Who owns space?

By Nathan Barton

The Next Big Future” has an article which both castigates government (NASA) in particular, and then demonstrates an unhealthy and irrational faith in government as well as a weird claim of dependence on government, all in a very brief article. Apparently the article originally comes from or is based on some government flack, and is not necessarily Brian Wang’s opinion, even though it is under his byline.  But Brian does not challenge it.

As republished by Freedom’s Phoenix, the article states (correctly) that NASA wasted billions on developing the Space Launch System (SLS), supposed to replace the long-dead Space Shuttles with expendable (throw-away) heavy-lift rockets.  In essence, 1950s technology, examples of which litter the bottom of Earth’s oceans with trillions of (2017) dollars of thrown-away missiles.  A waste of money and manhours that is second only to the waste due to war.  Waste which might have been necessary to send the first Sputnik, Explorer, or Mercury into orbit, but today is needless and even immoral – not that the vast trillions of dollars and rubles and pounds and euros, etc. stolen from taxpayers in 60 years of spaceflight is not.

The article rightly points out that the entire SLS is not needed, in very large part because private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin, are developing AND using systems to get thing into earth orbit (and beyond) at much less cost, much more efficiently, and more and more reusable.  Indeed, there are dozens – both in the Fifty States and elsewhere – of companies doing this. (See Wikipedia for a list, probably only partial. Some are just government contractors and beltway bandits, but some are truly private and not solely dependent on government sales.)

But the article goes on to report that NASA is now planning to claim the “intellectual rights” which SpaceX and the others have and are using to build their space launchers and space craft.

I have my own ideas as to why NASA would do this: government attempting to steal not just the monetary rewards of hard work but the actual hard work itself.  It stinks, and reminds me of how the Soviets stole the technology of the Western Allies (the Brits and Amis) during WW2 by reverse engineering and using industrial spies. Except that NASA apparently intends to go to the source directly, with all the weight of law (read: guns) behind its efforts.

The article justifies NASA doing this, despite its record of stupidity and failure and waste, because heavy launch vehicles are “national assets.”  It compares them to aircraft carriers, stating that private contractors are hired by government to build the equipment – but that the “intellectual rights” (IR) are retained by the government so that other companies can also build them.  Thus (theoretically, at least) preserving potential for competition and preventing companies from holding technology hostage and keeping government from using it.

There are many things wrong with this understanding, of course.

First, of course, aircraft carriers are completely different from heavy launch vehicles (HLV).  Aircraft carriers are purely military, and except for their occasional incidental use for humanitarian operations after natural disasters, exist only to deliver ordinance (bombs, shells, etc.) on targets – even if that is supposed to thereby prevent someone ELSE (an “enemy”) from doing the same thing.

HLV are NOT weapons or weapons delivery systems.  They CAN be, of course, but that is not their primary reason to exist.  Freight is.  An HLV, at heart, is no more a “national asset” than a cargo ship or a semitractor and trailer.

To make a claim otherwise is (if nothing else) to support some very dangerous concepts:

First, that everything (including your and my physical and mental efforts and the products of those) belongs to government.

Second, that the PRIMARY reason for HLV and going into space is military in nature, and therefore, must be controlled by government as the “only legitimate” controller and user of armed force.

Bad, bad, ideas.

The excuse government has for keeping the IR secret, or claiming control over it, when it comes to aircraft carriers (in addition to the claim that companies could hold government hostage) is that enemies must not be allowed to have those secrets.  That MIGHT be believable, if we didn’t know that enemies (or supposed enemies) are far more able to steal those secrets from government agencies like NASA (or be given them outright by NASA or its employees) than they are to do so from a private, well-run company out to make an (honest) profit.

So letting government claim (and control) intellectual property rights is also a bad, bad idean.

But whatever the bad ideas may be, the results of this mindset and of NASA taking control are the real reason this concept is stupid and even a catastrophe.

As pointed out as early as some of Heinlein’s juvenile novels in the 1940s and 1950s, government control of space is dangerous.  And government agencies are the LAST people that you want to be in control of space.  The last sixty years have demonstrated the truth of that concern.  The bureaucracy and the politics of NASA and many other government agencies are the reason we are still paying tens of thousands of dollars to boost a single pound into orbit.  And the reason that there are not already tens of thousands if not millions of us living in orbit or on Luna or elsewhere.

If we want to see this continue to be the case for another sixty years, just let NASA steal the products and services – and the knowledge used to build those products and services – from private enterprise.

Mama’s Note: As long as any non-voluntary government exists, it will continue to steal, lie, cheat and murder those who become inconvenient. The desire/compulsion to control people and their property – the main goal of such government – IS the root of all evil.

About TPOL Nathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (a christian), Pahasapan (resident of the Black Hills), Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer, Evangelist. Successor to Lady Susan (Mama Liberty) at TPOL.
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