If you thought Esquire was only about fashion and women and lifestyles (or supermodels on the cover wearing only the opening lines of a Stephen King story), think again. In an essay on the magazine’s web site, Thomas P.M. Barnett (described as “a top Washington policy expert” although one who focuses more on foreign policy issues) offers his prescription for getting the US out of its current space rut and engaging the private sector. His approach boils down to three key points:
- Support a treaty to ban weapons in space, as desired by Russia and China (thus ending “pointless demonstrations of China’s growing military capabilities” in space);
- Working with Russia, China, and Europe “in a joint effort to retake the moon as a quasi-launching site” for future missions to Mars and beyond, avoiding duplicity of efforts and engendering “mutual transparency” between the US and China in particular;
- With NASA focused on deep space exploration, “do everything possible to open up all nearer space (up to and including the moon’s surface) to commercial ventures”.
The first point is actually closely aligned with current administration policy to seek a ban on space weapons (which Barnett notes in his essay). However, one of the issues that has come up in debates on the topic is what exactly is a “space weapon”; it’s possible, for example, that a ground-based interceptor like the one used by China in its January 2007 test might not qualify. Moreover, there are concerns about verification of such a ban that would have to be addressed.
The second point is also not that different from NASA’s plans (now in limbo thanks to the Augustine committee review) to return to the Moon and (maybe) establish an outpost there, only this would explicitly include China and Russia. The idea of engaging with China has been discussed before, typically with near-term options like ISS cooperation, but that assumes that both China is interested (versus focusing their efforts on indigenous capabilities) and that technology transfer and other issues can be overcome.
The third point no doubt strikes a favorable chord with the NewSpace industry and other commercial space advocates (particularly an earlier comment where he claims that “if not for the Cold War and the ‘race to the moon’ and ‘star wars’ and so on, we’d have a far larger and more accessible private-sector space industry than the puny one we’ve got now.”) Unfortunately, he falls short on any specific approaches to “open up all nearer space” to the private sector. Is he seeking regulatory changes? Export control reform? More support for COTS and commercial ISS resupply? More funding for Centennial Challenges? It’s all very vague, and not very actionable should someone in the White House or Congress decide he’s right—assuming they notice this in Esquire without getting distracted. By Stephen King, of course.