The Salt Lake Tribune carried an op-ed this week by Eric Peters (identified as “an automotive columnist for The Army Times and The Navy Times“) who argues that NASA should be abolished and US space exploration efforts should be privatized. Why? NASA, he believes, is “constantly being outdone by smaller and innovative private space ventures in places like Brazil, Russia, China, and, yes, even the United States.” Huh? China is not known for its private space ventures, and Brazil is not known for space ventures, period. (And one can make the case that, despite making considerable progress in areas like commercial launch and space tourism, Russian “private space ventures” are firmly controlled these days by Roskosmos.) “The American private sector,” he adds, “already has shown it can do a better and more cost-effective job of delivering passengers, cargo, satellites and science labs into space.” Passengers? Not yet, unless you’re counting SpaceShipOne. In addition, US commercial launch efforts have, to date not been cost-effective compared to foreign competitors, although companies like SpaceX may change that equation. (Peters notes that NASA has even acknowledged this, awarding “numerous contracts to private space contractors like SpaceX and Space Exploration Technologies”. That’s right, SpaceX and Space Exploration Technologies.)
Peters’ solution is that “Congress should end this travesty and turn over space to the private sector where success is the key ingredient because there are shareholders who care about the bottom line.” Sounds simple enough, and it does sound attractive. Sadly, Peters offers no details about how this would be done, how it would affect existing programs and agreements with other nations, and why Congress—some of whose members hails from districts and states that benefit from the current system—would agree to such radical change. It’s one thing to run around shouting “NASA delenda est!”, it’s quite another, it seems, to put forward a compelling, practical plan to make it happen.