Who Will Get to Own Outer Space?

There have been countless great American industrial projects that occurred during 20th century. One of the most ambitious and perhaps the most romantic was none other than the Apollo project. America first sent a human to outer space during May 1961, and only 8 years later they were standing on the surface of the moon was an amazing accomplishment.

America Progressing Through Space Projects

As a follow up to walking on the moon, NASA created the incredible space shuttle, which ushered in an exciting new period of space exploration. America then created several space vehicles like Discovery, Eagle, and the Endeavour – all of which came with ambitious new plans for outer space.

And it wasn’t only reaching new levels of space exploration that was the motivation of America. There was also the desire to demonstrate industrial prowess and technological ingenuity over the Soviet Union. After all, the very first rockets that America blasted into outer space began as ballistic missiles, which were intended to carry nuclear warheads into Moscow. The space race became part of the Cold War, and it became a battle of ideologies between democracy and communism — or even capitalism.

Establishing America’s Role in Spaceflight

Recently, President Trump expressed his intention to begin sending Americans back to the moon again and maintain an orbital presence permanently, before directing his attention to Mars. This is a shift from the vision that President Obama expressed earlier that was Mars centered. It has been about 45 years since anyone walked on the moon, so this brings in a brand new age of spaceflight, and it is likely that capitalism will have a much larger stake in future space projects.

Where flying in outer space during the 20th century was looked upon as acts of heroic exploration, advances of science, and even national pride, spaceflight during the 21st century will be characterized by an unprecedented increase by private spaceflight investment. These investments will come from an assortment of defense contractors and even startups funded by Silicon Valley. A company that is called Moon Express, which is funded by investors like Peter Thiel, first got permission for a mission to the moon, along with the intention of constructing a mining colony there. And then there is SpaceX, which is setting its sights on Mars.

Traveling to outer space merely for the sake of doing it is typically reason enough for governments to sink money into space exploration. But for corporations to justify going to space, it must generate some kind of return. So does this mean that unchecked capitalism will take over most space projects in the future? Could the government ensure that American spaceflights would still be a humanitarian endeavor in the future in that environment?

Let us look at the short-term reality. Thus far, in NASA’s present affairs with private companies, capitalism is presently working as intended. Competition is generating innovation and keeping costs low.

So when astronauts once again land on the moon, they will do so in spacecraft called Orion that has been built by Airbus and Lockheed Martin, but operated and owned by NASA. However, Orion is not expected to ready for at 5 years at the least, and it will not be servicing the International Space Station, NASA’s one and only existing crewed mission.

So for the very first time, 2 private companies — SpaceX and Boeing — will operate and own the vehicles that will send American astronauts into outer space. This is part of a increasing movement to privatize space projects. When SpaceX leases out Launchpad 39A located at Kennedy Space Center, it will be a dramatic shift from government to private interests regarding human exploration of outer space.

“You can think of it as a difference in ultimate financial responsibility,” claims Casey Dreier, who is the director of space policy from the Planetary Society, which is a nonprofit group who advocates for space exploration. “It’s like the post office instead of UPS — instead of owning the infrastructure and facilities, and owning the vehicles themselves, NASA is paying for a service. For the International Space Station, they’ve been doing this for the past few years for cargo, and they’ll be doing it soon with humans: NASA is buying a ticket and then the companies guarantee transit and deliver.”

When NASA contracts out the ISS delivery, they are insulated from any cost overrun — such as when vehicles take more time or more money and goes over budget. That is a stark departure from the ordinary contractor model, which usually results in big delays and huge cost overruns — that the Department of Defense has to withstand. This is also why NASA sought more than just one capsule design. They demanded to get one from both Boeing and SpaceX. Capitalism is promising to increase innovation and to reduce costs via competition.