The Obama administration is actually on the right track regarding space policy. It’s the only such thing I know of that he’s right on, and there’s no internally consistent logic on which the position is predicated. It’s just weird. But I’d go beyond that. If this were not merely a hypothetical policy post in my “King of the Forest” series, I’d have much to say. Like that I see space as the next “bubble,” for instance, but what a bubble. Or maybe not “bubble” so much as “explosive area of economic and human growth.” But I digress.
In an ideal world, NASA wouldn’t exist, and would never have existed. In a world based on the reality we have, NASA needs to go back to its roots and leave the routine to the private sector. In that halfway state, NASA can play a role in encouraging private industry and infrastructure development by being a customer, R&D, that sort of thing. The function of NASA is not to fund the payroll of an army of government employees and to pursue projects that ensure that continues. Nor is it to develop industry in one part or another of the country. Nor is it to provide work to contractors in selected congressional districts. Nor is it to provide corporate welfare to selected major contractors.
I would pursue policies including but not limited to tax advantages for launch and other space companies, making the government a customer where appropriate, funding or encouraging specific “X-Prize” types of goal-based incentives, creating or encouraging space infrastructure shades of airports, roads, fueling stations and Coast Guard. Any licensing or permissions or oversight should be minimal and as streamlined as possible. In an ideal world, there would be none of that, but it exists, and might arguably be needed under the framework we live in. Just… tone it down as far as possible.
The main point is not to spend on space, but to get out of the way. Let there be an industry. Let there be optimism, excitement, jobs, profit, investment and spinoffs.