Should the Moon Be Privately Owned?
On July 20, 1969, 530 million people sat on the living room floors of the world.
Families gathered around television sets, and school children and office workers alike crouched in front of screens with anticipation you could cut with a knife.
The images were grainy, and the sound was marred by static. But through the crackling came not only the greatest media event of the 20th Century, but the most epic depiction of human intelligence and vigour to date.
After 76 hours, 386,000 km of gruelling travel, and decades of preparation, Apollo 11 was about to land on the moon for the first time in human history.
We all know the quote that came next — profoundly concise, and immortalised for eternity in that choppy radio-voice. It was that one small step that simultaneously ended the space race and kicked off a new era in our species’ history. And at 11.15pm EDT, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong stood facing the big blue dot of Earth and read from a plaque which said:
‘Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.’
This venture out into space is one of the greatest testaments to the evolution of humanity. Sure, it took us approximately 3.5 billion years to get there. But we’ve certainly come a long way from the self-absorbed endeavours of scratching rocks on cave walls and hunting for our next meal. And as the plaque astutely noted, it was this feat of space travel that offered a peaceful reprieve from the politics and violence constantly occurring on Earth.
Even now, despite all of the trade tensions and volatility sweeping through our nations, space remains a realm for cooperation and innovation.
Just last week, the European Space Agency announced plans to mine for oxygen and water on the moon by 2025. The agency signed a one-year contract with aerospace company, ArianeGroup, who will provide the launch craft set to be tested in 2020. And together, they will mine lunar rock and soil which will be extremely useful for establishing a base on the moon.
India and China have also caught on to the opportunities available in space, and have drawn up plans to mine for the nuclear fuel helium-3 in the moon’s crust, to use for nuclear energy back home. This comes after China landed their first lunar probe on the dark side of the moon last month — a project which (surprisingly) was done in collaboration with the US.
However, these projects come with financial setbacks. In today’s money, the cost of the Apollo space program was around $150 billion. And although the cost of these recent projects are yet to be released, it’s likely that they’re in the same ballpark.
Most of the time, governments don’t have that kind of money to spare. And taxpayers aren’t too keen on forking out their hard earned cash on these cosmic dreams.
But is there a better, perhaps more highly lucrative way to innovate in space?
The private space race
Gone are the days of waiting around for governments to take us into the next era of space travel. And it’s just as well. In the absence of the threat of all-out nuclear war, little progress has been made over the past few decades. There has been no moon landing in my lifetime. And global excitement about space seems to have dwindled.
Overall, government leaders just aren’t as concerned with leaving their mark in space. Instead, the space race has turned private. And the billionaires of the tech world are now battling it out to become the king of the stars.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is one such billionaire. His aerospace company Blue Origin plans to begin colonising the moon by 2023, and believes the moon is a perfect place for earthlings to conduct much of their heavy industry. As Bezos confirmed to the Washington Post last year: ‘It is time for America to return to the Moon — this time to stay.’
Then we have Space X CEO Elon Musk. His grand plans to take humans to Mars on a 100-metre rocket nicknamed BFR (or Big F***ing Rocket) are well known to the public. And with his determination and a personal net worth of US$20.8 billion, he might just succeed.
Even companies like Vodafone, Nokia and Audi are getting in on the action. Right now they are working on organising the very first privately-funded moon landing to give the moon its first mobile network. According to the companies, the plan is to use 4G to have the rovers communicate with each other more effectively than analogue radio. And provide ‘the first ever live HD video feed of the Moon’s surface’ to Earth.
It seems that when you put space in the hands of private companies, the optimism and fervour to succeed skyrockets. And the speed and of innovation seems to double.
If anyone is going to colonise the moon, or Mars, I think we can all agree that it’s more likely to be Elon Musk than Xi Jinping. Not only does this spark interesting questions as to who would be the leader (or owner) of these planets in the future, but it also puts into question the role of governments in space altogether.
If we know anything for sure, it’s that innovation in the space industry has only just begun. And as an investor there are more opportunities than ever to follow the big tech companies as they journey past the Earth’s atmosphere, and send their company valuations even higher.
My advice: watch this space.
This week in Money Morning
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Until next week,
Editor, Money Weekend
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