The proper role of the federal government in space exploration
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I am a big fan of space exploration and I think that Elon Musk’s SpaceX is a visionary company that is trying to conduct meaningful space exploration.  Yet, Congress might want to take a hard look at the ticket price for Musk’s latest endeavor before spending $10 billion to populate Mars.

Space is truly the final frontier.  Men like Elon Musk are visionaries who may not be very good at politics, yet they are great at building billion dollar companies that break new ground.  Musk’s company Tesla is revolutionizing the way people travel by car.  His SolarCity company is trying to wean Americans off fossil fuels. His space exploration company SpaceX’s goal is to “make life multiplanetary.”  These three companies fit into the category of visionary.

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The SpaceX company’s mission is to design, manufacture and launch “advanced rockets and spacecraft. The company was founded in 2002 to revolutionize space technology with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.” I think this is an excellent goal and with Elon Musk’s billions that he has earned over his lifetime, he should be able to fund this with minimal exposure to the taxpayer.

Anybody who is my age and born in the 60s remembers the missions to the Moon and the excitement during the Reagan Administration with the Space Shuttle.  Our intrigue with space travel has been fed by movies like the Star Wars series, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Apollo 13.  And with technology advancing at breakneck speed, it is possible that in my lifetime humans may travel to Mars and colonize the Moon.

I am a limited government conservative, yet I fully support government funded space travel.  But it must be smart and it can’t fund risky adventures.  The one concern I have about SpaceX’s plan to travel to Mars is that, on its face, the plan seems more like a for-profit enterprise than true space exploration.  I would support pure exploration of Mars and a project that has a stated goal of forwarding humanity. Musk’s idea seems like he is more in it for profit than science.

According to a piece in titled “Elon Musk Reveals His Grand Plan To Send Humans To Mars By The 2020s – For The Price Of A Lanborgini,” published in Vanity Fair, published on Aug. 28, 2016, a trip to Mars would cost a citizen astronaut $200,000 per ticket.  “Musk suggested the first self-sustaining colony could be up and running as soon as the 2060s. SpaceX’s interplanetary ship will take off from Earth using a booster rocket, carrying about 100 people at first, every 26 months, when the Earth is closest to Mars, Musk said. At first, these trips will take between 80 and 150 days, though eventually transport time could drop to 30 days.” Sounds great until you see that he is pitching a public-private partnership that will put taxpayers on the hook for $10 billion in initial cost.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Musk has received about $4.9 billion already in government subsidies for his three companies.  Now he comes to the federal government wanting more.  And he has been the beneficiary of many contracts to put satellites into space that run in the billions.

This is a laudable idea and Elon Musk should be celebrated as one of the great innovators of our time, yet the taxpayers should not be funding for profit space exploration and may want to find another contractor who wants to go to space for purely scientific space exploration.

At the very minimum, Musk, who has a history of missing launch deadlines and burning through more government funds than expected, should follow the example of competing launchers by drafting a realistic plan and cost estimate. Doing so will allow both bureaucrats and taxpayers to hold him accountable and ensure that he does not get carried away with his ambitious and laudable goals.

Edward Woodson is a lawyer the host of the nationally syndicated Edward Woodson Show, which airs daily from 3 to 6 pm EST on gcnlive.com.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.