White House appoints first member of National Space Council


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The Trump administration today announced that Scott Pace will be the executive secretary of the National Space Council, headed by Vice-President Mike Pence.

Some might immediately think I will be upset by this choice, as Pace wrote a critical and what I consider to be a weak review of my policy paper, Capitalism in Space. This however is not true. We might have disagreed on some points, but I think that Pace might be an ideal choice. He has the ear and the support of the big government space companies, but also understands the need to let private enterprise run things more, a point he himself expressed in his review of my policy paper. As Dr. David Livingston of The Space Show wrote me today in an email,

Pace was the deputy administrator when Mike Griffin formed COTS which has turned out to be a pillar program for the emerging commercial space industry. I also know Scott is grounded well in economics, policy, and realism. He is politically savvy as well and that expertise will be needed to move policy and constructive programs forward.

Pace’s connections with the contractors who have been building SLS/Orion for decades are of course a concern, but his connections with COTS is cause for celebration. We can only wait and see where this goes.

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35 comments

  • LocalFluff

    Does anyone know if he gravitate towards the Moon or Mars? That he is so into international affaires worries me. Nothing good could come from that.

  • Fred k

    We worked on Constellation … so Luna.

  • Fred k

    Wow, I just read his response to your article.

    He is firmly stuck in old space and old government thinking. It was particularly galling to see the intellectually feeble argument that SLS is different because it is bigger.

    I’m worried about US space policy now.

  • mkent

    “Pace was the deputy administrator when Mike Griffin formed COTS which has turned out to be a pillar program for the emerging commercial space industry.”

    From what I have heard, Mike Griffin was opposed to COTS from the get-go and tried to sabotage it by choosing two contractors who had never built a launch vehicle (or any aerospace hardware) before. In fact, I’ve heard from a different source that he had ground-ruled out the EELV-based entries in the competition in much the same way he ruled them out for launching the CEV with his now infamous black zones. He wanted Ares I / Orion to perform all those missions. COTS was a special project directly from the Bush White House.

    Fortunately, SpaceX eventually got its act together and got Falcon and Dragon to work. We’re all better off for it, but I wouldn’t credit Griffin for it.

  • Anthony Domanico

    Scott Pace has stated in the past that he supports going to the moon first. I don’t think this crowd is going to like his reasoning though. His argument is that if NASA’s goal is humans on Mars our international partners are not going to be able to participate in any meaningful way due to the relative difficulty compared to Luna. Thus, his rationale is if we make the moon our first priority then the US can lead in a program that our international partners can contribute to. He further argues that if we lead in this international effort it will boost our soft power.

    Personally, I think we will get more bang for the buck if we continue to use cots like partnerships between the government and private sector. If the private industry is allowed to flourish, the need for international partners to help foot the bill will be unnecessary, or at the very least greatly reduced.

  • LocalFluff

    Could Ares/Orion have been a good idea 20 years ago? I mean, it is only a small adjustment of the shuttle’s launch stack, a cheap quick stop gap. Something which should’ve been done already from the beginning like with the Soviet Energia/Buran. I suppose the Soviets had a superior shuttle program because it was as socialistically managed in the US anyway, and politicians don’t even pretend to understand anything about space engineering so some engineer actually gets to make important decisions.

  • Tom Billings

    I think that Scott Pace’s appointment may be good or bad. He will be the day-to-day manager of a group working for VP Pence. I think that he has every chance to do some good things. What he has no chance to do is to continue after pissing off his boss, Pence. Every fool who wants to diss Pence is already assuming that Scott has free reign, because anyone like Pence must be too dumb to make sense of Space Policy. My read on Pence is that he has a substantive interest in spaceflight, and may be looking to a politically profitable association with it to boost him a bit in 2024. Space is *still* not politically important, but it is *not* a nothing burger, either.

    Whether Scott can deliver on that will have more to do with his length of tenure than whether he bumps up LockMart’s balance sheet. Thus, he has a good chance of making some good calls on Space Policy, even if he cannot get rid of SLS/Orion. His willingness to boost not just the New Space commercial launch industry, but the *in*space* manufacture of satellites too large for even an SLS to launch, will be a crucial to future development. In fact, that may do more to get rid of SLS than anything else.

  • Richard Malcolm

    Like you, I found Pace’s review of your paper to be extremely disappointing. It picked at its margins, and failed to come to grips with a central concern: NASA simply *cannot* afford to operate the SLS, and also develop and deploy any useful payloads for it, aside from the Orion capsule. Complaining, as Pace does, that SLS is behind schedule because it was underfunded(!) in its early years, only underlines this obtuseness.

    There’s an argument that SLS should be kept in train for the time being as insurance against failure of commercial heavy lifters now in development – since, as Pace notes, they are not operational yet, nor have they successfully served and sustained a viable, demonstrable private market that actually requires such launchers. That might be a worthwhile conversation to have. But it will not change the unworkable economics of SLS. Unless NASA receives a major boost to its HSF development budget, it won’t be able to do much of anything with SLS once it finally *does* reach operational status, because it will have no payloads for it, and won’t be able to fly frequently enough (projected now to have perhaps one flight every 1.5 years in the 2020’s) to achieve anything notable with them even if it *did* have them.

    Against all this is the small hope that might be sustained by the fact that Pace has been a little more open to commercial partnerships than his old boss Mike Griffin was; and maybe that he could be the Nixon who can go to China, given enough time. But I am skeptical. I expect the remainder of this administration to be continued drift in space policy. But this may well be the way it has to be, with the United States only able to revisit the entire architecture of its HSF program once a couple of commercial heavy lift launchers are in regular, cost effective operation – and SLS still is not. Only then, I fear, will the facts on the ground – and the sky – be strong enough to overcome the entrenched interests on the Hill.

  • Richard Malcolm

    P.S. One other item in Pace’s essay that worries me now: His mischaracterization of your position (and that of other commercial space advocates) that “public funds should be provided to private actors with little accountability or oversight in order to realize cost savings.”

    Is he really arguing that NASA has “little accountability or oversight” over COTS or CCDev? Just because NASA does not have the same kind of comprehensive level of control over these vehicles and their launchers as it does over SLS, Orion, the Shuttle, etc., does *not* mean that it is not working closely with Boeing, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences and Sierra Nevada on the development and operation of these vehicles. I really hope that it is not his intention to push for ratcheting up NASA’s role in these programs.

  • Tom Billings

    “Is he really arguing that NASA has “little accountability or oversight” over COTS or CCDev?”

    I hate the term “codewords”, as used in D.C, politics today, but this is a clear example of it. The degree of oversight provided in cost+ contracts under the full F.A.R. allows a Senator or Representative on the funding committees, through his contacts inside NASA and DoD, enough knowledge to leverage sub-contracts for their favored locals in their district. This means that dissatisfied locals won’t be contributing as much to primary challengers. The Space Act Agreements are put together to specifically exclude this sort of leverage, which is a huge portion of the agency cost of NASA and DoD funding committees in Congress. That, in turn, is vastly the largest amount of agency cost, and too often total cost, for NASA and DoD procurement. That’s why SLS/Orion costs so much compared to Dragon and Falcon Heavy.

    Basically, Scott Pace was telling Congress that he was on their side, in not wanting their leverage to disappear. The extent he proves to be truthful in this strong implication will determine how much he must allow the 70 years of Cost+ catastrophe to continue. As I said above, I am hoping that *in*space* manufacturing can do much to get around this, since by its nature, it *cannot* be done in some member’s district.

  • Richard Malcolm: You essentially sum up very nicely what I have been writing for the past decade. Once privately financed and affordable heavy-lift rockets are operating, it will be very difficult and generally impossible to justify continuing SLS. It will die.

    I expect this reality to finally sink in to Congress and the President sometime in 2020.

  • Richard Malcolm

    “I expect this reality to finally sink in to Congress and the President sometime in 2020.”

    That’s been roughly my sense as well, Robert. (Note Bene: I wouldn’t expect decisive action until after the election, so we’d probably have to wait until 2021 to see it play out.)

    In short: People inside the Beltway will have to figure this out the hard way – only after the evidence is overwhelming.

  • Richard Malcolm

    Hello Tom,

    “The degree of oversight provided in cost+ contracts under the full F.A.R. allows a Senator or Representative on the funding committees, through his contacts inside NASA and DoD, enough knowledge to leverage sub-contracts for their favored locals in their district.”

    If you have not seen or heard it yet, Elon Musk spoke directly to the problem of cost-plus FAR contracts yesterday at the National Governors Association’s Summer Meeting in Rhode Island. There’s a brief (7 minute) clip of it on YouTube now, in fact. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRgzd-nHcxU&feature=youtu.be

    Quote: “We gotta change the way contracting is done…the incentive structure is all messed up. As soon as you don’t have any competition, well, okay, the sense of urgency goes away. As soon as you make someone a cost plus contract, you’re incenting the contractor to maximize the costs of the program, because they get a percentage! They never want the gravy train to end, and they become cost maximizers.”

  • Richard Malcolm: The slowness in which government people and their minions adapt to change and new ideas here is proof once again why it is almost always a bad idea to give them power. Our government, as designed initially by the Constitution, understood this. In the past seventy years the American people seemed to have forgotten it. Maybe they are beginning to remember now and will apply this lesson, for the future.

  • wodun

    Anthony Domanico
    July 14, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    His argument is that if NASA’s goal is humans on Mars our international partners are not going to be able to participate in any meaningful way due to the relative difficulty compared to Luna. Thus, his rationale is if we make the moon our first priority then the US can lead in a program that our international partners can contribute to. He further argues that if we lead in this international effort it will boost our soft power.

    Mars could very well be too hard for our international friends but it looks like they have already chosen to focus on the Moon regardless of what we do. Being influential wherever humans go in space would boost our soft power. Done right, it can boost our economic power as well.

    Personally, I think we will get more bang for the buck if we continue to use cots like partnerships between the government and private sector. If the private industry is allowed to flourish, the need for international partners to help foot the bill will be unnecessary, or at the very least greatly reduced.

    I go back and forth between what is the best way to enable people to choose their own destination. There are several good options as long as we don’t lock all activity into a single path. The good thing is that no matter what the destination is, a COTS like approach will work well.

  • wodun

    Richard Malcolm
    July 16, 2017 at 8:53 am

    But I am skeptical. I expect the remainder of this administration to be continued drift in space policy.

    Tough to say but doubtful it will get any more attention than under other administrations. This could be a good thing if the private sector can push out on its own.

    But this may well be the way it has to be, with the United States only able to revisit the entire architecture of its HSF program once a couple of commercial heavy lift launchers are in regular, cost effective operation – and SLS still is not.

    Griffin was on the Space Show a while back and he gave some contradictory responses to New Space and COTS type of stuff. But his answers came across as saying, “These companies might be able to do great things but we don’t/didn’t know for sure and the government needs this capability so we are going to provide it as congress told us to. We want NASA to purchase more services but if it isn’t on a shelf, it isn’t off the shelf.” That was just my interpretation of what he said.

    It was a very pragmatic and realistic approach heavily limited by congress.

    It was a good show, and a short one, everyone should listen to it.

  • Edward

    Anthony Domanico wrote: “Scott Pace has stated in the past that he supports going to the moon first. I don’t think this crowd is going to like his reasoning though.

    I am not so concerned about NASA going to Mars. Musk is going to do this with or without NASA, so NASA should go with a project that it could do some good with. Going back to the Moon as an international project is not a bad idea, but it may complicate the job to the point that someone else beats them to it. Blue Origin has suggested that it is willing to send anyone anywhere, including the Moon, so all it needs is a customer who is able to pay to go there.

    I do not fear that we will reach both places well within a couple of decades.

    Anthony Domanico wrote: “Personally, I think we will get more bang for the buck if we continue to use cots like partnerships between the government and private sector.

    I agree, but COTS has done a great deal in getting commercial space up and running. If the government unwisely chooses to go back to the old way of doing things, then I think it will find itself beat to several destinations on several exploration missions.

    LocalFluff asked: “Could Ares/Orion have been a good idea 20 years ago?

    I don’t think so. It was not a good idea ten years ago, but government was not willing to get risky or creative, back then, to do anything better. Oh, that’s right, it still isn’t.

    LocalFluff wrote: “I suppose the Soviets had a superior shuttle program … and politicians don’t even pretend to understand anything about space engineering

    Buran launched only once, and that was unmanned; in another thread*, I have explained why Buran did not show its supposed superiority over the Shuttle. However, the Shuttle demonstrated its superiority over Buran. At first, I thought that LocalFluff was being sarcastic about Buran being superior to the Shuttle, but he seems to be genuine.

    Politicians defined important portions of SLS, meaning that they pretend to be rocket scientists. Rather than give NASA a budget and let it choose its own projects, Congress often puts specific projects into its budget, demonstrating that they like to think that they know something about space engineering. This limits the ability for engineers to make important decisions.

    * http://behindtheblack.com/behind-the-black/points-of-information/first-starliner-manned-flight-delayed-to-late-2018/#comment-1000626

  • Anthony Domanico

    There are some well informed, smart people in this crowd so I would like to pose a question that I have been pondering for a while now. Given where we came from and the current state of things, are we on a trajectory to have settlements in space within ~50 years? When I say we, I mean the US and when I say settlements I mean people live and work there and call it home. I would appreciate an answer from anyone who would like to chime in.

  • wayne

    Anthony-
    I’m just an interested amateur. That’s quite a question, 50 years is long enough for a whole lot-o-stuff to happen.

    Paraphrasing Dr. Livingston from the Space Show, “The 1st rule of space advocacy is, you aren’t allowed to rain on other people’s parades.”

    That being said, given your parameters and the ordinary use of the words, I’d have to say no.
    (and with that, I’ll sit back and see what others say before expanding)

  • Anthony: My sense right now is if private, competitive, commercial space is given the breathing room to become a healthy viable industry, then human settlements on the Moon and in orbit will definitely exist in 50 years. If not, then 50 years is probably not enough time, though the increasing competition between nations will make sure this settlement occurs in less than 100 years, at the most..

    That’s as far as I will go in my prediction. There are presently too many variables, including the Outer Space Treaty, the decisions of this and later administrations, Congress, and the actions of other nations.

  • Richard Malcolm

    Wodun,

    “Griffin was on the Space Show a while back and he gave some contradictory responses to New Space and COTS type of stuff. But his answers came across as saying, “These companies might be able to do great things but we don’t/didn’t know for sure and the government needs this capability so we are going to provide it as congress told us to. We want NASA to purchase more services but if it isn’t on a shelf, it isn’t off the shelf.” That was just my interpretation of what he said.”

    Unfortunately for Griffin, EELV’s *were* on the shelf in 2004-05. But he didn’t wait for Dick Shelby to outflank his Maginot Line. He proactively surrendered right out of the gate, and insisted on an architecture that was absolutely unaffordable for NASA. (The Congress Excuse doesn’t really fly; Orion would still have been built using FAR contracts at the usual places using the usual contractors, and the EELV’s would have been operated by ULA, which is also built in the usual places by the usual contractors. And that would have left enough money to start developing a lander.)

    Good engineer though he might be, he still seems to embody the Old NASA mindset of “Total Control.” He seems unwilling to grant any more credit to commercial space than he absolutely needs to.

  • Richard Malcolm

    Anthony,

    ” Given where we came from and the current state of things, are we on a trajectory to have settlements in space within ~50 years?”

    We might need to define “settlement.”

    I think we’ll have at least one man-tended (maybe even permanent) base on the Moon, and probably one on Mars.

    I would not call that a “settlement,” which to my mind is more than even a permanently staffed research base. It needs to be people living long-term there.

    Musk’s Mars program is still going to be an uphill climb. All I can say is that it’s not out of the realm of possibility, though if it happens it will take longer than he’d like, and he’ll need a few breaks along the way. Impressive as reusable rockets and private crew and cargo vehicles are, colonizing Mars is a dramatically more difficult – and more expensive – undertaking.

    For the foreseeable (50 years) future, I think nearly everything we’ll be doing in space will be done by robots, and that includes any mining of the Moon or NEO’s.

  • wayne

    -We have a government that is actively imposing socialism upon us all & we are already in hock for $120 trillion in unfunded liabilities. (Just wait until Mitch & Ryan are done with us, they WILL borrow & blow-away another $5 trillion, guaranteed.)
    -Interest rates have been essentially zero for almost 10 years. We need 4% GDP growth into the future, to even get us back to less-than-zero. (Highly reminiscent of Japan’s “lost-decade.”)
    -Never ever, liked JFK myself, and our Government didn’t “go to the Moon” in 1969 for any of those lofty idealistic reasons, we went to beat the commies, everything else was gravy and incidental. And we did it all, on borrowed money.

    If the question is, “is this all technologically feasible?” I would answer yes.
    If the question is, “is all this politically feasible?” I would answer no.

  • Wayne: Your answer about future settlemens is entirely focused on whether the U.S. will do it. Your points here are valid, but only for the this country. Other nations are moving forward, and don’t have these same financial problems.

  • wayne

    Just trying to stay within Anthony’s general question.

  • John E Bowen

    “Given where we came from and the current state of things, are we on a trajectory to have settlements in space within ~50 years? When I say we, I mean the US and when I say settlements I mean people live and work there and call it home.”

    Anthony,

    First a disclaimer. People don’t even seem to be on the same page when discussing how the space age developed in the past. These are supposedly objective facts. So how are we supposed to predict the future? When I think back 50 years, I recognize some “future things” but other developments have taken me totally, absolutely by surprise.

    So here goes. I certainly *want* the development of space settlements, which influences my judgement. Even so, I think there’s a really good chance it will happen, in 50 years, in the terms you describe. I don’t think the government will be the prime mover, though they’ll be a customer on some of the projects involved. To me, the main thing is for the government to mostly stay out of the way for design and construction work. How this plays out I don’t know, though I see a few options.

    One is a “company town,” vertically integrated the way a mining town or railroad town was in the old days. The mining company owns the spacecraft, the power production, the mine, the land around it, almost every building in town, including the only store and all the habitats, eh, houses. The employees work the mine and ship out the water ice, service the robots. In their spare time, some dream of more. Call it Jeffton, Muskville or whatever.

    Another possible model is McMurdo station. The history of US involvement includes the NSF, with some heavy lifting by the US Navy. Day to day operations proceed under authority of government agencies but are actually carried out by private contractors. Getting supplies, personnel and mail from home is quite doable, but it pays to check out the transportation costs first, just like on eBay. Sound familiar? This is plausible, not my favorite choice, but it could happen this way.

    A third possibility is just a mixture. The government may have placed a small research outpost (not a settlement by your definition). Or a mining concern along the lines of Shackleton Energy might have been the first, setting up a small plant with rovers, diggers and, of course, solar cells; but since they lack the really deep funding, there’s no permanent human presence, so it is almost 100% autonomous. Whoever arrives first, the theory is that they’re going to need others. Someone to fix the robots, someone to expand power production, expanded transportation services, more ground infrastructure, whatever you can think up. I’d call the first two “options” in the sense that the company town and the government station are both planned, a master plan if you will. In contrast, this third possibility just sort of turns out this way. It doesn’t mean that nobody had any plans, but that each successful segment still wasn’t enough to encompass everything happening in the small, but growing, town. It’s hard to predict the specifics since it is by definition very random; yet I believe this is the best possible outcome.

  • Wayne: You are absolutely right. I just can’t limit my thinking here to just the U.S., especially because the actions of other countries are going to influence what we do.

  • wayne

    John-
    interesting stuff.

    Great Topic! on many dimensions.

    The World of The Jetsons, reimagined
    https://youtu.be/37waZeR4isc
    (1:00)

  • John E Bowen

    Richard Malcolm –

    . . . I think we’ll have at least one man-tended (maybe even permanent) base on the Moon, and probably one on Mars. . . not a “settlement,” which . . . is more . . . It needs to be people living long-term there.

    . . . I think nearly everything we’ll be doing in space will be done by robots, and that includes any mining of the Moon or NEO’s.

    Very good point on the definition: it’s not just the number of people, but how they view themselves, how long they expect to stay. Are they mostly homogeneous in profession – 50 scientists plus 50 support staff are very different than a small village of people working for all different kinds of companies.

    Regarding automation, we’ve all heard the theme of “Build It (with robots) and They Will Come.” That is, I’m going to send my bots, have them build a nice hab to support me in the style to which I wish to become accustomed, and only then will I make the trip. I think this mostly true, and will help enormously. However, I’ve come around to a couple of ideas via Phil Metzger et al. Namely: during the development years, the bots you start with are not the bots you end up with. They get better in successive “generations.” Second, the automation (plus tele-operation, as needed) is not just restricted to mining and shipping water ice, but also includes automated factories for building more solar cells, more sintered roads and landing pads, even more robots. So, our whole operation expands, doubling every few years (generation). You might point out flaws in the approach. One is that you cannot duplicate the entire supply chain needed to build a sophisticated robot, you just can’t. It’s true of all the high quality subsystems, particularly the CPUs and other electronics, as in “You can’t make Intel go to the Moon.” The solution is to recognize that sure, your 2nd gen robots (and other needed machinery) will be cruder than the 1st gen sent directly from Earth. Later generations will be more refined, better, yes, but not at first. So you use local aluminum for the bodies, but ship up electronics. You don’t recreate an identical supply chain, but build a new one that works in this new situation.

    Back to the human dimension. Because the first generation of automated equipment is untried, and the second generation will be cruder than the first, there’s a serious argument for human presence at first, just to keep the whole thing working. Of course, advances in AI are pushing advances in automation at an amazing pace, funded by sources completely outside the space arena. And tele-presence or tele-something is a marvelous thing. Bottom line is that I’m not smart enough to say whether humans would be required at first, or not. The goal’s the same, though, to prepare a good place for people to live and work.

  • Edward

    Anthony Domanico asked: “Given where we came from and the current state of things, are we on a trajectory to have settlements in space within ~50 years?

    Nice question (look how much discussion started from it), but I would not limit “we” to just the US. Europe has expressed an interest in building a town on the Moon.

    I will focus on Elon Musk’s desire to die on Mars. He does not mean a suicide mission but a colonial mission. For him to do that, he would need to assure that there is a settlement, colony, or a permanently manned station on Mars long before 50 years from now. I think that Musk has a life-goal incentive to make this happen for himself, and he has a series of successful companies that can help him make it come to pass. Clearly, it is one of the reasons that SpaceX has announced that it will begin its own Mars exploration program. What other company has ever announced its own independent exploration of any extraterrestrial body?

    Musk announced a large rocket and spacecraft specifically designed to create a colony on Mars, and he seems to be trying to build it in the next quarter century or so. I think that he is serious in his desire, and he may be able to make it work. He has a quarter of a century to figure it out. At worst, SpaceX can arrange for his ashes to be buried on Mars sometime in the future.

    How we create the settlements that Anthony Domanico asks about has yet to be seen. Settling the Moon will be different than settling Mars. The Moon can be more dependent upon Earth and has different resources for the settlement to draw upon than Mars. The Moon also presents a series of different opportunities and difficulties than Mars.

    We could also create mining settlements on asteroids, and I would not be surprised to find a space station acting as a settlement or — longer from now than 50 years — a company or industry building a space colony a la Gerard K. O’Neill.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerard_K._O'Neill#Space_colonization

    wayne,
    The Jetsons reimagined was fun. I always wanted to live in the future, because it is so perfect there. I hope to make it, someday.

  • wodun

    Given where we came from and the current state of things, are we on a trajectory to have settlements in space within ~50 years?”

    I can’t see a settlement, like a major colony, on the Moon or Mars. I can see the beginnings of one. Everything takes so long to do, from the design stage, to construction, and transit. Because of the long time scale, we would need to see things right now, which we are!

    However, the first settlements will require a lot of prep work to find the right location and get things set up before any settlers set up on a planetary surface. This alone will take decades.

    In fifty years we will see many civilian people living in space but not necessarily as a settlement. The first “settlement” could actually be a space station and while people may live for extended periods on the Moon, the first planetary settlement will be on Mars. (Depending on how a settlement is defined)

    After all of the groundwork has been done, creating new settlements could happen at a much faster rate than we would expect today. But that first settlement? In fifty years, who can say? There are so many people interested and barriers are coming down while technological innovation is going up. I don’t think there are good predictions for fifty years from now.

    We can’t predict, or control, what the future has in store only that our collective human ingenuity will always be working on achieving our individual desires. We can’t overlook serendipitous discoveries or tragic black swan events either. These are some of the great, and scary things, about capitalism and the future.

    So who knows? I think things will go slowly at first but then expand rapidly once prospecting and infrastructure (used in a broad sense here) are in place. Fifty years from now, I hope we are near that tipping point.

  • DougSpace

    Hi Wayne. Here’s my answer to your question. We could fairly easily establish a settlement on the Moon in less than 50 years but it would take a modest tweak from the direction that we are headed.

    My concept starts with a set of public-private programs (aka “Lunar COTS”) costing 5-7% of NASA’s budget. It would align government and commercial interests and be designed to transition to commercial-only support fairly early. The components of Lunar COTS would be: vehicle development, cargo, crew, and lunar surface operations (e.g. telerobotic ice-harvesting for propellant & habitats).

    The key is to understand that the main thing that meets both public and private interests is low-cost transportation to the Moon in the same way that COTS led to lower-cost access to LEO both for the ISS as well as satellites. Since there is not a ready commercial market for lunar access, Lunar COTS funding could get the companies over the initial hurdle to where they end up owning a developed transportation system and are then position to start selling lunar access for private interests.

    But there would also be an intermediate business to help transition companies off of NASA and to commercial customers — sake of transportation to astronauts of many nations. Many (all?) nations would love to see their own astronauts conducting lunar exploration in their own language. This would be a huge, initial market that the American companies could serve apart from providing NASA access to the Moon. Here I’m talking of about 5-6 ten-degree suborbital hops before the lander would need to return to base to refuel. This would be American leading in space through its companies but serving all nations meaning soft power through commerce (“Follow our lead in commercializing space”).

    Now, re: settlement, I agree with your definition of settlement which essentially means establishing a home off Earth meaning a minimum of a husband and wife (family) and going with no definite plans for returning to Earth. Given that active retirees (e.g. 55+ years old) are the ones with the saved wealth and freedom from childbearing and work responsibilities, I anticipate that most of the first settlers will be retirees. So, we could have a real settlement in the form of retired couples even before we figure out how to safely raise children off Earth.

    Now, how different are the following?
    – A commercial base allowing for extended stays,
    – A permanent, scientific base allowing for extended stays,
    – A permanent base where private individuals stay for an indefinitely long time?
    Technically, these are about the same thing. So, shortly after Lunar COTS establishes a company base where crew is maintaining and expanding the telerobotic workforce to produce propellant thereby lowering the cost of everything else that comes, another habitat is set up for international astronaut stays, and then a third habitat is set up where private couples come to stay as long as they can. So, in theory, settlement is not necessarily that far away. It’s just a step beyond a permanent base.

    Now, many space advocates assume a that a settlement must produce something profitable if it is going to be sustainable — hence the focus of groups like the SFF on all things commercial space. But an active retirement community (e.g. Del Webb’s Sun Cities) mines nothing, manufactures nothing, provides no services to speak of and yet they are established and grow over time. How? Simple, the retirees made their profit in a market at another time and place and are now spending it. This is how the first lunar settlement will be established and it’s also Elon’s settlement will be established. Yes, the transportation, construction, and service companies will make a profit off of the retirees. But the community itself will, initially, not be profitable. They will spend more money that they will generate like any other retirement community. Then, with a growing population comes internal industries and services, children, teachers, etc.

  • Edward

    Retirees as customers. Not a new concept, just a new location for that concept. I suspect that many or most of the Virgin Galactic deposits are from older people, those who have spent a lifetime making money.
    http://www.agent4stars.com/virgin-galactic-passenger-list/#.WW__YPkrKJA

    As for retired settlers on other worlds, I expect that the retirees will come out of retirement, once there, to help develop better living conditions. Many likely will be among the most experienced at innovation or leadership, even if they do not directly make money for the settlement.

    Elon Musk will be of retirement age, when he finally gets to Mars, but I bet that he works very hard there, too.

    I hope that people continue to offer their views about off-world settlement. I am enjoying this thread very much.

  • Anthony Domanico

    Thank you for your replies. I agree with Edward, this has been very interesting.

    To be clear, the reason I asked specifically about our country’s future in space isn’t because I thought that we were the only one to have the capability to create a settlement. The reason I asked about the US is because I love this country. I want future settlements to have governments that recognize that people have inalienable rights that must never be trodden on. Like Edward said, our Founding Fathers wanted the government to respect Natural Law.

    Regarding the future settlements, I think most space advocates (and the general public for that matter) underestimate the effect that strong AI is going to have on all aspects of our society. I have become deeply concerned about this of late, but that’s a topic for a different discussion.

    I think there are a few different technologies, including AI, that have the potential to accelerate our progress in space, additive manufacturing and genomics to name a couple.

    Maybe I’m being naive, but I think there is good reason to think we will have at least a modest settlement in space by the arbitrary 50 year deadline. We have billionaires and multimillionaires who have made it their passion to have millions of people living and working in space. The diversity of companies that are planning on utilizing space based resources is also telling.

    Also, if one looks at human history in 50 year chunks there is one inescapable pattern. The progress being made has been accelerating. I think it’s easy for people that lived through Apollo to be a little cynical about space settlements and perhaps younger people such as myself tend to be a bit naive. In hindsight, it looks to me like Apollo was ahead of its time and may have skewed people’s expectations about our future in space.

    Thank you to our host, Robert, for indulging me with this topic. I realize it was kind of a hijack of the thread.

  • Edward

    Anthony Domanico wrote: “Maybe I’m being naive, but I think there is good reason to think we will have at least a modest settlement in space by the arbitrary 50 year deadline.

    I do not think this is a naive thought. The replies above have all been reasonable visions of the future, without getting into fantasy speculations. Our first settlement in space may not happen how or when any of us thought, and it may even take longer than 50 years, but I think that we, today, would be pleasantly surprised by it.

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