No Moon for you without a profit motive

It's the kind of future Allen Steele could have written in early books like Orbital Decay (above), Lunar Descent and Clarke County, Space, filled with underpaid, blue collar "beamjacks" and bosses who care mainly about profit.

The President's budget, to be announced Monday, is expected to scrap the Ares rocket and hopes for a manned mission to the Moon by 2020.

Instead the government plans to privatize space, giving grants to companies creating "space taxis" designed for Earth orbit. NASA would also consolidate its communications systems, turning its three networks into one.

It's a conservative plan, no increase in government spending, more reliance on the private sector. One might expect Republicans to applaud, and many "small government" conservatives will smile.

But the national security wing of the party is bound to begin worrying about a Chinese flag up there on the Moon some day, and the red planet of Mars turning really, really red.

I'm a space romantic but I personally like the plan. Space romantics have been sucking at the government teat for decades, and it's about to run dry. Time to innovate.

It's the kind of future Allen Steele could have written in early books like Orbital Decay (above), Lunar Descent and Clarke County, Space, filled with underpaid, blue collar "beamjacks" and bosses who care mainly about profit.

In fact in his own 2001 testimony to Congress Steele suggested scrubbing NASA in favor of what he called a Commercial Space Administration, which he described as a "new paradigm" for combining public and private investment, a "space settlement" approach aimed at making space pay.

The Bush Administration ignored Steele's testimony and embarked instead on making big promises it did not fund. The Obama Administration's own space commission last year called those plans unrealistic, based on expected funding.

Now, it seems we're off to a Steele future. Unless China can give us a Sputnik-like kick in the derriere.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com