BeeLine to the Future:The Exploration of Space

Robert Bee
Robert Bee's picture

Why has space exploration ground to a virtual halt? The primary reason is the expense, a problem that will not get any better as the countries of the western world, weighed down by budget deficits, find it harder and harder to fund space exploration. The western world is wasting too much money on the welfare state to fund a flight to Mars.

Some emerging countries like China may fund space exploration; after all, that’s one way for a new power to raise its status in the international community, but we need alternatives to the public funding if we want vigorous space exploration to continue.

In “Homesteading the Final Frontier: A Practical Proposal for Securing Property Rights in Space” Rand Simberg, writing for the libertarian think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute, points out that one of the chief problems holding back the exploration of space is the lack of property rights.

“Many believe that the 1967 Outer Space Treaty implicitly prohibits private property in outer space, but under another conceivable interpretation, it only prohibits declarations of national sovereignty. A proposed law requiring the United States to recognize land claims off planet under specified conditions offers the possibility of legal, tradable land titles, allowing the land to be used as loan collateral or an asset to be sold to raise funds needed to develop it.
“Such a law would vitiate the 1979 Moon Treaty, which does outlaw private property claims in space, but to which the U.S. is not a signatory. This should be viewed as a feature, rather than a bug. The law would not impose any new costs on the federal government, and would likely generate significant tax revenue through title transaction fees and economic growth from new space ventures carried out by U.S. individuals and corporations. It would have great potential to kick the development of extraterrestrial resources—and perhaps even the human settlement of space—into high gear” (

Why would a private company want to fund something as expensive as space exploration? If private companies and individuals had secure property rights in space, then they might invest in planets, moons, and asteroids: private companies and individuals could conduct everything from expensive vacations to valuable mining.

I’m not convinced that loopholes in international law alone will prompt the international community into respecting private property rights in space. America would have to lead the way and recognize private property rights, an enormously controversial position (and certainly not one that a leftwing administration such as the Obama administration is likely to take).

One strength of Simberg’s article is its recognition that property rights have motivated much of the exploration of frontiers and the development of modern civilization. Secure property rights and the opportunity to make a profit has spurred much of the good of the modern world, not government bureaucrats or politicians spending other people’s money.

It’s questionable whether this policy will be adopted because of the leftist attitude that space should be for “the common good of humankind.” I can imagine the lefty rhetoric: we can’t let the 1% settle space. Better to let it stay empty rather than let people – gasp – make a profit. Also, it will cause environmental damage if corporations mine the moon or asteroids.

The socialism of the international community tends to emphasize that the exploration of space should resemble the exploration of Antarctica, led by scientists and equally shared by the international community. The fact that this policy has led to stagnation in space exploration will not faze socialists, who never let the failure of their policies alter their prejudices.
Space is rather large, so vast that we can never transverse it, much less use even a fraction of its resources, so I’m skeptical that we need to maintain its entirety in a pristine state like Antarctica. To use property rights as an incentive to settle and explore space, the US would have to lead and possibly withdraw from some international treaties. This policy would also cost the government nothing, which would be an enormous benefit in a time of stifling budget deficits.



Keep Out!

Mama Fisi's picture

They may not have title to any of it, but NASA has been trying to get people to agree to respect its stuff and stay away from the historic lunar landing sites.

Nobody wants to see the sites damaged...but then nobody gets to see the sites now, anyway.

People have lost interest in space exploration because so far everything up there seems to be cold, dead, and boring. No alien life forms, no Roger Dean-esque vistas, nothing but miles and miles of parking space that it takes several days or weeks to get to, wearing a clumsy suit in the confines of an outhouse. Attention has turned from outer space to inner space--just witness anybody wholly absorbed in texting on an iPhone.

Companies won't invest in anything unless they can be assured of getting a return on their investment--only governments have the means to throw money at losing propositions. So as long as nobody can profit from any discoveries or inventions made in space, there's no incentive to make the attempt.

It will be sad if the most useful things we get from the US space program are pens that write upside down, and TANG.

Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting.
Magpie House Comics

Nobody wants to see the sites

"Nobody wants to see the sites damaged...but then nobody gets to see the sites now, anyway."

If the Left has their way, in a short while it won't matter. A century from now history books will assert the first men on the moon were Chinese. Hey, they went, they built stuff, they stayed. Luna City will be a Chinese outpost.

This has some basis in history. We know the 'first' Europeans to North America were Vikings. And so what? They didn't stay very long, didn't build anything. Columbus gets the credit, Spain got an empire. And most people in the Americas speak Spanish, not Swedish.

The Apollo sites will be a forgotten footnote to history.

I don't write that to bash China. I write that because I think that _if_ they can get beyond some structural problems their society has now, they - as a culture - have probably learned a thing or two from the last 200 years.

Mostly that it's better to control your own destiny than to be abused by smelly European traders and snotty Japanese samurai.

And smart guys realize that if you control the high ground you control the world.

What it comes down to - for me - is wanting the future of the solar system to be Anglo-sphere influenced, not dominated by 'crats and central planners.

Businesspeople are risk-averse

10000li's picture

I am a total advocate of the free market system. My heroes are folks like Milton Friedman, Henry Hazlitt and Ludwig von Mises.

But it's time to call a spade a spade.

Name a major economic undertaking of the past 600 years that was not paid for with extorted tax dollars, or at least protected by the guns of government.

Chris Columbus? Ferdi and Izzy used the money they seized from the rich Moors in Granada and the rest of southern Spain.

Magellan? 100% tax funded.

Raliegh? Why do you think he called it "Virginia"? (If you don't know, it's because the "Virgin Queen" Elizabeth gave him a patent, aka a monopoly, on that colony. Which meant that he could do whatever he wanted, and the English military was ordered to back him up.)

Louisiana Purchase and Lewis and Clark? Jefferson didn't get that $15 million from selling tobacco.

Every major pipeline, dam, mining operation, railroad, drilling rig and sports arena in this country was and is funded by you and me, though private corporations get the profit.

Whatever version of free market entrepreneurialism is left in this country (or the world) it happens in garages, at the kitchen table, or in college dorm rooms - never in board rooms.

If we really want private exploration and exploitation of space, we either need to do it ourselves, without any corporate or government backing, or we need to realize that the only way modern American companies will do it is if their butts are covered by a generous application of our tax dollars - y'know, corporate welfare - transfer payments of taxes from the middle-income earners to the already wealthy, which outpaces the transfer payments we make to the poor by about 1,000 to 1.*

*Don't believe me? Remember this: Every Federal and municipal bond is covered by the taxing power of the issuing government entity. Imminent domain is government seizure of private property for transfer to other private entities. Fannie and Freddie and Sallie are all *private* companies, who have the assurance of the government that any risks will be covered by the taxpayers. We can't turn on the news without hearing about another private company being bailed out with tax money. Add it all up and you will see: The business of America isn't business, it's for private companies to do whatever they can to collect money from the government, and they are much better at it than are "welfare moms" and illegal immigrants.