gov't or private industry of Space Exploration.

Ok, in another thread, we were discussing MArtian life, and it veered into whether or not the Space industry should be privatized or not.

I want input on this one, folks!

Full scale exploration of the solar system will not occur until someone can find a way to profit from it.


Profit is just waiting to happen, if nothing else than from harvesting metals from asteroids…

We are within five to ten years of commercial development of space based enterprises. Tourism will most likely be the first to occur. Government sponsored research and development will still be required for the testing of new platforms and technologies. Transit tickets into orbit and even to the moon have already been sold.

As Edward Norton’s character from Fight Club best put it:

When deep space exploration ramps up, it will be corporations that name everything. The IBM Stellar Sphere. The Philip Morris Galaxy. Planet Starbucks.

Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Magellan, Captain Cook, Lewis and Clark… All state-sponsored expeditions. I think there will always be a role for government in the exploration of new frontiers, which can then be followed up by private individuals and corporations (and perhaps hybrid public-private entities as well) intent on exploitation (including colonization).

Hell, if they can get me there, they can call it whatever they want.

Seriously, though, I think you’re overestimating the powers of the corporate sector. If, say, Microsoft lands a team on Mars and claims it in the name of Bill Gates, then the U.S. government can simply seize their assets here on Earth - I’m sure the proper antitrust legistlation can be whipped up. And if some corp which is somehow immune to U.S. prosecution does it, than we can just ignore them. After all, the only people who have any right to property are those who can hold it by force - and big businesses usually have a very hard time finding people willing to die for them.

True - but we’re not talking about the missions themselves, we’re talking about developing the proper technology. If the private sector starts seeing profit in space we’ll se spacecraft improving - and getting cheaper - on a monthly basis; if NASA wants to go to Mars (or Jupiter, or Pluto), it could do so by investing far less time and money than it would have to do otherwise.

As I mentioned in the Martian life thread there are existing world treaties which invalidate the governmental colonization of space. That is, it cannot be owned by any existing country at least, though I’m not sure how it would apply to a private group colonizing in the name of their own created country.

Since no government may lay claim to territory in space, no business, presumably, may own it under the laws of any government either, which would make space either everyone’s land or no-man’s land. Somehow I think the latter is more likely.

That, IMO, is a eal shame because I feel that space exploration is crucial to our survival. We couldn’t dump enough funds and research time into it.

Well, government development and private industry development have always gone hand in hand. Werner Von Braun came up with the theory, but General Electric and others had to actually build the stuff. I don’t think that’s going to change.

The main problem is that industry can’t afford the space program, at least not yet. It takes the financial resources of a state to finance hundred billion dollar programs with no guarantee of success. Small science experiments could be mounted by industry, but not much more. The possibilities of making money are there, but the risks are just way too great to make any kind of economic sense.

And Zenster, tourism? I don’t think you’re going to have to worry about that any time soon. The current price of hauling materials tup into space to build stuff like hotels is cost-prohibitve. Existing transport craft aren’t resuable enough (keep your eyes on the X-Prize, though). Pan Am sold tickets to space back in the '60s. Look where they are now. :slight_smile:

There’s no point in harvesting metals from asteroids when raw materials are dirt cheap on earth.

And why (from an economic perspective) should businesses bother colonizing space when there are still so many uncolonized parts of Earth? Self-sustaining settlements in Antarctica, on the ocean floor, or floating on the ocean surface are all cheaper, safer, and more likely to reap returns than extraterrestrial colonies.

Economic sense is right, because there are no end to the number of people who would be willing to take the personal risk. I, for one, would volunteer in a heartbeat.


We’ll see how long that lasts once colonization becomes a viable option. Personally I don’t think the treaty will be worth the paper it was written on. It was made at a time when space colonization was still a far off dream. Wait a second, it is still a far off dream.


I can just picture it now. German prospectors on Mars find some fantastic mineral deposites. Russian prospectors decide to jump the claim since nobody really owns it. Comedy ensues as one side tries to kill the other.

It isn’t crucial any time soon. We’ve got plenty of good years left on Earth.


Yeah, see, I’m not sure what people mean by “privatization” here. It’s not like the U.S. has ever had a Soviet-style “Ministry of Aviation Industry” with state-owned and -controlled aircraft and missile factories. We’ve always used private contractors to build the rockets and spaceships and scientific instruments. NASA has even subcontracted mission operation to private (albeit nonprofit) organizations, like the way Caltech, a private university*, manages the JPL, which is responsible for a lot of NASA’s deep space exploratory operations. However, for deep space exploration missions, the government has generally been the entity fronting the money for all the contractors and subcontractors. (Although see this CNN story for a different approach.) And, for manned deep space exploration, I suspect that the crews will still have little shoulder patches with the logo of some government or multinational agency–NASA or ESA or whatever–even if their ships were built by Boeing and Arianespace. The time will come when you’ll have people in jumpsuits with the logos of Pfizer or Dow Chemical or Intel working on a corporate space station (or perhaps a public-private hybrid station). And after that there may be a corporate R&D parks on the Moon. But I suspect the first wave to each new place will tend to be people in government uniforms. Who knows, maybe I’ve just watched too much Star Trek. One thing, as people have pointed out in this thread, private enterprise doesn’t really thrive in the complete absence of law (there’s a difference between laissez-faire and anarchy). It’s helpful to have some sort of governmental regime on hand to do stuff like adjudicate property claims and enforce contracts and fend off the Space Pirates.
[sub]*I just noticed that the URL for this “About Caltech” page is “/boilerplate.html”. You can’t say they don’t have a sense of humor at Caltech.[/sub]

Same here. There was a thread a while back in which someone asked if someone would sign up for a “Voyager 3” type program, with no hope of ever coming back. I know I would.

Another problem, though, is that while some people would be willing to give the ultimate sacrifice, most people aren’t willing to give up anything to accomplish the goals. It’s always the “feed the poor vs. fly around in space” argument.

As far as nothing of value being in space, I don’t think that’s true. I know there have been very interesting discussions about Helium[sub]3[/sub] being a worthwhile substance to go after.

You may be interested to see the President’s “Budget Blueprint” for FY 2002, starting at page 130 of the pdf document (text page 155).

NASA gets a whopping 2% increase over last year, basically nothing. You know it’s getting rough when the last item discussed in the NASA budget overview is “Critical Capabilities,” a euphemism for “we’re gutting the space program so badly that we recognize the danger of losing the institutional memory necessary to perform formerly routine space operations.”

[Rant: NASA gets a mere $14.5 billion in discretionary spending while the benefits of their research performed in the past must be worth trillions in collected revenue over the past forty years. I’ll bet we don’t get that kind of return out of the freaking Department of Commerce, for chrissakes!]

It had better be the private sector that gets us out there. I think Americans have finally succumbed to the idea that we need to address our problems here on Earth, right under this giant pile of sand, where our heads are.

Necros wrote:

As far as nothing of value being in space, I don’t think that’s true. I know there have been very interesting discussions about Helium3 being a worthwhile substance to go after.
I don’t think you have to be that exotic. Plain Helium 4 exists in far greater abundance on the gas giants than on earth, and it’s a non-renewable resource. There was a time when they tried to recapture it (the last physics department I was at had a network of pipes for just this purpose), but now they just let it bleed into the atmosphere, and it ends up going to the top of the atmosphere, then into space. It’s inert, and doesn’t combine with anything. ( We have the supplies we have because it is a product of radioactive decay and ends up swept into geological traps atop oil pools and the like).

So why do we need it? Well, when your mini-microcomputers require extreme cooling and your SQUIDs need extreme low temperatures, you need helium for your dilution refrigerator, and nothing else will do to get you to millikelvins. And we’re blowing off vast quantities of the stuff for every Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

Of course, right now we’re not really doing either, so I fail to see the conflict…

Er, what did we get out of the space program profit-wise? I know these things are difficult to place a dollar value on, but I think your figure is a little high.

I think Americans have finally succumbed to the idea that we need to address our problems here on Earth, right under this giant pile of sand, where our heads are.

Ha! I love it. True true.

I agree that once colonization becomes a viable option there may be some “retrofitting” of our existing treaties. Interestingly enough, current treaties also forbid the detonation of nuclear devices in space, so fighting will be of the usual gun and mortar style in space. Even more interesting is the idea that we could use existing weapons ina theoretical “kickplate” device…using the explosions for interstellar propulsion to achieve speeds about 25-50% the speed of light (maybe even 75%). Carl Sagan went into this, I believe, in Pale Blue Dot (damn, I’ll have to reread that one to confirm). This makes interstellar travel to be a distinct possibility were the research there.

Or the funds.

As far as being OK on earth, errr… I dunno about that. It has been proposed that once a civilization reaches the stage enabling interstellar travel the pollution created by that venture will be enormous. Its possible that we may reach a stage where we need to start planet hopping, and et to attempt to do so would mean certain death. That’s a vaguely paranoid way to look at things, though. Just thought I’d mention it.


Heh heh…you put a lot more stock in treaties then I do. The biggest reasons nuclear weapons aren’t used here is because of the fallout damage. I might hesitate to use a nuke on Earth but I probably wouldn’t hesitate to use one in space to blow up the enemy.


There was a top secret program that looked into this possibility back in the 50’s or 60’s. Ended up being a bad idea on Earth but I suppose it might be possible in space. Just make sure you have enough bombs to make it back home.


What’s not to know. Seems to me that there are more humans then ever and they’re not going anywhere.


It was also proposed in the 70’s that we’d all be starving by now. Personally I think that by the time colonization becomes a viable option we’ll have most of our pollution problems beat. Of course I don’t think colonization is viable without a good nuclear or fusion power supply. But that’s just me.

It is possible. But it isn’t going to happen any time soon. We’ve got thousands of years left on this big blue ball.


My reading of the “international” status of space is that a colony would be governed by the U.N. as a trust territory until it developed enough to form its own state.

Some of the nations in the Pacific did this after World War II. The Union Jack or the Tricolor came down, the Blue Banner went up, and U.N. peacekeeping troops maintained order until the locals set up their own governments.

Then again, none of the trust territories were rich enough to be worth fighting over. I don’t believe space will be permanently colonized until we can see clearly profitable businesses to be had. And when a nation’s companies take interest, that nation’s government will start claiming jurisdiction. Antarctica was supposed to be an international territory, but several nations are trying to colonize it.

In answer to the OP, I don’t think that it’s an “either/or” situation. I think some government employee will plant the flag (US or UN; either would work) and then commercial enterprises will start carving up the real estate.