Wise guidelines for space policy making


Credit: endless-space.com

As we approach a presidential transition, I’ve been thinking, a lot, about whom the next president will listen to about issues in space policy. (I’d still like to know exactly how, and why, President Obama and his science advisor John Holdren embraced the idea of sending humans to an asteroid and paving the way for asteroid mining.) Today I offer some wise guidelines for space policy, presented by my mentor and friend Eilene Galloway (b. 1906-d. 2009) at a 2003 space policy symposium.* They all sound good to me today. See what you think.

  1. There should be a complete statement of this total problem for which solutions are proposed. Clarify the general policy framework into which specific applications must fit. Clarify the understanding of such words as “peaceful” and “military” so all participants agree on a common meaning.
  1. Do not discard 46-year old [now 59-year-old] concepts that have built up international confidence in outer space as a safe orderly place for the conduct of beneficial activities—humanitarian and commercial.
  1. Avoid chopping up space activities into parts that are not coordinated with the overall goal of maintaining outer space for peaceful purposes.
  1. Avoid embedding political, economic and philosophical concepts which tend to divide nations conducting activities in the naturally international environment of outer space.
  1. Make sure that those in government who are responsible for legislation on organization, programs and budgets understand the unique characteristics of the outer space environment which determines what can be effective in achieving the goal of maintaining outer space as a safe orderly environment.
  1. Include planners with imagination to estimate the probable consequences of proposals for action.


#1 is a no-brainer.

As to #2, Eilene was referring to the work of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), established in 1957, including the production of a collection of treaties that effectively function as foundational international space law (the 1967 U.N. Treaty on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space). Many advocates of so-called “private” space development claim this body of international law establishes no barriers to “free-market” activity in space (read: whoever gets there first gets to take it all). Others disagree. I endorse Eilene’s recommendation.

As to #3, I don’t think we’re there….

As to #4, the United States certainly hasn’t followed this recommendation – see my many previous posts on the neoliberal/libertarian/Western-Christian ideology that propels the human exploration and development of space (July 25-27, 2016; December 28, 2015; August 12, 2015; July 27, 2015; March 27, 2015; etc.)

As to #5, the fact that Congress passed and the President signed the SPACE (Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship) Act of 2015 is an indication, to me, that responsible parties in government may not fully grasp the physical, technological, and political complexities of operating in the space environment – especially with humans in the mix.

As to #6, NASA and the aerospace industry have many intelligent, well-educated, and starry-eyed “planners with imagination” – but IMHO too many of them don’t bother with estimating the probable consequences of acting on those plans. My question is, as always, how will the colonization of other planets and the exploitation of space resources benefit all people of Earth? How will such activities narrow the gap between the rich and the poor?

Deep in my brain and in my heart I think and feel that colonizing other planets and exploiting extraterrestrial resources would be immoral at this stage of human development. I’m not at all sure that Eilene Galloway would agree with me. I wish I could talk with her about it.

2 Responses to “Wise guidelines for space policy making”

  1. “Wise Guidelines” For Space Policy | Transterrestrial Musings Says:

    […] first glance, these suggestions from my long-time friend Linda Billings seem sort of anodyne, but she gives away the game at the […]

  2. Tom Billings Says:

    Here in the Portland Metro area we have a number of spaceflight enthusiasts. Some of them think as I do about how spaceflight should proceed. Some do not. The true dividing line seems not in how we see the rest of our species’ home, the Solar System, but in how we see Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

    I see a species of large, obstreperously violent, primates, who have learned how to work and live together in the last 10,000 years beyond the adaptations supporting the party/gang social structure that evolved in the previous 2 million years. That learning does *not* mean those adaptations have gone away. Trying to pretend they have usually ends with extended pain and suffering.

    These recommendations focus on keeping the adaptations that evolved in a space policy environment dominated by government actions. They frankly seem fearful of changing the environment from one dominated by government hierarchies to one dominated by market networks. They do not, at least openly, take cognizance of the agency costs of the government hierarchies that still dominate spaceflight, and seek comfort in those hierarchies’ continued dominance. Indeed, they assume, in #6 that there will be overall planning, in #5 that this planning will be done by government hierarchs, in #4 that this planning must emphasize unity under some overall hierarchy, in #3 that Homo Sapiens Sapiens can be made magically peaceful by coordination through such overall hierarchy, just because Space is supposedly a place where this outcome is desired by us all, in #2 that Space is a safe and orderly place, in spite of our experience of its dangers and hardships that have killed a significant percentage of those who have entered Space, and in #1 that assumes a wide range of humans can be made to fit their actions into a rigid overall concept about a mostly unexplored Solar System that will become truly known only as those humans inhabit it.

    Given this, I am not at all sure of the wisdom of these recommendations. Government spaceflight hierarchies, filled with excellent and hardworking people, have, in spite of this, proven spectacularly unproductive of the spaceflight technology needed for the 5-15% of the population that wants to settle the Solar System to do so. This has been the case primarily because of unacknowledged agency costs in those hierarchies, which have done their usual damage to productivity. This damage is why, when humans truly want productivity, rather than control, they emphasize organizing in intercommunicating networks, rather than hierarchies.

    If, as you say, you are concerned about how “human development” is not right for settling the Solar System, yet, then perhaps you would say just what “development” would fit us for the task? Massive re-education? Genetic engineering?


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