The space race is not over, it has only just begun. Decreasing launch costs have led to a rapid expansion of space based activity and the space economy, with Morgan Stanley predicting that space could be a trillion dollar sector within twenty years.
This year’s Mars launch window has seen new contenders vying to explore the red planet. Human exploration and settlement beyond Earth is an inevitability, and the UK would be foolish to miss out on the opportunity. At the height of its operations, NASA’s manned moon program employed over 400,000 people; the growth of the space economy will no doubt see a new wave of high skilled aerospace jobs.
News coverage of current wave of space innovation has been dominated by the ‘space barons’: Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. The private space programs of these billionaire businessmen seem to have tarnished the image of space flight for many in the public, giving rise to a perception that space travel is a decadence – an exorbitantly expensive tool for rich men to massage their egos.
However, as Robert Zubrin explains in ‘The case for space’, space exploration has the potential to improve the living standards of everyone, such as by facilitating clean and efficient energy production.
The final frontier of human exploration perhaps also offers insight into the final frontier of Earthly politics. Space can only be mastered with the co-operation of government and private enterprise. Much as with the exploration of previous centuries, it is government that provides the initial impetus, paving the way for private enterprise.
It was the American government that first put boots on the moon, but the first major lunar settlement will almost certainly be a private enterprise. Years of American government aerospace investment has paved the way for SpaceX and other pioneering firms to dramatically reduce launch costs, opening up the solar system.
It is now time for the government of the UK to do the same; providing the funding and infrastructure for the UK to embark on its own manned space program, therein allowing the public to reap the long term benefits of the space economy.
Space offers a unique opportunity to unite the power of the state and the innovation of business for the good of everyone, fusing notions of ‘left’ and ‘right’ for the good of the entire country.
Image: Robert Goodwin via Creative Commons and Flikr