Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.
As U.S. space pundits await signals over what direction NASA’s policy will take under the Trump Administration, this photo of the European Space Agency’s general meeting should serve as reminder of some of the downsides of increased international participation in large space projects.
Exercising leadership and promoting international cooperation is one of the many factors which motivate American space policy, and certainly have their place. Yet all too often there appears to be a reflexive tendency on the part of the professional space policy establishment to promote higher levels of international participation without considering the vast inefficiencies that result. Witness for example, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden’s repeated assertions that the United States “can’t go to Mars alone,” or the developing debacle that is the European /Russian ExoMars project which is one of an endless number of subjects being debated by the 22 different member nations represented in the photo.
While the aforementioned rationales for cooperation may mean that if NASA under the Trump Administration remains focused on Mars, no matter how distantly, or instead shifts attention to the Moon, while policymakers may make an informed, calculated decision to engage partners in a major way, they are not obligated to do so.
After all, can anyone really picture Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos making decisions in the manner captured in the photo?