-private partnerships), but they are typically crony in nature, and still take money from the taxpayer, handing it off to million-dollar enterprises. President Trump generally has warned about the dangers of P3s.
The price-tag for these moon partnerships is a couple of billion of dollars, and the cost for space wars will also be in the billions. This is capital taken directly out of the private market and then allocated to wasteful projects and superfluous schemes. If the government is so inclined to allocate billions, then why not embark upon this venture instead? Send politicians to space.
Now that’s a long-term investment that would yield tremendous dividends and savings!
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