The Instigator
Pro (for)
35 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

The development of space travel should be primarily entrusted to private corporations.

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Post Voting Period
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Voting Style: Open Point System: Select Winner
Started: 7/11/2016 Category: Science
Updated: 3 months ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 461 times Debate No: 93588
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (2)
Votes (5)




This debate is part of bsh1's tourney and represents Round 1 between Cobalt and ThinkBig.

The resolution and sides were agreed upon by both parties.

Round Structure:
Round 1 - Acceptance/Statement of Position
Round 2 - Opening Arguments
Round 3 - Rebuttals [No new arguments]
Round 4 - Rebuttals/Closing Statements [No new arguments]

The Burden of Proof is shared.

I look forward to this debate.


I accept this challenge. Many thanks to bsh1 for directing the tournament.
Debate Round No. 1


I will be presenting the case that the "development of space travel" should be primarily entrusted to private corporations.

As is my right, I will be defining important resolutional terms. These are always open to criticism by the opponent.

development - a cause of developing
develope - to grow or make grow larger and become more mature, advanced or elaborate

primarily - largely or mostly

private corporation - a company that is not owned or managed by the government, which has the legal authority to act as a single entity

All other definitions can easily be considered "common sense" definitions and they will be treated as such by Pro.

Opening Arguments

1. The private sector is more efficient than the public sector.

In any endeavor, it is often wise to ensure that the money used to fund it is spent in the best possible, most efficient way. Space technologies fall into this category and it should be our goal to fund the development of these technologies efficiently.

Throughout recent history, the private sector has always been more efficient than the public sector. This is especially true in today's world. [1] This is not surprising, as there are a number of reasons as to why a private company would spend money better than the government.

a. Private businesses necessarily work to make money, meaning extra care is taken to ensure each dollar is well-spent.
b. Private businesses are smaller than the government, allowing for better oversight.
c. Private businesses are more apt to specialization. (More on this later.)

Given this information, it is clear that a private business would more efficiently create and utilize space travel technologies than would the government. This economic benefit alone weighs heavily in favor of the private business.

2. Private businesses can specialize.

There exists great economic incentive for private companies to specialize when it comes to production and manufacturing.

An example of specialization demonstrates why the public sector finds specialization to be especially difficult:

Suppose there exists a demand for space travel. This demand directly translates into demand for space travel vehicles. Company A produces and refines fuel, which it sells to company D. Company B manufactures engines, which it also sells to D. Company C creates life support systems and sells them to D. Now, D uses these parts to construct a full vehicle, which it sells to a company that maintains the vessels and directly sells the use of these vehicles to whoever demands them.

Because each company only specializes in one area, they are able to produce each good at a lower cost. This is Economics 101, and happens because each company acts as an economy of sale, which means the average price of a good falls since they make more of it. [2]

If the government were to attempt to replicate the production of these vehicles, they would be unable to specialize in any particular area, causing the net cost of each good to rise, leaving them with a significantly more expensive product in the end.


We've now discovered that there are economic benefits to entrusting private organizations with space travel. Is the money all that matters? Yes and no.

The efficiency of production is the most important factor involved here, since it is the factor that most significantly impacts how much space travel can be produced along with how fast it can be produced. Clearly, more space travel is a boon to society, since space-age technology translates well into other areas of industry.

The answer is partly no as well, since there are other factors involved. I will now cover some of these factors and demonstrate why they are either handled well already or of no concern.


3. Private management of space travel does not pose a security risk.

There are a few reasons that one would prefer the public sector to do some task over the private sector, and nearly all of these concern security. As it concerns space travel, none of these apply for the following reasons:

a) Private companies are already allowed to participate in the space travel industry.

As of 2004, it is legal for private companies to involve themselves in the development, production and launch of space technologies. Many companies have already started to capitalize on this, like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic. Just recently, SpaceX managed to launch a rocket into space and safely land it (upright) on a floating buoy in the sea.

Clearly, any harm that comes from allowing private organizations to participate in the space travel industry would already exist, since it is already legal and happening. To date, we have not seen any security risks arise from this private involvement.

b) The government is not required to give private industries any information.

The government doesn't have to tell private space organizations any secrets that are relevant to national security. There is no legal requirement for this.

Because this requirement doesn't exist, it is unreasonable to expect that allowing private corps. into the "space game" will result in government secrets being revealed.

c) Private organizations are subject to the law of the land.

If there ever a security risk was borne out of the private industry's involvement with space, the government could easily correct this by utilizing the power of the law. It is important to realize that, ultimately, the government is the highest authority, meaning there is no abuse that could occur that the government could not treat.

Given these facts, it is now clear that privatization of space travel poses no security risk.


This has been a rather brief case proving that "space travel" should be entrusted to private organizations.

The main benefit is that the private industry is more efficient than the public sector. Specialization plays a large role in this.

Additionally, we've found that there are no significant security risks involved in letting private organizations do this.

Finally, we must realize that we are already headed this way. Space privitization is already happening. The government is becoming less and less able to launch into space (often times relying on private companies), whereas private organizations like SpaceX are becoming more and more involved in the industry everyday.

In order to hedge against this case, the opponent would need to prove a few things:

1. That there is a net economic benefit to limiting this industry to the public sector.
2. That there exists some mitigating factor more important than the economics mentioned
3. That there exists a reason to divert us from the path we are already on.

I look forward to reading my opponent's case.


1 -;

2 -;


I would like to thank Cobalt for agreeing to debate this topic with me. I would also like to thank bsh1 for organizing the tournament.

1. The private sector is ill-equipped for space travel.

A. Profits and Risks

Although there are many things that the private sector does well, the private sector is not equipped for private space travel. Because private businesses necessarily work to make money (as pro pointed out in his opening statements), should the space travel not bring in enough revenue, the project will inevitably be cancelled. Because of the high risk and cost of space travel, most private sector companies will be unwilling to make those risks. Indeed, Ian Furgeson notes (1):

"In terms of innovation, the private sector is not suited to long term projects. This is because corporations are based on quarterly reporting. If a project takes 20 years to complete, or even just to show some progress, that project is less likely to receive continual funding. Managers will see money flowing into a program every quarter, but with no return on investment. Often, this will lead to a program being cut. This is, of course, why the free market is such a force for innovation; only the most efficient programs or ideas survive under this system."

Cost overruns are quite common on government contracts and NASA is certainly no exception. Take, for example, the Webb Space Telescope The Webb Telescope had fallen behind schedule and went well over budget. Furgeson further writes, "Had the Webb telescope been a project in a private company, funding would have stopped years ago. NASA continues to pursue this project not because they hope for a return on their investment, but because they see the social utility in such a project.With the Webb telescope, they hope to unlock the mysteries of the universe and find life on other planets. These are not goals that translate well into quarterly reports, but they are worthwhile goals nonetheless and can lead to unexpected breakthroughs."

Such a project would not have survived in the private sector. Neither would decade long projects for space travel or deep space exploration. Many start up companies have tried, and failed, to compete in the space travel market. Taylor Dinnerman notes in his article in the Wall Street Journal (2):

"Entrepreneurial companies have consistently overpromised and under-delivered. Over the past 30 years, over a dozen start-ups have tried to break into the launch business. The only one to make the transition into a respectably sized space company is Orbital Sciences of Dulles, Va. Building vehicles capable of going into orbit is not for the fainthearted or the undercapitalized."

"The companies that have survived have done so mostly by relying on U.S. government Small Business Innovation Research contracts, one or more angel investors, or both. Big aerospace firms tempted to join NASA's new projects will remember the public-private partnership fiasco when Lockheed Martin's X-33 design was chosen to replace the space shuttle in 1996. Before it was canceled in 2001 this program cost the government $912 million and Lockheed Martin $357 million."

B. Safety

Space travel, by its very nature, is unpredictable and deadly. Thus far out of the 450 people who went into space, there have been 34 fatalities. This leaves us a fatality rate of 7.8 per cent, or 7,500 out of 100,000 (3). What were to happen if this were a private company? This is a serious risk that most businesses are not willing to risk. The government, however, can afford to take this risk. Nayef Al-Rodhan writes (4):

"[G]overnments are most likely not held accountable to the same degree as private companies are, as a government can control to some degree how transparent it wants to be. Furthermore, because there were no alternatives to government space programs, accidents were seen to some degree as par for the course. For instance, while the Challenger and Columbia disasters affected NASA’s operations (including an over two year hiatus from launching shuttles), it did not halt the space program. By comparison, private companies actually have a far more difficult set of issues to face in the case of a mishap. In a worst case scenario, a private company could make an easy scapegoat if ever a government’s legitimacy were to be threatened due to a mishap."

Taylor Dinnerman writes, "NASA will have to establish a system to certify commercial orbital vehicles as safe for human transport, and with government bureaucracy, that will take years. Never mind the challenges of obtaining insurance." (2)


I have presented a very brief case as to why space travel should be entrusted primarily to the public sector. There are things that the government can do better than the public sector. Among those things is space travel. Therefore, the government should be primarily involved in space travel.

I look forward to my opponent's reply!



Debate Round No. 2


I'd like the thank the opponent for his quick response and apologize for my own delay. The next round should be up much more quickly.

The opponent presented a case of his own in the previous round. I will rebut his case, then present a net benefit analysis.

Opponent's Case

The opponent's case essentially consists of two arguments, one claiming that the private industry is not well-equipped for space travel and the second claiming that there exists a safety issue.

"The private industry is ill-equipped for space travel."

This entire argument is one that experts might have speculated about prior to 2004. After all, it seems to make some level of sense. Fortunately for humanity (and my argument), we've since seen evidence that directly contradicts this speculative argument.

This is because in 2004, as was mentioned in my own case, a law was passed that effectively made it legal for private organizations to begin space-related endeavors. The law specifically [1] allowed for the commercialization of human space flight.

Since then, we've seen multiple companies emerge who are specifically targeting and engaging in this particular industry. Importantly, these companies are not having the problems that the opponent's experts speculated would happen.

Consider the company SpaceX. They were the first private company to successfully launch a liquid fueled rocket in space; the first private company to launch a craft into space, have it orbit, then have it safely return; and the first company to launch a vessel beyond Earth Orbit. (The Deep Space Climate Observatory). What's more, they're the company that managed to launch a pod into orbit, then return the launching rocket back to Earth and land it upright, proving their ability to deliver on first stage reuseability. This task had never before been accomplished. [2]

They're not the only private company heavily involved in the space travel industry. Virgin Galactic is developing "space planes" meant for non-astronaut use. This company had great success with their first iteration, "SpaceShipOne", but had a malfunction with "SpaceShipTwo". [3] In 2007, the SpaceShipTwo blew up during a ground test, killing two people. The opponent's sources speculate that such a disaster would signal the "end" for a private company, but Virgin Galactic is still working on their space planes as vigorously as ever, proving that such speculative "program killers" are unfounded.


The claim that "the private sector is not suited to long term projects" is made by the opponent, but his own evidence illustrates the flaw in this argument.

It essentially argues that since corporations are based on quarterly reporting, long term projects hold little appeal. This type of "managerial mindset" may be the case in companies that typically take on an array of diverse projects, but it does not logically hold for companies geared toward a very specific industry.

If current trends hold, it is clear that the private sector is going to accommodate for space flight in the form of companies specifically dedicated toward that. SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are both only interested in activities that fall under the definition of "space travel". This means that, while one project might be cut if it isn't fruitful, there will be other projects that are fruitful and they will necessarily be space based. What's more, whatever replaces the cut program will be necessarily space based.

In other words, companies solely interested in the space travel industry will only produce goods relating to the space travel industry. The idea that space travel development would be "cut" simply doesn't hold for these companies, since that is all they do.


The opponent's argument can even be used against him. The government does operate as a "multi-interest corporation", in the sense that it takes on many programs at once that expand across multiple industries.

The government has a finite amount of capital that must be spread across these programs. Whenever a program is not producing results that the government likes, it simply cuts the program. We know from experience that the government is already cutting space travel funds. The retirement of the space shuttles and the continual decrease in NASA funding each year demonstrates that the government is less and less interested in pursuing space travel. [4]

Private companies who specifically and solely work on space travel and space technology development are the natural response to this decreased government interest. If the private industry doesn't take up this slack, no one will.


The final points in the opponent's case reference articles that clearly refer to a time before SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, a time in which the private industry had yet to successfully take up the mantle of space travel development.

That evidence is clear outdated, as is indicated by the existence of many successful private companies involved in the space industry.


The opponent's evidence is entirely speculative and seems to be based off of old information.

The more recent history of private industries and space (after ~2006) proves that these companies are willing and able to provide meaningful development of the space travel industry. Prefer my (recent) historical evidence of actual events over the opponent's speculative evidence.


The opponent (correctly) points out that space travel is a dangerous thing. He then concludes two things:

1. Private businesses are not willing to take this risk.

2. The government can afford this risk.

The first point is easily countered with the fact that private businesses are already doing this. They are already involved in the industry and they are already taking these safety risks. This itself clearly defeats the idea that private companies are unwilling to take the risk.

The second point is a little more complicated. The opponent is correct in saying that the government can get away with more than the private sector. However, this doesn't really matter. Allow me to explain:

Private companies are already taking these safety risks. As the opponent has explained, these risks are an inherent part of space travel. These companies understand this and they do it anyway. If a company behaves in a way that is negligent and hurts somebody, they may well be put out of business. If they do not behave negligently, they may survive the mishap. Regardless of what happens, market forces will ensure that demand is met.

Consider what would happen if Bluebell ice cream shut down. Would people stop eating ice cream? No -- there is a demand for ice cream and there are other companies that make it. Now what if all ice cream companies were to simultaneously go out of business. Would people stop eating ice cream? No -- there is a demand for ice cream and someone will form a company and start making and selling ice cream. This is because the market always tries to respond to demand.

Similarly, there is a demand for space travel. If a company fails, another one will take its place and begin offering the same services. This is an inherent quality of a free market. If a private space company fails because of a catastrophe, that does not spell doom for space travel or the innovation associated with it. It simply signals that there will soon be a new player in the game.

In the world in which there is no demand for space travel, then this entire topic becomes moot. Neither the government or the private sector will bother with it, since there is no demand for it. Just like private companies, the government isn't going to spend a great amount of money on something that nobody demands. This is evidenced by the fact that the US only started its space program because there was a great demand for it. (Beat the Russians.)

In order to debate this topic at all, we have to assume that demand exists for space travel. (And thankfully, it does.) Given that, we can confidently assume that one company's catastrophe will not destroy the development of space travel to any degree.

Finally, it's important to refer up to a previous point in which I discussed the Virgin Galactic mishap. They had an accident that killed two people, and yet the company is still alive and developing technology. This indicates that the private industry is not so fragile that a single mishap can destroy it.

And this makes sense. Consider that other industries have a much higher death toll than the space industry. While the percentage of astronaut deaths is considerably great, the actual number is very low. It is a common mistake to look at a percentage and attempt to draw conclusions from it without considering the actual values it represents. Overall, the space industry is responsible for extremely few deaths.

Net Benefit Analysis

If we affirm the resolution:

1. We get more innovation and developmental efficiency.
2. We see our demand for space travel met.
3. We see that each dollar spent "buys" more usable product, meaning a higher ROI.

If we deny the resolution:

1. We might see programs last longer.
2. We will be less willing to blame accidents on the responsible agent.


It should be clear that affirming the resolution produces the best results. Private companies are more efficient and innovative than the government, allowing for a higher ROI. No more or fewer lives are lost because of who does the development.


I've demonstrated that private companies can and are developing space travel tech and that they do it well. The opponent's case presents two non-issues. We are left with one choice: affirm the resolution.




Due to unforseen circumstances, I am forced to withdraw from bsh1's tournament. I thus concede the debate and wish my opponent the best of luck moving forward.

I hope we can debate this topic again sometime soon.
Debate Round No. 3


I am disappointed that the opponent had to withdraw, but I'd like to thank him for his case anyway.

One can see from the opponent's other debates that he is a strong debater and I only hope that he is able to keep that up in the future.

With that said, Pro wins by forfeiture.


Please vote pro.
Debate Round No. 4
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by ThinkBig 3 months ago
@kenikaobrien, this debate has nothing to do with space ownership. Private development of space travel does not mean that space will be owned by private corporations.
Posted by kenikaobrien 3 months ago
Interesting but I think the bigger issue is the U.N. 1967 Outer Space Treaty vs. U.S. 2015 Space Act. Can companies own something that the international community says belongs to no nation? Capitalism probably will say yes... International law will not likely.
5 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Vote Placed by bballcrook21 3 months ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: Concession
Vote Placed by lannan13 3 months ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: A good read and a bit disappointed that it didn't have a chance to finish up. Con concession gives Pro the win.
Vote Placed by Nivek 3 months ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: Concession. Interesting read.
Vote Placed by fire_wings 3 months ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: Concession, I liked the debate, but Con conceded :/ "Mothafuckas dance with singing chocolate cake on the dark side of the moon." YYW
Vote Placed by dsjpk5 3 months ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: Concession.