Space policy suggestions… from Esquire

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:

  1. 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);
  2. 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;
  3. 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.

7 comments to Space policy suggestions… from Esquire

  • R.U. Kidding

    Barnett once again shows that savvy that helped get Fox Fallon fired. (Although Fallon didn’t need much help.)

    I know Washington policy experts- and Barnett is no policy expert.

    How exactly would a space weapons ban treaty prevent China and Russian from developing counterspace capabilities?

    Typical Barnett- broad ideas that sound good on paper but fail on implementation.

  • CharlesInHouston

    It is clear that T Barnett is not an expert on space issues. He should at least start with the Space Exploration For Dummies book. We should continue to bypass the Esquire magazine when looking for informed opinions about space, science, etc etc.

    Certainly the Chinese thought that their anti satellite demo was anything except pointless.

    And it is ludicrous to think that a Mars mission would “quasi-launch” from the Moon. What is a quasi-launch site anyway – do you launch a quasi from there?

    And NASA (according to the budget) is focussed on development of a new booster, spending only a small fraction of its budget on any sort of exploration.

  • Having read the article last night (in case you’re wondering, I blocked all images from the site, copied the article into MS Word, and read it there–yes I am *that* boring), I think the commenters are giving it a harder time than it deserves. Sure, his suggestions at the very end weren’t as good as the rest of the article, but there was actually a fair number of really well thought-out points. While vague on the specifics, it was clear that he was trying to convey the importance of commercial space to any sort of spacefaring future. And quite frankly, I think that with the space community, that we ought to cut some slack to those who are genuinely trying to wrap their brains around commercial space issues.


  • CharlesInHouston

    Having read the article several times – we need to leave this dead amadillo on the road. I am all for commercial uses of space but this loser gives us historical mistakes and dubious logic. Let’s look for “policy experts” that have a lot more expertise than this guy.

    A few notes: having been inside of a Shuttle, they are not designed to fly 30 to 60 times per year as this guy states. The Shuttle was advertised as flying very often but was not designed to support that. He seems to be unhappy that Pres Reagan took commercial launches off of the Shuttle – that was the best thing that ever happened. It allowed the commercial space business to fly comm satellites without competing with the government. The re-adustments have frequently been painful but necessary.

    He notes that there are fewer unmanned missions now than in the 1960s but does not mention that each mission today does far more than those from the 1960s. We could argue that we have too many complex missions and could have more, less complex ones of course.

    But his major blunders are stating that Russia and China have been (seriously?) requesting a treaty to ban weapons in space. They might request such a treaty but have no intention of honoring it!

    And there is no way that we would build a Mars launch site on the Moon! And what is a quasi launch anyway?

    Anyway, his article also says that the Air Force wants to weapsonize space – having spent 28 years in the AF there are people that want to do various things in space but there is no serious effort to turn near space into some military playground. His hints there are just fear mongering.

  • kert

    Unfortunately, he falls short on any specific approaches to “open up all nearer space” to the private sector.
    Well, as a start, government declaring that they will get out of that business area for good, would help things immensely. By “that business”, i mean designing and building eart-to-orbit rockets.
    But as government is taking up more, not less areas of conducting business *cough*GM*cough*, theres a zero chance of it happening.

  • I blocked all images from the site, copied the article into MS Word, and read it there–yes I am *that* boring

    That really wasn’t necessary. The page is pretty work safe, as long as you don’t follow the links (and probably even then). You probably wouldn’t know, but Esquire isn’t Penthouse, or even Playboy. And the new editor there is my former editor at Popular Mechanics on line.

  • […] Space policy suggestions… from Esquire – Space Politics […]

Leave a Reply to Rand Simberg Cancel reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>