NASA’s Next 50 Years

Robert Zubrin argues that a half-century after Apollo, the agency risks irrelevance. It’s time for a real — and different — mission

It is not enough to cheer the efforts of those currently in the arena. Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the rest could easily fail. There are those who think that because the entrepreneurial space companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are moving ahead so nicely, we no longer need NASA or other government-led efforts. They could not be more mistaken. There are commercial opportunities that can support private space activities in suborbital and geocentric space, but they will need public support to make sure they are not blocked by hostile or obtuse bureaucracy.

Moreover, the critical initial breakout to the Moon, Mars, and beyond will need government funding. This is consistent with the history of exploration and settlement on Earth, where high-risk first missions like those of Columbus and Lewis and Clark needed government backing, with commercial development following later. The space entrepreneurs are facilitating the launch of such initiatives by developing in advance a substantial fraction of the required flight hardware set. These efforts are dramatically lowering the cost, risk, and schedule thresholds associated with such programs, thereby making them much more attractive to the political class, and more sustainable as well. But still, a decision for public funding will need to be obtained.

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