Into Space! Privately

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President
Bush has proposed the U.S. set up a permanent base on the moon,
and start making plans for a manned mission to Mars in a decade.

One’s
first reaction — certainly mine — is that it’s way past time for
humanity to get off the insignificant little rock called Earth,
and spread out. I love the idea of space colonization. And the sooner
the better.

But,
regrettably, the proposition isn’t that simple. For one, with the
U.S. government running reported deficits in the $500 billion range,
it can’t afford it. It’s insane to borrow even more money to finance
something you can’t afford, and arguably don’t need, no matter how
desirable it may be. Since this administration is cutting through
money like a gambler on tilt, though, a few hundred billion more
is now like a rounding error.

A
bigger objection, in my view, is that it’s a government project.
That means it boils down to a welfare scheme for NASA, which has
devolved into a bloated bureaucracy — a government agency that builds
rockets about as cost-benefit efficiently as the Post Office delivers
the mail. And, inevitably, the project will be part of the military
budget in disguise.

What
do I suggest? First, there’s nothing the government can do that
entrepreneurs can’t do at one-tenth the cost, and 10 times the speed.
Space exploration should be, and could be, entirely a private effort.

If
it was, my guess is that both Luna and Mars would be colonized by
actual colonists, not military men anxious to rotate back to Earth.
The costs of having to plan for a return voyage are simply immense,
and greatly increase the risks of traveling. Colonists would plan
on a one-way journey, and could be supplied at low cost until they
could use local resources to establish themselves. Doing it the
way we now do makes about as much sense as it would to have continued
sending out probes, instead of colonists, after Columbus discovered
America.

The
only sensible way to conquer space is to populate the planets with
men and women who are planning to stay there, and engage in profitable
economic activity when they do. The way Bush is proposing to conduct
the space program is an extremely expensive dead end. Just another
immensely expensive government boondoggle.

February
24, 2004

Doug
Casey (send him mail) is
the author of the best-selling Crisis
Investing

and The
International Man
,
and editor of the newsletter International
Speculator
.


        
        

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