By Jeff Bartelli, Staff Editor
In the past few weeks, the idea of manned moon outposts gained mainstream attention thanks to the Republican primary in Florida. These comments underlie the reality that space is part of the American image. Nonetheless, a recent poll shows that 60% of Americans are opposed to the cost of building a moon base in the next ten years. This despite a CNN Gallup poll that shows 75% of Americans believe that the US should develop a replacement to the space shuttle and expand our presence is space. These differing viewpoints underlie the public concerns about the costs and benefits of a robust space program.
NASA's recent efforts to partner with commercial space companies (known as Commercial Orbital Transportation or COTS) may be the answer to our moon base dreams. Firms such as Bigelow Aerospace, SpaceX, and Orbital Sciences are building America's space infrastructure with private funding and public incentives. These companies and others are already developing the hardware for moon bases, space stations, and missions to Mars. And they can likely do it at a much lower price than NASA ever could. Perhaps private industry is the best way for the U.S. to have its flag on a moon base. A policy of development incentives to expand space-based research, industry, tourism, and, yes, colonization, may be the cheapest and most efficient way to ensure Americans continue to lead in space in the coming years and beyond.