[FoRK] Restating the argument was Re: Losing my religion

Jeff Bone jbone at place.org
Sun Feb 14 06:44:47 PST 2010

Okay, scrap all the prior.  Let me state the thesis:

We have ostensibly had and maintained some goal or goals over the last few decades of continuing some program of manned space exploration to whatever extent it was, at any point along the way, technologically possible.  Yet since Apollo 17 returned to Earth on December 19, 1972 no human being has traveled beyond LEO.  This despite many such NASA initiatives and billions of dollars spend on same;  I'm too lazy to run the numbers but lets stipulate that in the ~37 years since then we have spent *at least* $10B (absolute dollars) on such programs, none of which have been "successful" (i.e., resulting in the ostensible goal of putting men beyond LEO.)  (Also note, the real inflation-adjusted figure would be much higher than $10B.)

So the open question is this:  assuming the ostensible goal is worthy of any public spending at all, what configuration of incentives, structuring of the program, dispersement or use of funds, etc. would have had a greater likelihood of achieving the stated goal?

As a straw man, I would suggest that merely posting a $10B dollar bounty or prize to be collected by the first private entity to put a man back on the surface of the moon would have had a greater chance of success, and resulted in more derivative benefits along the way as multiple entities worked to achieve the goal in parallel, in competition.  If this money had been placed essentially in escrow in e.g the mid-70s and potentially reinvested or otherwise compounded, a far lower seed figure than e.g. $10B might have been quite sufficient.

(Note that Zubrin's Mars Direct mission plan had a price tag at the very low end of $5B in late-90s dollars, and the energy economics etc. of access to the Moon are similar --- surprisingly --- enough that costs there are on the same order of magnitude.  So $10B in, say, 2000 dollars should be sufficient to provide reasonable profit incentives for same.  It's a rather high-risk proposition, so perhaps incremental "milestone" incentives sufficient to cover intermediate step costs and provide profit might be useful.)

Agreed or disagreed that such an incentive program would have better likelihood of success than how we've historically gone about this for the last four decades?  And if disagreed, please explain (Aaron, etc.)

If you agree, then my basic point is made:  the *structure* of our program has actually impeded rather than furthered achievement of its ostensible goal versus other potential structures and incentive arrangements.  NASA (and / or our treatment of NASA, in terms of funding, politics, and frequent mission redefinition) has actually been harmful rather than helpful with respect to allowing (that part of) its charter to be fulfilled by it or anyone else.


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