NASA is Looking for a Few Good Economists

NASA has a call for research in the economics of space exploration:

This NRA seeks empirical economic research projects, historical analog research, concepts for
encouraging further economic activity in space, and unique stimulatory activities that promote
novel private/commercial uses of space, new private/commercial space opportunities, and
emerging private/commercial capabilities in suborbital, orbital or deep space environments that
enable discoveries, development and applications from these environments.

Specific topics of interest include:

  • Historical Economic Studies in the following areas:
  1. Economic history of NASA programs;
  2. Long term historical impact of the space program;
  3. Economic and business histories of American private sector space enterprises (including companies, societies, and projects);
  4. Economic histories of historical analog activities for space exploration (including detailed investigations into the financing of historical expeditions, settlements, and transportation infrastructure projects).
  • Current and Near-Term Trends, Analyses and Concepts for accelerating American space development, in the following areas:
  1. Utilizing market mechanisms, private sector partnerships, and expanding markets to serve non-traditional commercial entities;
  2. Promoting broader uses of space for public and/or economic benefit, including job creation and/or workforce development, and maintaining American leadership in the global space marketplace;
  3. Encouraging engagement on space activities from citizen makers, crowd-funders, citizen explorers, and participation of innovators from non-traditional sectors that can have a transformative effect on future private/commercial space developments;
  4. Identifying and evaluating economic applications of space systems design to earth-scale economic analysis, including integrated modeling of globalized economic systems and earth systems science;
  5. Examining competitive stresses, potentials for public benefit, and issues affecting NASA or the nation in the commercial space arena;
  6. Monitoring, investigating and reporting on opportunities enabled by the rapidly growing national and international entrepreneurial space communities;
  7. Assessing the adequacy of economic assessment and evaluation tools and methods for space architectures;
  8. Conducting case studies of space development projects that can be used to inform NASA on the opportunities and impediments to economic development in space.
  • Economics, Systems Analysis, and Projections, in orbital and deep space development; lunar development, asteroid development, and Mars development.


Hell, I thought that Pournelle, Bova, and Gingrich were the go to guys on this.

Or just about anyone ever published by Baen, for that matter.

"Economic histories of historical analog activities for space exploration" caused me to realise that "exploration" isn't the ideal word for space. In space you know where you are going - e.g. the moon, Mars, or whatever - and you know what stands between them and you. Whereas the great oceanic explorations didn't know what was there - I'm thinking of the prehistoric Polynesian exploration of the Pacific, or the Portuguese of the Atlantic. (The Portuguese knew what they wanted to find - that there was a practical way round Africa to India - but they had no way of knowing whether one existed.) Columbus was in a slightly different category: he knew with certainty that he was going to Japan and China, he just had a hopelessly inaccurate idea of where they were, and no notion that he might meet an obstacle in his way.

Well, the previous explorers knew very well that they would find other earth-like environments. Much like you expect to find Mars-like environments on Mars, and not like we how he have no idea what the hell to expect in the deeps of Europa.

I think buried in your comment is a different claim: What people can expect to find on earth is pretty valuable for the cost of getting it. Our best guess about the other worlds is that they are so valueless that its not worth finding out if they are valuable after all.

'Our best guess about the other worlds is that they are so valueless that its not worth finding out if they are valuable after all.'

Actually, that is not true - the strategic advantage as portrayed in Heinlein's The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress is not that far from current American strategic thinking involving 'high orbitals' (again, Pournelle being a key figure in such thinking).

Whether such thinking is realistic is another question, of course.

Thank you Prior. I spend ever so many milliseconds ignoring your long comments, assuming that they contain nothing worth understanding, but never being quite sure. Now you make a short comment to demonstrate the pointlessness of your existence.

I agree that "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" has aged well, and at least its physical guesses are still plausible. Socially, there seems little prospect of the Moon turning into the next Australia, let alone there being second and greater Rum Rebellion. Which is a pity.

But what the fuck does any of this have to do with artificial satellites?

I'll let you read more about 'rods from god' and Project Thor, but here is a bit of fairly current information - 'The system most often described is "an orbiting tungsten telephone pole with small fins and a computer in the back for guidance".[citation needed] The system described in the 2003 United States Air Force (USAF) report was that of 20-foot-long (6.1 m), 1-foot-diameter (0.30 m) tungsten rods, that are satellite controlled, and have global strike capability, with impact speeds of Mach 10'

The U.S. has a long standing interest in ensuring that it has the same ability to dominate orbital space, the same as it possesses to currently dominates the oceans, the atmosphere, and most of the earth's surface.

Also of interest might be this project -

The strange thing is, no one seems to actually know what it is used for. Though there just might be a hint in the following - 'The X-37B program is managed by the U.S. Air Force Rapid Capabilities Office and the vehicle is built to showcase risk reduction, experimentation and concept of operations development for reusable space vehicle technologies.'

I'm sure that Rapid Capabilities Office brings a warm glow to the heart of anyone interested in combining technical expertise into quick solutions. Such as a solution to an American defined problem, arriving at Mach 10.

American exploration these days tends to be focussed on destruction, not discovery.

I would interpret the comment the other way around. What we're doing now is easier than exploration. We're at the development phase. It's 1700, not 1492.

LEO and GEO, at least, are enormously valuable. People pay $10k a pound just to get stuff there.

"Well, the previous explorers knew very well that they would find other earth-like environments": some ancient sages had assured them that the "torrid zones" would not support life.

By "ancient" I assume you mean at least a thousand years before Colombus. Even those guys had contrary evidence (which they didn't believe), because Phoenecians had already circumnavigated Africa.

But if they didn't know if life could exist in places like the Kalahari, then why should they have? And how the hell should we know if life can exist on Europa unless we attempt to find out.

"because Phoenecians had already circumnavigated Africa": so Herodotus said. But I doubt it.

We can't find any on earth?


Seems like an odd request -- but I suppose it's one way of spending money.

Why not just case studies of Mars One, the Mars Society, SpaceX and Planetary Resources?

I think dearieme has a great take on the whole "exploration" thing, but there will still be things to learn, escpecially in the area of living on other rocks or ice cubes. There's probably also various manufacturing processes, as well as materials/alloys that are out there for discovery and exploration. So it's not quite as different as historical explorating on Earth but probably not much insight for today's problems either.

Are (m)any economists looking at all seriously at the prospects for recovery from one ill-timed/ill-positioned eruption of an X-40+ (or Z-class) solar flare and coronal mass ejection event? Or can/do astrophysicists "assure" us that we and our terrestrial technologies can withstand any such event?

Ah, it'll be just like the old times.. "We were going to use economists, then we realized that a chimpanzee could do the job just as well"


Hiring propagandist who can use economics as ammunition

What's interesting is what is missing:

Increasing competition in procurement so as to reduce costs.

And, when you are done with this job, there is a job waiting for you at Boeing or Lockheed.

NASA used to do things. Like send people to the Moon.

Now they sit around and talk about how great it would be if they did things.

>insert obligatory MR-related Low Hanging Fruit Quotation<

Isn't it sad? 1/2 of our government is venal and gutless and the other 1/2 is venal and stupid.

Did the Star Fleet Command of star Trek fame have any economists?

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