Off to Israel + new op-ed!


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My April travels continue. It has been too long since I traveled to Israel to visit family, so today I am heading out for the long flight, arriving tomorrow afternoon. I will be there until April 20. I expect I will be able to post, as I have in the past, though my commentary will likely be reduced somewhat.

Note that I will have a new op-ed published sometime this week at The Federalist entitled “What Trump’s space policy should really do.” I am positive that my conclusions will not be what most people expect. The op-ed was inspired by this comment by Edward Thelen, part of comments in connection with this Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast, where I talked about space exploration in the context of the American settlement of the west.

The comparison with the American west is appropriate. There have been other expansions throughout the world, too. In the 19th century, the US was not the only country that had a frontier. We have several examples of expansion from which to learn, but the frontiers in the Americas were clearly the largest, complete with immigration from the Old World straight to the frontier.

An example of a lesson — beyond Robert’s example of the Homesteading Act — is the need for better communication between the US east coast and California. Messages and people needed to move across the continent in far less time and in a safer manner than those that were available in 1860, so government funded a transcontinental railroad, a line longer than had ever been built or operated before. Earthbound or space-born governments may also have needs for similar large projects. Although the needs of We the People has been shown to be best met through private-ownership of free-market capitalist commerce, there will be times when government should also fund projects that solve its needs.

Edward was suggesting that the focus of the federal government — and Trump’s space policy — should be building an infrastructure that will make it easier for private companies and individuals to work in space. My initial response had agreed with him:

What NASA should do is build the kind of infrastructure that private enterprise needs to explore the Moon, the asteroids, and Mars. Build a communications network. Put communications satellites behind the Moon. Set up radiation monitors that private tourists trips will need to monitor solar and cosmic radiation. And even here, the model should be that used in the west with the transcontinental railroad, where the government hired private companies to do the work for it.

I need to think about this more. This needs to be written up properly.

In thinking about it, however, I completely rejected my initial response, and Edward’s suggestion. The infrastructure that the federal government needs to build in space has nothing to do with physical objects. This is the mistake everyone has been making for decades. In my op-ed I argue for something else entirely, and I hope the Trump administration is listening.

Stay tuned. When the Federalist op-ed gets posted I will post the url here immediately.

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2 comments

  • Frank

    Peace be with you Bob.

  • Edward

    Robert,
    I am not surprised that you are rejecting the idea of the government building/owning hardware in order to encourage private expansion into and throughout space. I think that the best use of government resources is for government to provide a legal and regulatory environment that does not hinder private companies and groups from living and working in space.

    At some point, private companies should be able to provide the physical objects and the services provided by those objects. Deep Space Networks (DSN) are a good example of a current government function that could be performed privately. Rather than DSNs built by six countries, two or three (or more) companies could build their own DSNs and compete for customers, who would currently be national space programs, but will soon include SpaceX, as it starts sending Dragons to Mars, and later include other companies and organizations as they expand into space.

    Government’s main functions are to provide protection from enemies, provide peaceful resolution of disputes, and to stay out of the way of its citizen’s lives and livelihoods. The citizens should be free to choose how to invest in and expand throughout space. Those who want to go back to the Moon should be able to, and those who want to go straight to Mars should be able to try that, too.

    However, government may have a need for hardware that allows for it to do its job in space, too. Such hardware may be similar to land and buildings, police cars and fire engines, and warships and warplanes on Earth.

    I eagerly await your op-ed in order to see whether your opinion is similar.

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