- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 4, 2003

In light of the Columbia space shuttle tragedy, there may not be a more timely book than "Space: The Free-Market Frontier." In its essays, authors address the following question: Is there a way to order up a space program that will satisfy the ambitions of even the most passionate space enthusiasts? Franchising and other forms of privatization are the answer, according to Edward Hudgins, the book's editor. The volume consists of essays by about 20 space experts ranging from Apollo 11 lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin to space tourist Dennis Tito on how to sustain a space program.
Most of the experts share Mr. Hudgins' vision of making Kennedy Space Center as busy as Orlando International Airport. They believe that Americans still have the "right stuff," but have been slowed down by bureaucracy and grounded by heavy government regulation.
That theme resounds throughout the volume. Contributor David M. Livingston summarizes the point well when he writes that, "Many of the barriers [to the commercial space industry] can be traced to U.S. government policy, laws and regulations and the departments and agencies that implement them."
The contributors also find fault NASA's approach to space, especially in regard to the space shuttle and the International Space Station (ISS). While conceding that "NASA remains an agency with a powerful vision," Liam P. Sarsfield writes, "NASA is now stuck with a transportation infrastructure that is not cost-effective, [and] a space station program that emphasizes operations instead of exploration." Gregg Maryniak posits that the space program has created a perception that only government can put people in space, and Robert W. Poole Jr. proposes scrapping the ISS and quietly retiring the shuttle.
Above all, the contributors believe, the market must be encouraged. Tidal W. McCoy writes that, "To achieve these opportunities [in space] we must continue to enable, encourage and facilitate space research for commercial purposes." Mr. Poole argues that America needs a space policy "consistent with free markets and limited government."
Those policies range from tax credits to space tourism to contests, such as the X Prize, which will award $10 million to the first private team to fly a reusable spacecraft to 100 km above the Earth's surface twice within two weeks. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, has a short chapter detailing his "Zero Gravity, Zero Tax Act," which would use tax credits to create "a kind of enterprise zone in orbit." Many see space tourism as the best possibility for expanding our reach. For instance, Buzz Aldrin and Ron Jones suggest, "Space tourism has emerged as the only viable market with the potential to generate the high-volume traffic (i.e., revenues) needed to justify the investment required to significantly reduce the unit cost of space access."
The chapter from the only one who has paid that price space tourist Dennis Tito is of particular interest, since in contrast to several of the other contributors, Mr. Tito sees the ISS as a potentially valuable platform. He argues for doubling the ISS' crew size to allow for more scientific research, and he suggests that NASA renew its Citizen in Space program.
Indeed, the book shows that free marketers are engaged in passionate debates over the direction of space policy. Some are for manned missions to Mars, others against. One contributor sees a need for a new regime of property rights in space, while another believes that the one in place is satisfactory.
Unfortunately, the book sometimes reads like a congressional hearing, which comes as no surprise since it was organized around an eponymous conference held at the Cato Institute. There's a fair amount of repetition, and some of the practical difficulties of space exploration are overlooked. Those who wish for more technical detail should check out Albert A. Harrison's recently published, "Spacefaring, the human dimension."
Nonetheless, there are still a number of gems. Mr. Aldrin and Mr. Jones make several thought-provoking proposals on space tourism. James Dunstan describes how a gentleman in California named Dennis Hope not only filed a claim for sole ownership of the moon, but also went on to make a fortune selling patches of lunar land for about $18 a plot.
Ultimately, the book is not so much for space enthusiasts as it is for hopeful space entrepreneurs. That kind of hope may be exactly what's needed as NASA mourns, investigates and retools over the coming weeks and months.

Charles Rousseaux is an editorial writer for The Washington Times.



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