Financing the Project
Section 3.3.
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Investment in Manned Space

When people ask "why haven't they" about Paramount Pictures filming a Star Trek movie on the Moon or why Lunar Prospector could raise the million dollars they needed, they have the question backwards. It's not "because space supporters are doing something very badly wrong and don't know what that something is", but rather "because they are doing something wrong and we do know what that something is."

Each case of past and current failure is a bit different.

Paramount isn't planning on filming a movie on the Moon because they haven't thought of it. If someone did propose it, the executives would look at the only model they have for the cost of manned space flight -- NASA -- and immediately drop the idea. That's undoubtedly why very few people have, in the past, even considered a privately funded space mission.

What they don't know can hurt us. We've demonstrated that NASA at its best is never more than 10% efficient in developing and flying spacecraft. Depending on the program and the specific time you check, that efficiency factor sometimes drops below 1%. I'm not bashing NASA here; from what I've seen they are the most efficient agency in the U. S. federal government. There's just no way around it; inefficiency is endemic to all government operations. Unfortunately, the history of absurdly high cost of space endeavors puts almost anyone looking at private space endeavors into concept shock. That is the single most difficult obstacle to overcome.

The Lunar Prospector is a case in point. The project got stymied when it fell into bureacracy and the estimated cost went up from one million to ten million dollars. Their fund-raising efforts were thwarted mostly because they went to the wrong investors. Big aerospace companies are used to doing things the government way, and the government is their biggest customer. Even if their executives could overcome concept shock, investing in private space projects would only undermine their current business base.

Now, don't go into concept shock about the real cost of a privately financed moon shot. We've been digging as deep as we can into our estimates for The Artemis Project and still haven't found anything that would drive the cost over four million man-hours. We might discover a lot of things hiding under the rocks when we break it down to more detailed cost estimates. That's one of the reasons I used the very high burdened labor rate of $75 an hour (in 1994 dollars).

Don't underestimate the impact of the "space is astronomically expensive" message that gets drubbed into our brains every time the nightly news covers a space program. We all know that NASA's budget is trivial compared to total federal outlays, but that doesn't stop politicians and ill-informed talking heads. All they see is that space is big and flashy, so it must be expensive!

I'm not the only one who has figured out that even NASA's trivial expenditure for space flight is still absurdly high. There must be a dozen projects in the talking stage that just started in the last year or so. People are beginning to realize the truth about the promise of space travel.

There's a good reason why it took so long for people to figure it all out. Consider the type of individual needed to put it all together. To doubt a fundamental paradigm like "how much does it cost to build a spacecraft" one has to be in a position to see it all happening. There aren't a lot of guys around who have spent 20 years in the aerospace industry, worked in both the private and government environments, managed multimillion dollar NASA projects to develop hardware, lived through development efforts in both those environments from concept through flight, and on top of it all have the open mind and inquisitive nature to figure out what's going on. He needs extensive experience in running different kinds of business organizations to be able to build the mental model necessary.

To see the commercial possiblities, that same rare individual needs visibility into the magnitude of costs of others things so he'll have benchmarks of comparison. That's where potato chips and movies come in. He has to be an observer of human behavior to realize that to the average man space travel is entertainment and nothing more. He has to have a large enough world view to cope with the concept that homo sapiens is indeed headed for the disaster Mr. Malthus predicted and the Club of Rome proved so long ago.

Most folks would really prefer to just collect their paychecks and go home to watch football. It's a lot of work to keep digging after the big hand hits five o'clock, to keep looking for ways to drain the swamp while leaping from the latest snapping alligator. Our individual has to be someone who lets the alligators take care of themselves while he surveys the entire landscape.

To make the project work, he has to have a good track record as a Leader. We're looking for someone who can build and maintain a strong organization rather than an ephemeral charismatic cult leader. He must be able to cut through the red tape of organizational politics to find the root of problems as they arise, and be immune to the cries of Chicken Little while looking for the stimulus that caused them.

Most of all, he has to be someone who habitually puts aside his own self-interest to get the project done; not a martyr, but a realist with a motivation that goes well beyond even the project at hand. A strong instinct for damsel-rescuing would work well as a motivation; how often does El Quixote get to rescue three billion damsels at the same time?

There just aren't a lot of people who fit those criteria.

Unfortunately, I've left out the two very most important characteristics our rare individual must have for a project like Artemis to succeed: the ability to communicate the real facts to enough interested people so they will believe it, and the time to do it all. Only history will tell if such an individual really exists.

Financing the Project

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