We really wish it were possible, but space activists have been trying and failing to rally the public to support a robust government space program since Apollo. Originally the aerospace companies gave the National Space Institute and, later, the National Space Society, huge grants to mount a professional PR & advertising campaign, complete with celebrity TV commercials, to promote space to the general public - until they finally realized it was hopeless.
As some of us predicted decades ago, in the end, the federal budget, and the taxpayers, would not allow more of a purely government space program that flew only government employees. Even those Americans who think space is "neat" consistently vote for tax-cuts rather than spending more on space development.
Those who hoped the cold war "national prestige" issue would keep the US space program healthy forever ignored what happened to the idea that national prestige demanded the US always have the world's tallest building. Eventually the public says "been there, done that" and stops measuring national prestige the old way. Both space programs and world's tallest buildings moved to being prestige items for second, and now, third rate powers.
The Obama administration and NASA have finally bowed to the inevitable and are ready to see routine space travel move to the commercial sector, and are ready to support it. Below is video of President Obama ending the hope of a government return to the Moon during his administration, with Buzz Aldrin in the audience.
And it's definitely not just President Obama. President Bush's unfunded "vision" was just a fig leaf to punt the inevitable far enough into the future that the following administration would have to be the one to actually pull the trigger. Obviously, if Bush could have funded the full Constellation program, he would have. Whoever is in office has no choice - except to try to let space activists down gently or shift the blame to someone else.
Understand, we are not among those who are happy to see a strong, well-funded NASA go away. We think it's a terrible shame. But a robust government space program is like so many wonderful things that can't happen. Eternal life, flapping your arms to fly, winning the lottery - would be really great, but they aren't going to happen no matter how badly we want them.
It's time for everyone to acknowledge the paradigm has shifted. The old order of space development we have grown up with has finally died and a new one has begun, for better or worse.
Just as aviation and the internet transitioned from government to private enterprise, from now on, space will be a realm for commerce and free enterprise - not just government astronauts.
That means space settlement or colonization will take place only when private enterprise is given a way to make a profit from it - and that potential profit has to be large enough to justify the huge risks and long lead time the project requires.
Perhaps Congress will insist on some transitional measures to ease the pain of ending the old style NASA manned space program, but it would be much better for Congress to give space entrepreneurs the regulatory environment they would need to open the space frontier for all mankind - and make a profit doing it.
Land claims recognition legislation would commit the Earth's nations, in advance, to allowing a true private Lunar settlement to claim and sell (to people back on Earth) a reasonable amount of Lunar real estate in the area around the base, thus giving the founders of the Moon colony a way to earn back the investment they made to establish it.
That would spark a new, privately-funded entrepreneurial space race to settle the Moon and Mars, making the new order of space development even more beneficial for mankind than the last one.
Note: The first 25 FAQs below are reprinted from the Space Settlement Initiative website.
What is the real purpose of enacting a Lunar land claims recognition law?
Will promising property rights be enough to produce the necessary investment in developing affordable space transport?
What does international law say about private property ownership in space?
Can there be property ownership without national sovereignty?
What if other nations refuse to recognize land claims in space?
Why not allow smaller, limited land claims for easier steps than settlement?
Could lunar land really be worth enough money to make a difference?
What conditions should the US set for recognition of a claim?
How much land should a settlement be able to claim... and why?
Why must the Earth-Moon space line and settlement be open to all paying passengers regardless of nationality?
Wouldn't it help if a major company announced that, if a land claims recognition law were passed, it would try to develop affordable space transport?
Are the weaknesses and compromises in this plan likely to be permanent?
Didn't the earliest version of this plan talk about Lunar "land grants"? Why aren't you using that phrase any more?
You can't farm Lunar land, and Earth doesn't need the Moon's minerals. So how could Lunar land be put to profitable use?
If you can't give figures, now, proving the profitability of the end uses of Lunar land, how could anyone raise big money for Lunar land?
Could other sources of revenue be enough without land claims recognition?
What if the Lunar settlement does not produce enough operating revenue to pay off its debts and make a profit?
Could the U.S. withdraw from the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, claim national sovereignty on the Moon, then award property rights to whomever it pleased?
What about defense? Does recognizing a land claim obligate the U.S. military to defend the Lunar settlement?
What effect would this have on NASA and the aerospace companies?
The FAQs above cover basic questions about Lunar Land Claims Recognition. The following questions address more advanced issues.
If we really went to the Moon in 1969, why aren't we there now?
What were the assumptions before the Outer Space Treaty, (e.g. Robert Heinlein)?
Could the UN just give every nation a portion of the Moon to own, thereby creating valuable Lunar property rights?
Why don't space activists convince the public to support a government program to establish a base on the Moon and Mars?
Will changing how NASA works bring the taxpayers back on board?
Could this law force the US to recognize a foreign government's Lunar land claim?
Shouldn't we wait to put such a law into effect until free societies are ready to settle the Moon, to keep it from encouraging the Chinese?
Would Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty prohibit Lunar land claims recognition?
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Every revolutionary idea passes three stages:
- Arthur C. Clarke