[FPSPACE] Hudgins space op-ed in "Orange County Register."
Mon, 19 Jan 2004 11:22:48 -0500
My op-ed on the new Bush space initiative appeared on January 19, 2004 in
the "Orange County Register." To view the URL you might have to register
online but it's free!
Here's the piece!
Move aside, NASA
Private entrepreneurs should drive new space era, not federal bureaucrats.
By EDWARD L. HUDGINS Washington director of The Objectivist Center and
editor of Cato Institute book, "Space: The Free-Market Frontier."
One reaction to President Bush's plan for a permanent moon base and a trip
to Mars is, "Great! It's about time NASA stopped going around in circles in
low Earth orbit and returns to real science and exploration." Unfortunately,
there's not a snowball's chance in the sun that the same agency that
currently is constructing a downsized version of its originally planned
space station, decades behind schedule, at 10 times its original budget, a
few hundred miles up in orbit, will be able to build a station several
hundred thousand miles away on the moon.
If Americans are again to walk on the moon and make their way to Mars, NASA
will actually need to be downsized and the private sector allowed to lead
the way to the next frontier.
The lunar landings of over three decades ago were among the greatest human
achievements. Ayn Rand wrote that Apollo 11 "was like a dramatist's emphasis
on the dimension of reason's power." We were inspired at the sight of humans
at our best, traveling to another world. In announcing NASA's new mission,
President Bush echoed such sentiments, speaking of the American values of
"daring, discipline, ingenuity," and "the spirit of discovery."
But after the triumphs of Apollo, NASA failed to make space more accessible
to mankind. There were supposed to be shuttle flights every week; instead,
there have been about four per year. The space station was projected to cost
$8 billion, house a crew of 12 and be in orbit by the mid-1990s. Instead,
its price tag will be $100 billion and it will have only a crew of three.
Worse, neither the station nor the shuttle does much important science.
Governments simply cannot provide commercial goods and services. Only
private entrepreneurs can improve quality, bring down the prices, and make
accessible to all individuals cars, airline trips, computers, the Internet,
you name it. Thus, to avoid the errors of the shuttle and space station,
NASA's mission must be very narrowly focused on exploring the moon and
planets, and perhaps conducting some basic research, which also might serve
a defense function. This will mean leaving low Earth orbit to the private
Thus, the shuttle should be given away to private owners. The United Space
Alliance, the joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed-Martin that
refurbishes the shuttle between flights, would be an obvious candidate. Let
a private owner fly it for paying customers - including NASA, if necessary -
if it is still worth flying.
NASA also should give up the money-draining space station, and sooner rather
than later. The station might be turned over to international partners or,
better still, to the mostly private Russian rocket company, Energia - and
the Western investors who were in the process of commercializing and
privatizing the Mir space station before the Russian government brought it
down for political reasons. If need be, NASA can be a rent-paying station
NASA centers that drive up its overall budget but do not directly contribute
to its mission should be shut down. If the government wants to continue
satellite studies of the climate and resources or other such functions, they
could be turned over to other agencies, such as EPA and Interior Department.
NASA and the rest of the government should contract for launch services with
private companies, which would handle transportation to and from low Earth
orbit. Contracting with private pilots with private planes is what the Post
Office did in the 1920s and 1930s, which helped the emerging civil aviation
sector. Further, to facilitate a strong private space sector, the government
needs to further deregulate launches, export licensing and remove other
barriers to entrepreneurs.
Creating enterprise zones in orbit would help make up for government errors
of the past. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, proposes a "Zero
Gravity, Zero Tax" plan that would remove an unnecessary burden from
NASA will also need to do business in new, innovative ways. For example, if
a certain technology is needed for a moon mission, NASA could offer a cash
prize for any party that can deliver it. The federal government used such an
approach for aircraft before World War II, modeled after private prizes that
helped promote civil aviation.
Even if the federal government foots the bill for a moon base, it should not
own it. Rather, NASA should partner with consortia of universities, private
foundations and even businesses that are interested in advancing human
knowledge and commercial activities. NASA could simply be a tenant on the
Or consider a radical approach proposed by former Rep. Bob Walker, R-Pa. The
federal government wouldn't need to spend any taxpayer dollars if it gave
the first business to construct a permanent lunar base with its own money a
25-year exemption from all federal taxes on all of its operations, not just
those on the Moon. Think of all the economic activity that would be
generated if a Microsoft or General Electric decided to build a base! And
the tax revenue from that activity probably would offset the government's
revenue losses from such an exemption.
If we're true to our nature, we will explore and settle planets. But only
individuals with vision, acting in a free market, will make us a truly
The Objectivist Center is a national not-for-profit think tank promoting the
values of reason, individualism, freedom and achievement in American
culture. For more information, please visit www.ObjectivistCenter.org. To
unsubscribe to this list, or to subscribe to the Center's Web Update List,
please visit http://www.objectivistcenter.org/email_updates.asp.