Part 2, continuing from the interview with Dr. Roger D. Launius , December 12, 2022
Reaching the Moon was once a race between the U.S. and Russia. Today, the Space race looks more like a domestic rivalry between governments and private sector operations.
In part 1, Better Futures recapped a discussion between Laine and Launius on the historical reality of the Apollo era. In part 2, we'll recap their discussion of today's commercial Space race and the new context kicked off by the Artemis launch era.
Moon Resources Usability is Subject To Debate
The Moon’s usefulness is a subject of some skepticism, even controversy, in today’s marketplace. While some argue the value of lunar ice mining for potential resources, others argue that Moon exploration is merely a status symbol quest.
There is one certainty to come from modern Space debates about the Lunar zone. The Moon remains front and center of all forward-seeking Space exploration. Because it is nearer and familiar to Space efforts, the Moon is most accessible to current innovation.
Government vs. Commercialized: The Real
The commercialization of Space has led to professional controversy. In January 2022, the Washington Post made note of the fact that government programs still dominate the Space race. Yet, Space advocates wonder, for how long?
The relevance of government programs stands in question alongside the progress of commercial efforts. Policy critics ponder why NASA and private ventures have yet to announce a cross-sector collaboration.
On the flip side, governments question the long-term viability of commercial Space. Leading commercial rocket producers advertise ambitious projects to make everyday people astronauts.
While NASA and commercial efforts have different logic behind their missions, the goal posts aren't that far apart. Efforts don’t diverge paths in terms of funding and interest.
Dr. Launius explained that, while many point to SpaceX as the pioneer, they sometimes forget about Orbital Sciences and earlier efforts to commercialize Space.
Why Include the Private Sector?
Doctor Launius highlighted the unique factors of the current Space race created by the presence of the private sector. Now, more than at any other time in Space exploration history, privately owned enterprises pursue Space technologies.
This, Dr. Launius recalled, has been the subject of controversy between NASA leaders and industry tycoons.
Despite the push back, NASA’s top talent realized that the sound economical way forward was to include the private sector.
Moon enterprises are expensive, often exceeding the budget of NASA funding. With the business case of the private sector grafted in, Space exploration has become democratized, and received a wider talent pool investment.
No Clear Divide in International Interests
This Space race comes with a high political context. With recent aggression between China and Taiwan, Western leaders have taken stiffer policies toward collaboration with China. Launius notes that modern Space advancement efforts are not as cut and dry as the Apollo-era Space politics.
“I’ve been pushing back on saying the Space race is with China,” said Dr. Launius.
“There used to be two budgets, two nations, one goal. Now there are thousands of companies, thousands of goals. So, I don’t really feel like we’re in the same type of Space race, but there is competition for sure.” he added.
The Artemis Era Sees Sustainable Rocketry Efforts Growing
Now that the commercial industry is on board, what will keep them afloat? The Artemis era poses that question in a way that the Apollo era was incapable of.
Now that commercial efforts have critically disrupted the path to the Moon, business models must reflect said disruption. Revenue models must yield tangible forecasts so that commercial enterprises can gain investor trust.
Business cases may level off. If not over the usability of Moon resources, then over the rocketry innovation Moon exploration efforts lead. Global space missions likewise seek to innovate reusable rockets. This would make space travel more affordable. With multiple national actors working on these concepts, Space exploration would eventually democratize to a whole-of-globe effort.
A Wild Frontier
In Dr. Launius’ view, the future of Space ventures will be collaborative. Governments and citizens will work together in Space. This will also be true of nation-to-nation efforts.
Because Space enterprise has become a universal effort, policies will need to be globalized. There is no clear starter gate or finish line in this Space race. It is a more Industrial Revolution and a pioneering effort to a wild frontier of untapped astral landscape.
Image credit license CCA 4.0.
Text credit: Rachel Brooks, Next Dawn