Ending International Space Station Funding Is a Huge Mistake
'Commercial companies are not fully interested, nor financially motivated, in taking' the risks of total control without gov't support, says author
President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget proposal ends government funding for the International Space Station (ISS) by 2025, with a future plan to shift government support to private space ventures.
That plan could lead to the dissolution of the space station’s scientific capabilities, while hurting U.S. leadership in space.
In the 2019 budget blueprint, the Trump administration plans to move NASA funding away from international efforts by allocating millions to the privatization of the ISS and efforts to return American astronauts to the moon.
The stated goal of the Trump administration’s space exploration policy is: “strengthening national security, expanding space exploration, promoting commercial space development, and renewing America’s leadership in the international community — [to] rely on improved knowledge of what’s in orbit and developing more efficient ways to safely and sustainably manage the growing number of objects.”
So why end government funding of the ISS when that action would not defund broader intended goals for the U.S. in space?
Plans to stop government funding in order to privatize the station are based on conservative economic principles — that private companies funding and carrying out the work of the government will cut costs.
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But in the case of the ISS, ending government funding of scientific research in space in exchange for a transition to a private partnership is a costly mistake. It’s not because of the significant cost of managing the ISS or the lack of a private entity to take over the ISS — but because it would hamper the joint venture’s contribution to international space relations.
The first ISS components were constructed and launched into orbit in 1998, and the ISS has become one of the largest man-made structures that humans have placed in space. Since its creation, the ISS has become a major hub for conducting both government and commercial experiments in microgravity, alongside testing out how the human body responds to weightlessness.
Besides the ISS’ tremendous scientific achievement, it has significantly advanced the understanding of how one can live and work in space. The ISS is also considered a cornerstone of political and international diplomatic relations.
With 15 nations involved in a long-term international co-operative framework for the space station, which is focused exclusively on peaceful purposes, the project has become a powerful uniter based on mutual respect for science, as nations work together to further scientific research of space and earth.
A premature end of the ISS by the United States would result in partnering nations dismantling the Space Station Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA), providing an opportunity for China to become the only power to operate a space station.
Without the ISS, other nations will join forces with China’s space-station project. China recently announced that it welcomes all members to work on China’s future space station, which will begin its operations in 2023. Such ambitious Chinese plans threaten U.S. leadership in space.
Ending the ISS prematurely without a purposeful transition plan is a guaranteed failure.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who chairs the Senate’s subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, has vocally opposed the Trump administration’s proposal to end federal funding for the space station in 2025.
Cruz, whose state is home to the Johnson Space Center and the ISS mission control, said in May, “As a fiscal conservative, you know one of the dumbest things you can do is cancel programs after billions in investment when there is still serious usable life ahead. Prematurely canceling a program for political reasons costs jobs and wastes billions of dollars.”
The plan to transition the ISS over to the private sector is a mistake. Having commercial industry take over the funding and operation of the ISS as NASA allocates ISS money for other projects seems unlikely.
Depending on untested assumptions, commercial companies are not fully interested, nor financially motivated, in taking on the “inherent risks” of total control of the ISS operation without government support.
The last time a private commercial entity took full control of a space station was in 1999 with MirCorp, a commercial enterprise involving the Russian space program. Its attempt to demonstrate that a private company could manage a space station faced various problems before falling apart.
Ending the ISS prematurely without a purposeful transition plan is a guaranteed failure, especially at a time that the ISS is proceeding in its operation to explore the moon.
Mona Salama is a freelance writer, based in New York City, who previously worked as a reporter for Breitbart News and Politichicks.com.