According to an August 29, 2013 story in Business Insider, Neil degrasse Tyson, the famous astrophysicist and media personality offered something of a reality check on the potential of commercial enterprises to open the space frontier without the aid of governments.
Specifically referencing SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk’s boast that he would establish a Mars colony, Tyson said on a recent video podcast, "It's not possible. Space is dangerous. It's expensive. There are unquantified risks. Combine all of those under one umbrella; you cannot establish a free market capitalization of that enterprise."
Tyson went on to suggest that the history of exploration shows that it is government that mitigates those dangers and quantifies those risks by undertaking voyages of discovery that show the shape of new worlds. He mentioned Columbus, who sailed under the sponsorship of the Spanish crown, as an example. History is replete with examples, however, both before and after Columbus, ranging from Prince Henry the Navigator who opened up ocean trade routes to East India to Lewis and Clarke who blazed the trail to the American West.
Tyson went on to explain that only then does private business move in to start making money, taking advantage of the new opportunities that government sponsored space explorers have created. He is not so much an opponent of commercial space as a critic of how some people believe that it is a panacea .
Tyson indeed believes it to be a scandal that private space did not take off sooner. He implied that the function of the space shuttle, which was once touted as a “space truck” taking things and people to and from low Earth orbit should have been undertaken by private business, leaving NASA free to continue the exploration program conducted by Apollo.
Someone should write a book about how that could have happened.
Tyson is famous for his proposal to double NASA budget as a percentage of federal expenditures, a somewhat outside the box idea considering the current era of lean funding for the space agency. Tyson is the host for an upcoming series “Cosmos” a remake of the famous Carl Sagan 1980s era series by the same name that will discuss science and its effects on history and society.
Addendum: The debate rages Who is Right About Space Exploration, Neil Degrasse Tyson or Elon Musk?