Socialists in Space

Opening a frontier is hard. It's even harder when you're a socialist.


Many viewed the space race of the 1950s and '60s as a battle between American free enterprise and Soviet communism. But the space program wasn't exactly a free market endeavor.

The original purpose of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was simply to help extend the development of aviation technology into space—a federal intrusion into the economy, but not a huge one. But with the advent of the Apollo program in 1961, the agency expanded into a massive state enterprise with no room for markets. Because the space race was viewed as an urgent battle in a potentially existential war, cost was no object; the saying around the agency was "waste anything but time." Because there was a mandate to get to the moon quickly, NASA did it in the most expensive possible way.

This unfortunately created the perception that it had been done in the only possible way. Spaceflight, according to the conventional wisdom, simply had to be accepted as an intrinsically exorbitant endeavor, something only the government of a superpower could do.

With the space shuttle, this mentality continued. NASA would develop and operate a single type of launch system, and it would use it to run a government monopoly responsible for getting all American payloads into space. It became almost impossible to raise funds for development of private rockets until the Challenger disaster in 1986 ended the use of the shuttle for commercial payloads. Fortunately, the Air Force had fought to preserve its own capabilities to get its satellites into space, so once it was no longer forced to use the shuttle for military missions it could continue with the Delta, Atlas, and Titan rockets that it had been relying on since the early '60s.

Even with the advent of commercial launch vehicles in the early 21st century, even with the 2011 retirement of the shuttle, Congress resisted the idea of private enterprise in space. Once Mike Griffin took over NASA in 2005, George W. Bush's 2004 Vision for Space Exploration quickly devolved from a focus on commercial launch providers to the subsequently canceled Constellation Program, with a focus on new and expensive government rockets that use shuttle components, owned and operated by the space agency. This happened because he knew that Congress would find anything else unacceptable.

Sure enough, when the Obama administration canceled that program, which was vastly over budget and falling behind schedule, space committees in both houses of Congress insisted that it be restored in the form of the Space Launch System and the Orion crew capsule. This was done on a bipartisan basis, because any fealty the Republicans had to private enterprise was vastly exceeded by their desire for NASA pork. Some, such as Sen. Richard Shelby (R–Ala.), derided the low-cost launch company SpaceX as "hobbyists in a garage." The spectacle prompted one analyst, Polispace founder James Muncy, to declare that "Democrats don't believe that capitalism works within the atmosphere, and Republicans don't seem to believe that it works above it."

Despite all this, we are now on the verge of getting affordable private access to orbit for large masses of payload and people, regardless of how much money Congress insists on wasting on NASA rockets. After years of delay, both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are expected to finally start offering suborbital flights to paying passengers in 2020. More important, both Boeing and SpaceX will be delivering crews to the International Space Station in the coming months, finally ending America's dependence on Vladimir Putin's Russia for space station access, which began when the shuttle was retired eight years ago.

Most important of all, two versions of an all-new fully reusable spaceship are being assembled by SpaceX in Texas and Florida; their designs will eventually converge into a single one combining the best features of each. On September 28 at the Texas site, the company's founder, Elon Musk, described a vehicle almost 400 feet tall that would deliver 100 people to various destinations in space, with the initial capability of achieving orbit within six months, at very low marginal cost.

The work is moving at a pace unseen since the 1960s, and it could result in a true spaceflight revolution, driving the cost of orbital access down to a few tens of dollars per kilogram of payload, rather than the thousands per kilogram it's been since the dawn of the Space Age. That would open vast new off-planet opportunities for humanity.

It will also bring to the fore a lot of ideological issues that up to now were just theoretical. Opening a frontier is hard. It's even harder when you're a socialist.

Most American schoolchildren are taught about the first Thanksgiving, when the Pilgrims, with the help of the indigenous people, celebrated their first successful harvest. The part of the story that often goes untold is what happened before that success—the initial failure that led to the loss of so many pioneers in the first years of the colony. It was not a result of the new environment, so different from that of the long-settled England from which the immigrants had come. It was a failure of socialism.

When the Plymouth Company adopted the settlement's initial economic rules, it stated that "all profits & benefits that are got by trade, traffic, trucking, working, fishing, or any other means" were to be placed in the common stock of the colony, and that "all such persons as are of this colony, are to have their meat, drink, apparel, and all provisions out of the common stock." In other words, to use a phrase from a subsequent century: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.

About half the settlement died of starvation in the first winter. It was only after the colony changed its rules to allow people to keep the product of their own efforts, for their consumption or for sale, that they finally had the first bountiful harvest. This wasn't a unique event; many of the early English settlements, including Jamestown a few years earlier, had to learn the lesson the hard way.

What are the lessons of this experience for our next frontier, the harshest one to date? Some view settlements in space as a new venue for liberty and social experimentation. But others, including the famously libertarian science fiction author Robert Heinlein, have argued that this time, the environment really is different in important ways: that the lack of gravity, of natural atmosphere, and of easily available water and food—not to mention a radiation environment for which we are not adapted—will introduce dangers that demand collective controls. Space colonists will be critically dependent on new technologies, just one mistake or failure or act of sabotage away from disaster for an entire settlement. It would be too dangerous, we're told, to permit the kinds of freedoms that people could have had on the American western frontier. The resources needed to sustain space settlements, these critics say, will require collective, not individual efforts.

But as the technologies for living in space continue to develop, they will in fact offer more opportunities for independent living and new forms of social experimentation, including more libertarian lifestyles. For instance, use of extraterrestrial materials, such as lunar regolith (or moon dirt, for the layman), will allow construction of larger and much more robust structures to protect against vacuum breaches and radiation. Additive manufacturing using such resources will enable smaller groups to be independent in terms of equipment crucial to survival. At some point, food may be manufactured, rather than farmed, on a usefully small scale. Ultimately, of course, terraforming of Earth's moon or Mars (or even other bodies, such as other moons) could provide the same level of safety in volume that we currently have on Earth itself.

Collectivism isn't needed in outer space, but plenty of people will try to legally compel it there anyway. Princeton space historian Haris Durrani spoke for them when he claimed recently in The Nation that the 1967 Outer Space Treaty (full name: the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies) "famously opened by declaring space 'the province of mankind.'" The treaty, which repeatedly uses the phrase "exploration and use," in fact says that space activities "are the province of all mankind." In any case, Durrani goes on to complain that the treaty still does not provide "strong collective property rights" (emphasis added).

The space collectivists, recognizing this "problem," a decade later came up with the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, a.k.a. the Moon Agreement, which postulates a "regime" that ensures the solar system's resources are used in an "equitable" way. It also outlaws private property on extraterrestrial worlds—a violation of Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For these reasons, among others, the U.S. government has refused to recognize the Moon Agreement as one of the U.N. space treaties. The current administration has repeatedly stated that space is not in fact a commons, and many (including me) have argued that the Moon Agreement's language is fundamentally incompatible with the wording of the Outer Space Treaty and that no one should be a party to both treaties, though all who have acceded to the Moon Agreement are.

The United States became wealthy not through collectivism but through free markets, including secure contract and property rights under traditional English common law. Some have argued that the combination of Article II of the Outer Space Treaty, which forbids claims of national sovereignty, and Article VI, which requires "continuing supervision" of persons by the states that are parties to the treaty, make it legally impossible to establish those rights in space. But without them, it is extremely unlikely that space will be developed, or that the solar system's rich resources will be harnessed to improve life on Earth and create abundant new life on other worlds.

Some will consider this a feature, not a bug. There are people both within and outside the space community who see space as, at best, a domain only for pure science—and there are people who view humanity as a curse on the planet that should not be allowed to spread beyond it.

Fortunately, there's a strong case that this interpretation of Articles II and VI is mistaken, and that in fact property rights, whether for homesteading or for harvesting resources, can be allowed under the Outer Space Treaty. Multilateral agreements with like-minded nations could obviate the notion that doing so would be a claim of "national" sovereignty. Several figures in the space community, including me, are now working on a project to develop such agreements, with the U.S. State Department and National Space Council on board.

Space is too important to be left to government monopolies, and while space settlements shouldn't require English common law, they must be allowed to embrace it. Socialism, like other ideologies, will be permitted off planet. But socialist space colonies will doubtless languish, as they do on Earth. It is those societies that allow individual liberty and free enterprise that will flourish, filling the solar system, and perhaps eventually the galaxy, with life, consciousness, laughter, and love.

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  1. Great article and thanks for a such a good Knowledge.
    Your Faithfuly row lyrics

    1. Okey time to leave earth

  2. We Koch / Reason libertarians should stop using “socialism” like it’s a dirty word. After all, socialists like AOC agree with us on important issues like #AbolishICE.


    1. Yeah buddy, you sure do push immigration above all. Live long enough to become the parody.

      1. It actually is a parody.

        1. Meta is the new normal

        2. Yeah, but it’s not good enough parody to figure out what he actually believes.

          Is he for open borders? Against them? Is he a capitalist? A socialist? A Trump lover? A Trump hater?

          Can anyone whose noticed any specific patterns in the posts let me in on what he actually believes? The only thing I’m fairly sure about is that he isn’t a libertarian.

          1. If we assume he actually supports the opposite of everything he says he comes off as a standard Trump supporter, albeit with an odd anti-billionaire (or at least anti-Koch) twist

  3. There’s a difference between freedom and independence.

  4. Space is too important to be left to government monopolies

    One of the basic necessities of life is food, and thank God we don’t leave it up to the operations of chance and fortune in the free market to provide us our daily bread. We’d all starve to death in a week if there weren’t some central authority directing the production of wheat and the distribution of bread. Can you imagine the chaos if just anybody that wanted to were allowed to open a grocery store and just decide for themselves what sorts of food they would stock and what sorts of prices they would charge? What if they chose poorly? It would be a disaster.

    I get this same argument when I suggest the government might not need to provide any services at all – but what about things like the roads and water and electricity and cable TV? Surely you have to admit monopoly production of these things is more efficient than multiple companies competing in producing these things? Imagine all the multiple wires and pipes and infrastructure all over the place! And when I suggest competition might produce a better product at a lower price, I’m challenged to suggest how such a thing would work. Well, I don’t know how it would work but then again, you’re not offering me a slice of hundreds of billions of dollars worth of market share to come up with a plan for how it would work, are you?

    Montgomery Ward and Sears and A+P and K-Mart and Walmart and Amazon didn’t change the way we expect distribution networks to work because they were ordered to come up with a better way to distribute goods, they came up with a better way because they saw an opportunity to make a shitload of money. Lots of other people saw the same opportunity, but you’ve never heard of them or forgotten about them because they failed at capitalizing on the opportunity, but they at least provided a valuable object lesson in how not to do things to the eventual winners in the competition. Why would the distribution of roads or water or electricity – or outer space development – be any different?

    1. “Why would the distribution of roads or water or electricity – or outer space development – be any different?”

      It’s hard to imagine space exploration for profit. The astronauts brought home a collection of moon rocks which, sold in the free market, could have recouped only a small fraction of the cost of sending the men there.

      Exploration is very risky and costly, and it’s not surprising that business avoid sinking money into such ventures. The Apollo space program was almost entirely military, and the contractors were overwhelmingly connected with the military.

      1. Yes, I too… Even though I’m a big-time space-tech buff… Don’t see much near-term, practical payoff. Moon rocks worth tens of billions of dollars for their fetching-costs? As you said!

        Longer term, we can mine water on the moon in the moon’s “cold traps”, to create rocket fuel for… For MORE travel! WHERE is the payoff? Well OK, a long time from now, MAYBE mining asteroids for precious metals (much more prevalent metals there than here). Other than that… It is science and knowledge, and VERY little else, for a LONG time to come!

        Now the other giant caveat is asteroid collisions with Earth… I am a devout libertarian, so I hate to ‘fess up to this! But here’s “market failure”… If Bill Gates spends $80 billion to save the human race from the next GIANT asteroid, then HOW does he collect $10 from everyone on the planet, to pay him back?

        Fending off asteroids sounds like a legit use of Government Almighty money, then, seems fair to me… Much of the rest? ALL of the rest? Leave it to market forces!

        1. Fending off asteroids is for wussies and pussies, though! We might need to move the Sun (and our entire solar system with it), in case (if-when) there are any wandering black holes or pending supernova threatening us, too close by! THAT is why we need to start, NOW, on developing the “Caplan Thruster”!!!

          Physicist designs a bizarre ‘Caplan Thruster’ spacecraft to drag the entire solar system across the universe for hundreds of light years to avoid being wiped out by a deadly supernova

          Dr Matthew Caplan of Illinois State University devised the contraption
          Would be able to move the sun 50 light years in just one million years
          It would be powered by two nuclear engines allowing it to act like a tugboat

      2. It’s hard to imagine space exploration for profit.

        Yes it is. But I’ll bet it would be easier to imagine if somebody were offering you a hundred billion dollars to imagine it.

        1. And if there’s no conceivable way of making a profit on space exploration, then why the hell should the government be underwriting a money-losing operation on the backs of the taxpayers? It’s just Top Men substituting their opinions for yours on what’s for your own good. Make NASA a non-profit and solicit donations and then we’ll see how many people are willing to put their money where their mouth is on how valuable long-term research is. Or make NASA a public corporation and sell shares in the enterprise and we’ll see the same results. Each share could include a transferable option to buy a plot of land inside the Martian Dome or the Earth 2.0 Dome when the time comes to move beyond this solar system. Which is the long-term strategy we’re really talking about – ensuring the survival of the human race beyond the survival of our Sun.

          1. “Which is the long-term strategy we’re really talking about – ensuring the survival of the human race beyond the survival of our Sun.”

            I’m not sure that flying off into space in search of an Earth substitute while the sun goes super nova is a reasonable goal. And colonization of harsh environments has an unhappy history on earth, with penal colonies and the like, perhaps space will be no different. There are lots of people who would like to visit Mars, but people appreciate water and air too much to consider living there.

            1. Colonization of harsh environments on earth has been massively successful.

              That’s why Eskimos live where they live. Its why people live in the Sahara.

              The only ‘penal’ colony has been Australia. You can’t call that unsuccessful. And I wouldn’t call Australia a ‘harsh environment’ either. Outside of the memes its not more dangerous than where I live in the US.

              1. “Colonization of harsh environments on earth has been massively successful.”

                The harshest environments on earth, Antarctic and the oceans, remain largely uncolonized. Humans overwhelmingly prefer a breathable atmosphere, drinking water, plentiful and varied food, and a temperate climate. Space offers none of these things.

                “The only ‘penal’ colony has been Australia.”

                And it’s a nice place, these days. When prisoners were sent there, it was tantamount to a death sentence. They were not seeking profit but were compelled to go by the government.

                1. The key problem for growing food in Antarctica is the lack of a reasonable day-night cycle.

                  Mars, on the other hand, has one, and free-floating space stations can have them.

                  Sure, for relatively-low-capitalization outposts designed to be dependent on a supply line, Antarctica is easier than Mars or space stations. But for long-term colonization, Antarctica might well be worse.

            2. “I’m not sure that flying off into space in search of an Earth substitute while the sun goes super nova is a reasonable goal.”

              Is anybody asking you to do that?

              1. If they did, I would probably try to persuade them to try solutions closer to home. But indeed, surviving a super nova is going to be a tough order to fill. Even Socialists might not be up to the task.

                1. Haha. Well, ya know what they say about socialists and cockroaches?

                  So, there’s a chance?

            3. I’m not sure that flying off into space in search of an Earth substitute while the sun goes super nova is a reasonable goal.

              Consider the technological change from the year 1020 to today.

              Apply that much change from today to 3020.

              Repeat that 1 million times, until the year is 1,000,003,020.

              I don’t think any of us have any ability to judge whether going to another star will be “reasonable” or not after that much change.

              1. By then we will have evolved to the point where we become one with the universal overmind. So one more star system won’t matter.

                1. There is no ‘universal overmind’, but yes, you will, long before then, have moved to a state where the explosion of a sun is not important.

                  Nevertheless, there will be attempts made to prolong the life of this particular star. They started a few million years before it was to expand to red giant status. Not from sentimentality, but rather to ….process everything left in the system that could be ‘processed’ before the expanding sun got to it and made processing it more ….difficult.

        2. It’s hard to imagine space exploration for profit.
          That is why Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and others succeed while you fail.

          1. They are renting space on rockets. They never leave the ground. This is not exploration. Exploring is journeying into the unknown. Think Captain Cook, Yuri Gagarin, or Neil Armstrong, all government sponsored military men, not businessmen.

            1. Sure, that’s exploration. But exploration is not limited – like war – to ‘boots on the ground’.

              1. But exploration is discovering the unknown. Who is going to rent space in Musk’s operation if he tells you that once the rocket lifts off, nobody knows what it will encounter? Business is based on the routine, almost the opposite of exploration.

                1. Who is going to rent space in Musk’s operation if he tells you that once the rocket lifts off, nobody knows what it will encounter?

                  I would lay odds that you could fill that ship in a fraction of a second.

            2. Elon Musk literally made a space company for the explicit purpose of putting a colony on Mars. You don’t get much more space explorationy that that. And if his satellite internet service actually works, he’ll probably succeed. That might make Apple’s balance sheet look anemic.

              1. And if his satellite internet service actually works, he’ll probably succeed.

                It’s not going to succeed as a wholly independent venture from a lot of angles. If it weren’t the amount of unreachable junk that it’s almost certain to generate and leave in orbit, it would be the fact that its HQ/owner(s) live on Earth where people who want to control information flow can and will.

            3. The socialist colonization of the New World was truly a human tragedy.

      3. It’s not hard at all. It’s the normal way to do things.

        What is impossible to imagine is any collective doing anything well. The Space Shuttle is Exhibit A. It was supposed to replace expendable rockets. It ended up costing more per launch than expendable rockets. There is your Green New Deal all rolled up ready for comparison.

        Your ilk will never admit it, any more than you admit Venezuela or Cuba or the USSR were socialist at all.

        1. Honestly I think the shuttle was worth it just for the Hubble telescope. It kinda sucks it can’t be repaired or upgraded anymore.

          1. Ground telescopes have already surpassed Hubble in capability, at far less cost.

            How much would you have personally paid for Hubble, and what gives you the right to demand others help pay for your hobby? It cost billions. What of the opportunity cost? All that money meant other people couldn’t buy the things they wanted. What makes it right that a few astronomers and people who like pretty pictures should be able to steal their money?

            I doubt Hubble advanced civilization one bit. None of its discoveries were “timely” — if all its discoveries had waited for the better ground telescopes of today, society would probably be more advanced because those and other people would have used that money to do practical things, and when ground telescopes got cheaper and better enough to make those same discoveries now, no one could point to a single one and say how much better society would have been if those discoveries had been made sooner.

            I like astronomy, I’d donate to funding its research if my taxes didn’t support it. But I never would have paid a dime for the bloated inefficient incompetent Hubble. Remember the botched mirror? I do. Government at its best.

            1. Hubble did give us some awesome screensavers though.

          2. i would be willing to bet that if the Hubble Space Telescope was offered for sale on the open market, someone would buy it, and figure out how to make money with it.

            1. I bet someone would! Presuming it would be any good for earth imaging, TV news would pay for the overhead shots of forest fires or oil spills. Eco-idiots would pay for shots of oil spills, smokestack pollution, big city haze, deforestation, glacier retreat, iceberg calving. The fun with that would be when they skip the years of less haze, reforestation, and glacier advance.

              It would also be interesting to see the difference in bids between those who think SpaceX could provide access for repairs, possibly with a robotic tug to lower its orbit, and those who don’t think it has much long term future.

              1. Presuming it would be any good for earth imaging…

                It’s not. From here:


                Can Hubble Space Telescope observe Earth?

                If the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) could observe Earth from its orbit 570 kilometers (350 miles) above Earth’s surface, it would in theory be able to see objects as small as 0.3 meters (30 centimeters). But it’s not possible to turn the telescope in an Earth-observing direction. Here’s why.

                First, the brightness of Earth would damage the instruments aboard the telescope.

                Second, HST would have to look down through the atmosphere, which would blur the images and make the actual resolution or sharpness of the Earth images worse than theory suggests.

                Finally, the HST orbits the Earth at a speed (27,000 kilometers per hour or 17,000 miles per hour). Its speed in orbit above Earth is so fast that any image it took would be blurred by the motion.

                Bottom line: It’s not possible to use the Hubble Space Telescope to observe Earth.

                1. What tricks do the Air Force equivalents (KH-11?) use to image the Earth?

                  1. Different sensors, different orbits.

                2. I work for a company that makes filters that help with imaging solar flairs, among other space exploration missions. I doubt that “the brightness of the earth” is a big problem.

                  Not defending Hubble, just sayin.

        2. “What is impossible to imagine is any collective doing anything well.”

          You are surprisingly harsh on space exploration. The American programs, Mercury through Apollo were able to achieve their objectives with minimal loss of life. It was an amazing accomplishment. Even the Soviet program, after Khrushchev at least, was surprisingly safe considering the unprecedented nature of their activities, space walks, docking etc. There were accidents and glitches on pretty much all of the missions, and I suppose you can criticize them for poor quality control, slip shod manufacturing, lack of adequate training, poorly motivated personal, but I’m amazed that the team (or collective) managed to solve them all with minimal loss of life.

          “Your ilk will never admit it, any more than you admit Venezuela or Cuba or the USSR were socialist at all.”

          I don’t know much about Venezuela, and I can’t speak for my ilk, but Cuba and USSR were communist, or socialist if you prefer. I’m familiar with Leftists who referred to them as ‘state capitalist,’ There is amble room to quibble.

          1. Apollo was amazing, I don’t deny that. But it cost a fortune, had no long range plans, and when it was cancelled, NASA floundered until they morphed into the Space Shuttle disaster, which killed more people than Apollo despite being less bold, and cost more than the expendables they replaced. I saw one cost analysis which claimed a Saturn V for each launch would have been cheaper and put more in orbit. NASA also refused to help the Manned Orbital Laboratory remain in orbit because it showed how little the Space Shuttle was needed to build the International Space Station, a project so worthless that it was NASA’s official plan to de-orbit it once built because no one had any use for it.

            1. You don’t need to convince me of the problems of the Shuttle. A space elevator is likely to be the ultimate answer to the issue of servicing orbiting equipment. It will be risky, costly and like the other pioneering space projects, it will be collective.

              1. You have a funny way of forgetting who did pioneer rockets. Does the name Goddard ring a bell? How about Burt Rutan and Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos today?

                1. If any of these businessmen had the failure rate of the entirely tax funded American programs were facing in the early days of the 50’s, they would be driven bankrupt. Things like research and exploration typically have no immediate practical application and are expensive and no guaranteed outcome.

                  1. I gotta give you credit. You don’t just say stupid shit, you say the SAME stupid shit over and over!

      4. The same could have (and probably was) said about 16th and 17th century European ventures looking for resources in the Americas.

        1. The Americas were a cake walk. The voyages to Australia (a collective enterprise of the Royal Navy) were far far more daunting.

      5. mtrueman
        January.12.2020 at 10:13 am
        “It’s hard to imagine space exploration for profit.”

        The same way it’s hard (for some) to imagine how all that food gets to Manhattan every day. It must be a miracle!

        1. Paris, always go with Paris, it’s the Bastiat way 🙂

      6. It’s hard to imagine space exploration for profit.

        Space capabilities have been built largely for defense purposes to date. The next wave, just starting, is space tourism. As technology gets cheaper this will grow and spin off all sorts of new capabilities. Exploration will likely be a sidelight, perhaps funded by government, but taking advantage of the new capabilities. Orgies on the moon will pay the way for science in due time.

        1. Tourism is not exploration. If it were, it wouldn’t be profitable. Exploration is costly and risky. It’s journeying into the unknown.

          1. You think de Gama and Columbus et al were exploring? They had profit in mind and they got it.

            1. Profits were in their mind, no doubt, but taxpayer doubloons paid their way. They were both exploring, journeying into the unknown.

              Da Gama’s ships were heavily damaged, thanks to sailing in unknown and stormy seas, and the amount of spice was small. After returning, he received a pension from the King. And it was left to others to exploit the possibilities Da Gama opened for them.

              1. The sponsors may have been kings, but it was profit they wanted. They didn’t give a damn about exploring. They wanted money, moolah, profits.

                1. ” They didn’t give a damn about exploring. ”

                  Sure they did. The whole point of the trip was to find an alternative route to the spices, which is what they wanted.

              2. “…but taxpayer doubloons paid their way.”

                There were no robust capital markets back then. Times have changed.

          2. Tourism is not exploration.

            Who said it was?

            Tourism makes exploration and exploitation cheaper.

            Industry has done more exploration than government ever will.

            Ever hear of oil exploration? Industry explores for resources, and learns as a byproduct. Pharmaceuticals are another.

            You have little understanding of what exploration is.

            1. “You have little understanding”

              You really can stop there

            2. “Ever hear of oil exploration? Industry explores for resources, and learns as a byproduct. Pharmaceuticals are another.”

              Rocket research, space exploration and such things are typically government funded.

              1. “Rocket research, space exploration and such things are typically government funded.”

                As it is so it ever shall be, right?

                1. “As it is so it ever shall be, right?”

                  Not at all, and you shouldn’t be so pessimistic. When space exploration is not so risky or expensive, then private interests should start to take up the slack. Until then the tax payer will pay, as in Apollo, Gemini and Mercury.

      7. It’s hard to imagine space exploration for profit.

        Depends on cost. With a space elevator just on the moon, and Earth still sending things up with conventional rockets, mining helium-3 on the moon would become a money making venture.

        1. “a money making venture.”

          Anything can be a money making venture if you’re not willing to take in the initial costs into account, and building on the backs of tax parasites like NASA.

          1. If a private company builds a space elevator on the moon and begins sending back helium-3, then how is that “not willing to take in the initial costs into account, and building on the backs of tax parasites like NASA”?
            It’s like roadz: the fact that a trucking company profits from using public highways doesn’t make them collectivist- the owners didn’t have any more choice on the government taking over highway building anymore than you did, and without government, roadz would be built anyway.

            1. “If a private company builds a space elevator ”

              If it relies on government funding then it’s socialistic. It also probably relies on and builds upon knowledge and experience derived from socialistic programs like those undertaken by NASA.

              1. No, I meant a private company doing it with private capital.

                1. “No, I meant a private company doing it with private capital.”

                  If it can be done cheaply enough, why not? But this projects like the Apollo require years long commitments, are enormously expensive and fraught with risk. Very few business people would take the chance.

                  1. mtrueman
                    January.12.2020 at 11:14 pm
                    “If it can be done cheaply enough, why not? But this projects like the Apollo require years long commitments, are enormously expensive and fraught with risk. Very few business people would take the chance.”

                    Cite missing.
                    So your hope that your bullshit convinces someone is good enough, you pathetic piece of shit?

                  2. “But this projects like the Apollo require years long commitments, are enormously expensive and fraught with risk.”

                    Gee, kinda sounds like trans-continental railroads, doesn’t it?

                    1. “Gee, kinda sounds like trans-continental railroads, doesn’t it?”

                      Gee, no it doesn’t.

              2. “If it relies on government funding then it’s socialistic.”

                Like… the Holocaust?!?!?!?!?!?!!?!?!

            2. I always liked the “helium 3” as a valuable resource argument. The source of that was the notion that we are going to invent fusion reactors that are dependent on He3. Which might just be more of a fantasy than the moon-mining aspect.

        2. Well, if deuterium/helium-3 fusion ever got anywhere. But since we haven’t managed simpler deuterium/deuterium fusion . . .

      8. You mean finding an asteroid with a load of precious metals – millions of tons worth – isn’t worth anything?

        You’re also thinking short term – the costs of exploration go down over time – and forgetting what we’re already doing in space that makes tons of money – satellite services. Communication and surveillance capabilities. Its not too long before orbital manufacturing will be practical.

        1. ” Its not too long before orbital manufacturing will be practical.”

          But it’s expensive and risky. That’s why socialism takes and will take the lead in things like research and exploration. The private sector couldn’t even face the cost and risk of developing touch screens, far safer and cheaper than constructing orbiting factories, and it was left to the tax parasites who run DARPA to finance touch screen development.

          1. That’s why socialism takes and will take the lead in things like research and exploration.

            You assume that because the government did something – at great expense – earlier than private enterprise that then only the government could ever do that something.

            And, uh, socialist states are not exactly known for being at the forefront of innovation.

            1. Heard of Sputnik? It was a Soviet satellite that was famous for being at the forefront of innovation. How about GPS? American socialists are to thank for that.

              1. I suppose the Wright brothers were government apparatchiks in your mind as well.

                1. If you have access to the resources required to launch a sputnik”I suppose the Wright brothers were government apparatchiks in your mind as well.”

                  They were bicycle repairmen and tinkerers. Had they been chasing profits they would probably had stuck to bicycles. Launching a sputnik into space draws on vastly greater resources than the Wright brothers had access to. It’s a matter of scale.

                  1. mtrueman
                    January.12.2020 at 11:22 pm
                    “They were bicycle repairmen and tinkerers. Had they been chasing profits they would probably had stuck to bicycles. Launching a sputnik into space draws on vastly greater resources than the Wright brothers had access to. It’s a matter of scale.”

                    Again, you prove your ignorance, you pathetic piece of shit.
                    Can’t find it on the front room book shelves, and I’m not willing to waste time looking on the library shelves for an ignoramus like trueman.
                    “The Wright Brothers”, McCullough. If it is possible, you might learn something; they hoped to make MONEY, scumbag.

                    1. Not only did the Wright Brother INTEND to make money, they DID make money.

              2. “Heard of Sputnik? It was a Soviet satellite that was famous for being at the forefront of innovation.”
                Uh, no. The rocket was pretty hot stuff, largely designed under coercion, but Sputnik wasn’t much.

                “How about GPS? American socialists are to thank for that.”
                “1957: Russia launches Sputnik. The satellite gives MIT scientists the idea for a positioning system based on radio signals.”
                MIT; hotbed of socialists!
                Besides which, that’s you best effort? Thousands of years of
                human progress and the best you can come up with are those?
                You are lame.

                1. You forgot….

                  Government funded =/= socialist.

                  And counter-example – SpaceX is currently developing the largest rocket ever created. It is designed to be completely reusable and bring the cost of access to space down by 2-3 orders of magnitude while simultaneously allowing access for larger payloads than ever before. It is being built at breakneck speed in a field in Texas. They will likely spend less than $2 billion on the entire endeavor.

                  Compare and contrast with the “socialist” version, the new SLS being built by Boeing/NASA. They’ll say they are about 10 years and $20 billion into the project, but that ignores the $15 billion or more and decade they spent on the prior project that was cancelled by Obama (because it was to be used for Bush’s Mars initiative. You know, the one that Obama put back in his second term so it would have his name on it instead of Bush’s). This monster was created to be a fast and efficient way to build a heavy lift vehicle for access to space. It uses entirely off the shelf components (shuttle engines and shuttle derived boosters), so it would be cheaper and faster to develop. It will cost at least a billion dollars per launch – on top of development costs and ongoing expenses.

                  They expect to launch sometime in 2022.

                  SpaceX should be launching their test article later this year. Maybe orbital by the end of the year if Musk is to be believed (or at least in 2021, barring major setbacks).

                  SLS will be able to take up to 7 astronauts into space. SpaceX’s new launcher will be able to take hundreds. (yes, you read that right. They have discussed making an airliner-like version to carry passengers. That would have similar capacity to an A380.) But you really don’t need to carry them to the space station – the SpaceX rocket has about the same interior volume as the entire ISS.

                  Huzzah for “socialism”. Worse. Slower. More expensive.

                  (OK, I’m using your definition of socialism. I would call it crony capitalism. And I’d also call out the “it is republicans” quote in the article – the SLS like the shuttle before it is an entirely bipartisan endeavor… by design. The components are farmed out across key states to ensure that it gets bipartisan support.)

      9. It’s hard to imagine oceanic exploration for profit. The mariners brought home a few pounds of gold and some slaves, which, sold in the free market, could have recouped only a small fraction of the cost of outfitting the ships and sending the men there.

        Gron not like Thag go look for things. Thag and hunters go, bring back only few rabbits. Is worth hunters die for few rabbits? Stay. Stay safe in valley. Like always was.

    2. Surely you have to admit monopoly production of these things is more efficient than multiple companies competing in producing these things? Imagine all the multiple wires and pipes and infrastructure all over the place!

      1. Roads are already built by multiple competing companies. Its just a single major *customer* for them – the government. But even government isn’t the sole customer for road builders. The majority of roads built in the early days of colonization and even in the early years of the country were funded by private investors and there are still roads built that way today.

      2. Cell phones. Cell phone service providers are multiple companies that build out their own infrastructure and lease the use of the infrastructure to other companies. This allows you access to a seamless national cell network. In fact, it even allows companies that do not build any infrastucture of their own to work as cell phone carriers – MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operators). California has a multitude of electricity provision companies you can subscribe to – they ‘re not all building redundant electrical connections across the state.

      1. Almost everyone’s home address is on a privately built road. Everyone who doesn’t live downtown anyway. Neighborhood roads are built by the developer – a private concern.

  5. No matter where mankind goes, some men will always try to control other men.

  6. I am ok with sending every socialist to space. In a galaxy far, far away.

    1. And being a socialist endeavor, it will be too inefficient to afford return tickets.

    2. YES! Let’s send all the socialists to space … with out a space suit!

  7. NASA was one of the two things which first convinced me government was incompetent (the other being the Vietnam War). Apollo had seemed all hunky dory, other than the Apollo 1 fire, but I was too young to realize how much it had cost. Then came the Space Shuttle. I remember all the politics that went into the design — too big, because otherwise the Air Force couldn’t use it to launch their Hubble-equivalent spy satellites. Supposed to replace expendables, but it ended up costing more per-launch than expendables. The silly crew requirements which were only necessary to build the ISS, which they could not justify by any means. Letting the MOL de-orbit because it conflicted with NASA’s dreams for the ISS. Officially planning to de-orbit the ISS as soon as it was built because they had no use for it.

    I probably would have detested government incompetence regardless, but NASA sure provided excellent examples of monopolistic bureaucracy at its best. Any business which had been so incompetent would never have lasted as long as NASA, and that is the advantage of free markets.

  8. Reason will still defend illegal immigration and the rights of illegals to air, food, and water, even if it kills the colonists.

    1. Stowaways on rockets? How intriguing! Do tell more.

  9. So what’s the difference between space and Antarctica?

    1. Space industry could be set up, w/o giving a hoot in Hell about toxic pollutants… Except for crazy ninnies and nannies, if we dump some nasty crap on the moon… Bury it a wee tad to defend against giant asteroid impacts that might slop some of it over to the Earth, for the worst of the pollutants… And have a ball! Stop worrying about the toxins! Ditto for deep-space asteroids mining… Dump the trash in orbits that are safe from Earth impacts, and pollute away!

      The same can’t be said of Antarctica… Greenland has some pollutants (from USA military activities) soon working their way out of the ice sheets there…
      Greenland calls for clean-up of toxic U.S. Cold War bases

    2. Antarctica has these active volcanoes which I suppose can be tapped as a source of energy. It also has huge amounts of water and an atmosphere perfect for human life. It’s also warmer than Mars or the moon, and has a ready supply of lichen and blubber to eat.

      1. And the lichen and blubber is BIO-RENEWABLE, so the tree-huggers will get right on board with it… Right? RIGHT?!? (Well, maybe not, we’ll have to pay an army of consultants and lawyers to study this for us).

        1. I think there’s an international treaty to prevent Antarctic exploitation. Any Antarctic activity is sure to be socialist.

    3. Space is incredibly more harsh and unforgiving.

    4. “So what’s the difference between space and Antarctica?”

      No bars in space. Not yet anyway.

  10. “For instance, use of extraterrestrial materials, such as lunar regolith (or moon dirt, for the layman), will allow construction of larger and much more robust structures to protect against vacuum breaches and radiation.”

    Mining on the moon? Moon environmentalists would like to have a talk with you. Right now.


      Kensington mine in Alaska took 20 years to get permits… How many years will miners have to wait, to get mining permits on the moon?

      Inquiring minds want to KNOW, dammit!

      There Are Thousands of Tardigrades on the Moon. Now What?

      Tardigrades… Now that humans have put them there as castaways… Don’t they deserve clean air and clean water? Moon mines are BAD for tardigrades, M-Kay?

      Tardigrades ALSO deserve education, health care, nutritious food, a harassment-free working environment, and equal reproductive rights!

      1. Gine them a billion years or so. They will have all that AND warp drive.

        1. Spore drive.

          That’s what tardigrades use.

  11. Let’s send Trump, Pelosi and Schumer into space. Gary the Conqueror can be the ship captain. I would be proud to help fund this venture.

  12. I’m not really familiar with this writer (Rand Simberg), but the tone and attitude are sort of like the way Reason USED to sound, many years ago. Unless i missed it, there wasn’t a single mention of global climate change, Trump’s latest crime against humanity, or even a “to be sure”. Could this be the “new old Reason” or the “old new Reason”? It’s too early for April Fools.

    1. I think he’s from The Volokh Conspiracy.

    2. Look at the dates of his old articles if you click on his name.

  13. I support the privatization of space and I am happy to see companies like Space X and others develop. I am also happy that NASA will allow tourist on the ISS. I think that a section of the ISS owned by Hilton would be great. Having said this I would hope that we all acknowledge that the development of basic knowledge will usually fall on the government or some common. Many of the first scientist were wealthy men or were supported by wealthy men and that wealth often came in the form of the government. So a prince, an earl, or a duke supported by government taxes would be the benefactor to a scientist. In the same way the colonist of Plymouth Colony benefitted in the second year based on the hard won knowledge of the first year. This may have help a much as changing the economic system. The question always comes at what point has the government provided enough basic knowledge that the market can take over an use that knowledge for practical uses. It has taken much of my lifetime (I was in Kindergarten when John Glen circled the earth) and we have come to the point with space exploration.

    1. “The market” is nothing more than people freely interacting. People will use knowledge for practical purposes however they desire. Unless government gets in the way, of course.

  14. The only thing that will make money in space is sex.

    1. Ever had sex in a swimming pool? It’s quite overrated. Pools are used to simulate zero gravity. So I doubt it would be a good sell.

      1. Well, in space, one wouldn’t be using chlorinated water as a lubricant…

  15. Opening a frontier is hard. It’s even harder when you’re a socialist.

    It is difficult to maintain ideological conformity if you don’t have enough commissars around to shoot the dissenters.

    It is also hard to open a frontier when you have enough commissars to maintain ideological conformity – because they keep shooting everyone.

    1. Guns in space is an interesting concept to think about. What if you were in orbit around a planet and you fired a bullet. Wouldn’t it just orbit around and hit you from behind? Plus the recoil would knock you back.

      1. 1. No. Because it starts at your orbital speed, adding (or subtracting, depending on which way you fired it) its muzzle velocity. This will force it into a higher (or lower) orbit.

        2. Unless you’re braced or using a recoilless gun. Or a laser gun.

      2. Wouldn’t it just orbit around and hit you from behind?

        Only with lathe-turned custom loads and maybe in a caliber like 7mm Remington or 6.5-284 Norma. Your off-the-shelf, match grade 5.56 or 7.62 is only gonna be good out to like 5,000 or so orbital miles. Even then, you’ll have to lead yourself; aiming for where you’ll be in anywhere from ~90 min. to a ~1 day, rather than aiming for where you are now.

  16. . . . with no room for markets.

    There is a difference between ‘nor room for’ and ‘deliberately excluded with threats of violence’.

  17. What collectivists cannot comprehend is that libertarians celebrate collectivism, so long as it isn’t coerced. They don’t understand that people can work together towards a common goal without a gun in their back.

    1. Thats called volunteerism.

      1. Takes all the fun out of it for the guys who think they’re going to be the ones who get to point the guns.

      2. Doesn’t have to be volunteerism….. it could be paid or free. Whatever. Just not coerced.

        Look at tech… there are loads of industry standards groups that operate entirely outside of government oversight. People working together to create something public. A major chunk of the systems we are using to post here are dependent on these standards.

        1. I call it cooperativism. It doesn’t refer to the paid/unpaid idea–it refers to the notion the one joins or leaves at will (or at the terms parties consent to.

    2. Which is probably why the kibbutz movement worked. It was voluntary and organized as a small community. Not a system of government.

  18. There is really not much reason to go to the moon except we really like it.

    1. At the end of the day, that’s really the only reason why we do anything – because we’re going to get something we really like out of it.

      1. the dear moon guy who is going to take a group around the moon on a SpaceX rocket has found something to get out of it…

        Apparently he just broke up with his girlfriend and is going on a Japanese game show like “the bachelor” where he holds out the possibility of taking a potential mate to the moon with him.

  19. ironic Americna Astronauts are flying into space the last decade on a 1960s (albeit updated a bit) Soviet Design. Nasa became the worst form of Govt “jobs” program after Apollo. The money spent on the idiotic and most dangerous flying machine ever in service could have be spent on continued Saturn development and multiple moon missions and keeping a real space station (like Skylab still the largest in diameter and usefulness space station) in orbit. Decades later we are back to space capsules…as we should have stayed with. The SLS and Orion are a waste of money…don’t need them. Musk will beat NASA to the moon..honestly the SLS will never fly a manned crew.

    1. “honestly the SLS will never fly a manned crew.”

      Aren’t manned crews an anachronism from an era where an 8K computer was about the limit? Robots don’t need food, water, air, diversion, sleep, excretion etc. Adding the human element to the mission makes it monumentally more complex. And expensive. You’re still thinking of making a profit, aren’t you?

      1. “SLS never flying a manned crew” would be great… hell, SLS being cancelled tomorrow would probably be great. Blue Origins and SpaceX both have better rockets in development. Both could have been developed and built and flown for the price of the SLS program, with loads left over.

        But it ain’t happening. There is way too much invested there. They’ll fire that puppy up and sent a capsule around the moon, just to justify its existence.

  20. Space is limitlessness. Trying to stop the exploitation of even near earth space, will be unenforceable and fruitless. The only thing stopping it now, is the high cost and lack of possible access.

    Remember, first England, then America tried to control the relentless pursuit of land in North America. One lost a continent, the other eventually had to relent and allow the hoards settle.

    Space is our future. Our history as a civilization (if you want to call it that) is exploring, exploiting, settling, and calling it their own. To do otherwise, would ignore what works, would ignore the fundamental human condition and its apogee of greatness. To say its too important, and should be controlled by government, misses the point that government is supposed to be for the benefit of the people, not limit or shape the potential of the people to some fatalistic ideal of the “proper” way to explore our new universe.

    1. Enforcing it would be super-simple. Even the most sophisticated spacecraft is extremely vulnerable. Stopping exploration or exploitation by competing entities would be very, very cheap, comparatively speaking.

  21. Eh, I guess SpaceX is ok, but even Elon Musk will acknowledge the true pioneers of space travel were Yuri Gagarin and communists in the Soviet Union, who beat capitalists into space. It’s amazing what communism can do… even Elon Musk will Tell you that.

    1. “It’s amazing what communism can do… even Elon Musk will Tell you that.”

      Like 100,000,000 innocent deaths?
      We all knew you are stupid, but I doubt even that taxpayer pickpocket Musk would agree with you idiocy here, you pathetic piece of shit.

  22. This article contains a lot of free market triumphantism for something that was spearheaded by the Soviet Union.

    1. “This article contains a lot of free market triumphantism for something that was spearheaded by the Soviet Union.”

      Like 100,000,000 innocent deaths?
      We all knew you are stupid, but I doubt even that taxpayer pickpocket Musk would agree with you idiocy here, you pathetic piece of shit.

  23. Moral busybodies see the “errors” of their current established societies, and which to impose corrections on the frontiers. That’s explains the collectivist colonies in the new world. It explains why much of Antarctica is unowned and multinational. And why seasteading and sea farming is frowned upon.

    And of course why we see calls for government ownership of space.

    The moral busybodies see space as the next big blank canvas to paint their utopias on. Yet we’ve had fifty years of very little progress in space, a slow pace that actually slowed down as key technologies (computers, materials) elsewhere greatly improved. The busybodies may point to an inefficient congress, but other nations haven’t had a faster pace.

    To put it in perspective, imagine NASA were in charge of the airplane. Invented in 1902. The first commercial flight was only 12 years later. Twelve years after Kennedy’s moon speech we only had Skylab, using leftover Apollo parts. Fifty years later we STILL don’t have actual commercial space flight. But fifty years after the invention of the airplane, commercial air travel was solid and established, despite government controls over airports. The heyday of passenger air travel really didn’t really start until deregulation two decades later. If NASA had been in charge, 1952 would have had no commercial flights, just a couple of companies out in the desert taking NASA contract jobs to deliver the mail.

  24. Relax.

    The collective problems of survival in space doesn’t require socialism, it requires tyranny. Whoever owns a station, or settlement, or dome, or whatever, will be the petty little tyrant who gets to decide who gets tossed outside of an airlock.

    Basically, it’ll be an extension of the ship’s captain in international waters: the law is whoever owns the tub. Anything else is by their permission.

    Which is to say, while space may not socialist, it also won’t be libertarian.

    1. I agree with this point! Thanks for making it

    2. Which is to say, while space may not socialist, it also won’t be libertarian.

      A fair point, in the near term at least. That said, the amount of private businessmen attempting to monetize space right now today could be said to be more libertarian than the alternatives.

      Just because the barriers to entry into space are huge doesn’t mean it’s necessarily anti-libertarian. It just means you have to already have a huge amount of money to attempt it. In theory, at least, anyone can try.

      In the long term, it seems likely that those barriers to entry won’t be the same in a 100 years though. I note that the barriers to buying a house in, say, Kansas no longer involves fighting off Indians or crossing an ocean on a pile of lumber anymore making it much more approachable to the common man.

      I note that I no longer need approval from a European King to emigrate to the Americas, and I’m sure those same European Kings probably couldn’t have predicted that ever being the case.

      1. you never needed permission from the king to emigrate before either, you just hopped on a ship. passports were a 20th century invention.

    3. But it was on Firefly.

    4. I agree that the flavor of authoritarianism space travel will be along the lines of maritime/martial codes in existence on the high seas today. People will still be able to choose which carrier they will use according to their own best interests at that time. Do you want a Panamanian or Liberian flagged ship? Depends on what your gonna do.

      The flavor of (land) colonies will be as mixed as it is today but favoring high authoritarian rule where complex/vulnerable survival systems are required. Picture the consequences of faulty/DIY construction/materials on pressure hulls or water production/storage infrastructure.

      The need to control individuals is inversely proportional to the ability to survive.

  25. So this appeared in the Feb 2020 issue that arrived in my mailbox the same week that Boeing’s unmanned orbiter attempted and failed to achieve the correct orbit height to dick with the ISS. The mission had to be scrapped. Allegedly the orbit level was miscalculated by the contractor based on wrong results arrived at -calculating time zone and universal Time en route. Boeing’s current safety and governance problems aside, the author might have tried to offer examples of successful public-private partnerships and where a balance towards reducing costs and leveraging NASA experience could be achieved?

    1. Ha. To DOCK with the ISS. But the pun works either way, that the Boeing orbiter remains an ISS virgin!

  26. Many viewed the space race of the 1950s and ’60s as a battle between American free enterprise and Soviet communism. But the space program wasn’t exactly a free market endeavor.

    It kind of was…

  27. “Maintaining the ability to launch satellites without the Shuttle” was a secondary effect for the USAF at best.

    Delta, Titan, Atlas and every other rocket that the USAF ever used to launch satellites into orbit was originally designed to be the “booster” portion of an ICBM during the Cold War.

    The EELV program in the late 90’s which helped to develop the two rockets (Delta IV, Atlas V) that are now built/sold by ULA for commercial as well as military launches were ostensibly the first US-built single-use rockets that weren’t derived from ICBM’s (although they were also claimed to be “evolved” from previous lines to avoid concerns about reliability on the part of launch insurance underwriters).

  28. socialists don’t even want to explore space. they want to waste all that money closer to home.

  29. awesome information and i like to share this to my friend

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