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Upcoming study suggests historical precedence for public/private moon effort

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In a March 7, 2014 blog post, historian Roger Launius teased the upcoming release of a study he conducted of historical analogies of how public/private partnerships encourage commercial development and how they might relate to space commercialization, especially of the moon. The past instances he studied are:

“(1) the development of the transcontinental railroad supported by a unique land grant approach to subsidy, (2) support for the airline industry through legislation, appropriate regulation, and subsidies to grow a robust air transport capability, (3) the regulatory regime put into place with the rise of the telephone industry and the creation of government-sponsored monopoly that eventually had to be broken up, (4) government sponsorship of Antarctic scientific stations that evolved into a public/private partnership over time, (5) the fostering of a range of public works projects and their success or failure over time, and (6) the establishment of scenic and cultural conservation zones in the United States and how to balance economic development with preservation.”

The idea of a public/private partnership that would lead to the commercial development of the moon was covered in this writer’s recent USA Today piece. Launius suggests that history provides a model for such an undertaking. He mentions the Tennessee Valley Authority and Comsat as possible models for a Lunar Development Company.

“In the context of lunar development might an organization similar to the TVA be capable of commercially developing the Moon? Questions abound:

  • Should it begin with the establishment of a lunar development commission/corporation?
  • Would a commission/corporation start by building and managing lunar infrastructure for NASA?
  • Would this be followed by an effort to spur economic development?”

While Launius suggests that tourism may be the economic spur for commercial lunar development, another possibility is lunar mining and the refining of rocket fuel for spacecraft headed toward destinations such as Mars. The bottom line, though, is that the idea of a public/private drive to the moon, in which NASA partners with commercial companies, has considerable precedence in American history with some record of success.

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