Guided by the Obama administration, NASA has begun developing commercial launch capabilities. For both cargo and crew delivery to the International Space Station, NASA has selected companies to build and operate the vehicles at a fixed price. Alexander McDonald suggests that this continues a trend in space exploration established by large observatory projects, and that the Apollo-era style of funding and operation was a historical anomaly. This paper attempts to discover if historical analog can support or weaken this thesis. The analogs chosen are two episodes in the history of terrestrial exploration: the experience of the Spanish and British empires in North America. These are compared to the history of space exploration up until today, focusing on how the role of private enterprise has changed in each instance. While the analogies between historical episodes are weak in a few areas, they do possess a common narrative concerning the shifting balance between private and government interests. This narrative supports McDonald's thesis, and shows that NASA's current policy anticipates an expected transition towards a private-public hybrid model of exploration and expansion.
- The Evolving Frontier: Comparing the Historical Dynamics of Private Enterprise in Earth and Space Exploration