Many of my regular readers will know that I am a huge fan of outer space. I am inspired by it and believe it is ultimately the destiny of humans to be an interplanetary species. We’ve already been to the Moon, but most of our manned missions have been to the International Space Station and back for a while now. Recent documents have suggested that the Trump administration is considering making the International Space Station (ISS) a private entity.
The International Space Station was not meant to be a private endeavor
An internal NASA document acquired by The Washington Post suggests that the Trump administration hopes to end public funding of the ISS after 2024. However, the document goes further, explaining that the intention is not to let the ISS deorbit (read: re-enter Earth’s atmosphere in a spectacular fireball) like other space stations (such as SkyLab) have in the past. Instead, the laboratory in low Earth orbit may become privately held after the United States stops public funding.
I take a few issues with this:
We have sunk truly massive amounts of money – over $100 billion in US tax dollars – into the International Space Station. This does not even account for the contributions made by the other nations that share the burden of the ISS’ operation and maintenance. It is not dilapidated and has potentially decades of future service ahead of it beyond 2024, and no company will pay $100 billion for it. A net loss for the US government is a net loss for every taxpayer.
As mentioned in passing above, this plan does not seem to appreciate the other nations that also maintain, contribute to, and occupy the International Space Station. Currently, three nations have astronauts (or cosmonauts) on board. It is far from a solely US held entity.
Another problem I have is that if the ISS were turned over to solely private entities, the science done there would become for profit, not for the common good. Furthermore, it could potentially become proprietary. While I am in favor of market based solutions and the market itself, some things are better left public and for the good of humanity as a whole.
I would not mind privatization if it meant we were creating a better and more modern station. I realize it is older and could use an update, but the current plan has no solid roadmap regarding what the public will get next. It seems like this plan sinks already sunken costs and then adds insult to injury by not providing any indication as to what the future holds.
The United States and the world deserve to have part of their science and research done without profits in mind.