New Space Race

August 4, 2017 – Volume 27, Issue 28
Is the U.S. falling behind Russia and China? By Patrick Marshall


Should the private sector take over the management and design of U.S. space exploration from NASA?


Rick Tumlinson
Chairman, Deep Space Industries, and Founder, New Worlds Institute. Written for CQ Researcher, August 2017

Exploring and opening space should no longer be something exclusive to the government — that it does for the people — rather it should answer the needs of government, and support those who want to go there themselves, to explore and create new homes.

To put the issue in context, let us separate science from exploration, settlement and development. In the first, the customer is the scientist. In the others, the customer is the people. A scientist wants data and information. If the private sector can provide the data cheaper, better and faster, it should get the job — and in most cases it can.

In exploration, the payoff can be science, strategic power, prestige or information that supports the nation or its people's ability to utilize or live in the places explored. Explorers on Earth have always been funded through a mix of sources. In the past, many were employed by government, as were Lewis and Clark. Today, some explorers are government employees, but many operate on grants from the government or private sources.

Settlement and development in space must be initiated by citizens but should be supported by the government. By being so, every other aspect of national interest is satisfied. To the extent that NASA funds can be allocated in ways that enhance human development and settlement of areas of space where people want to go, the agency should be allowed and encouraged to play a role. Yet it need not lead, and it definitely should not plan or control the pace of these activities.

In areas where the interest is purely scientific or at a stage where scientific return is the primary driver, NASA and other science-oriented elements of the government, working with academia, should continue to lead the way. However, funds spent on science and exploration should leverage citizen activities, especially activities that lead enable government-funded scientists and explorers to do more, and more cheaply.

The private sector is will quickly become more efficient than government agencies in gathering data and building infrastructure in space as it already is here on Earth. The government can lease or purchase from businesses, stimulating the economy and lowering taxpayer costs.

NASA should carefully pick science and exploration missions that are not best accomplished by and for the private sector itself, and when possible invest taxpayer funds back into the people, support institutional exploration and help solve the technical challenges we all face as we begin to settle the frontier.


Scott Pace
Director, Space Policy Institute, George Washington University. Written for CQ Researcher, June 2017

This is a simple question that obscures a deeper public policy question about how governments and markets create public goods, such as scientific knowledge, in the course of space exploration. To answer the question simply: no. Rather, the question should be how to use government to provide appropriate structures and incentives for the private sector, so as to obtain the greatest national good from space explorations.

Governments are responsible for providing public goods — among them national security, basic scientific research and exploration — for which no commercial market exists or is likely to exist.

There are fundamental differences between a publicly funded and directed enterprise chartered to define, explore and exploit a new frontier, and enterprises founded and directed for the purpose of creating wealth and providing shareholder returns. Private philanthropy can and does support science and exploration, but these are, in general, noncommercial, nonmarket activities even if they use private goods, services and capital.

In using the private sector in missions of exploration, the question is, who reports to whom? Is the goal the creation of public goods or the private success of companies? If a private actor who is providing a public good or service fails, changes priorities or slips schedule, the loss cannot always be made whole merely by paying monetary damages. Money is not a substitute for public-good failures in the way it is for commercial failures. Not everything which matters to our society will necessarily look good on a corporate balance sheet.

NASA is responsible for determining when and how it explores space using public funds. It cannot and should not be merely a passive buyer of just those exploration-related goods and services that contractors find it profitable to sell at a particular time. This means that NASA must be a “smart customer” — a role that would be undermined if it outsourced its design and management capabilities to a private contractor.

We do not really know what the human future in space will be. That is a question that exploration is intended to answer. In exploring space, we necessarily employ imperfect options, markets and governments in our portfolio of tools. The most effective exploration strategy will be a mixed one of government initiative and private innovation, not one entirely driven by NASA or left to the uncertainty of dynamic markets. There is room and need for both.

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Document APA Citation
Marshall, P. (2017, August 4). New space race. CQ researcher, 27, 653-676. Retrieved from
Document ID: cqresrre2017080406
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ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Space Exploration
Aug. 04, 2017  New Space Race
Jun. 20, 2014  Search for Life On New Planets
Feb. 24, 2012  Space Program
Aug. 16, 2011  Weapons in Space
Oct. 16, 2009  Human Spaceflight
May 23, 2003  NASA's Future
Jul. 23, 1999  New Challenges in Space
Apr. 25, 1997  Space Program's Future
Dec. 24, 1993  Space Program's Future
Mar. 29, 1991  Uncertain Future for Man in Space
Jul. 31, 1987  Space Race
Feb. 07, 1986  Space Decisions after Challenger
Feb. 18, 1983  American Options in Space
Nov. 10, 1978  Changing U.S. Space Policy
Jul. 04, 1975  Cooperation in Space
Mar. 15, 1972  Space Shuttle Controversy
Oct. 01, 1969  Mission to Mars: Benefits Vs. Costs
Nov. 13, 1968  Goals in Space
Jun. 29, 1966  Future of Space Exploration
May 08, 1963  Moon Race Controversy
Jun. 27, 1962  Peaceful Use of Outer Space
Nov. 01, 1961  Space Exploration
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Arms Control and Disarmament
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General Defense and National Security
General International Relations
Powers and History of the Presidency
Space Sciences and Exploration
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