The recent midterm elections have confirmed that the political landscape in the US is more polarized than ever before. Gone seem to be the days when reasonable politicians of either side were willing to negotiate with “the enemy” for the common good.

Today, moderate politicians willing to compromise are becoming an endangered species in the US. The same trend is visible in other Western countries.

What happens to space programs when politicians are only motivated by partisan politics instead of the common good? Easy: As soon as it achieves power, a new administration (of a new color) will immediately scrap the space programs of the previous administration.

I happen to be persuaded that the current US administration is right in considering a sustainable return to the Moon as a short-term, high-priority objective. But US voters typically change their mind after eight years, some times even four — which could be the case in 2020. On the other hand, a major space program needs more than eight years to go from inception to deployment. Therefore…

… the countdown never reaches zero, and we are stuck on the ground.

We’ve seen this happening many times before.

Despite some calls for reason and negotiation issued by a tiny minority of reasonable politicians of both sides (who probably won’t be re-elected), this trend can’t be expected to end soon in the US and the rest of the West. One day sanity will prevail (yes, I am an optimist), but not anytime soon (yes, I am a realist).

What about large corporations? Well, Big Business is in the space game mostly for fat Big Government contracts. Large corporations don’t risk their own money without government backing, and can’t be expected to do so until clear paths to short-term profitability emerge.

Smaller companies in the emerging “new space” sector are developing practical plans for sustainable space programs, for example mining the Moon and the asteroids, but they need a lot of money to bootstrap. In today’s climate, getting the needed cash from Big Government or Big Business seems unlikely.

Therefore, the West is stuck on the ground.

Of course, there is China.

China has ambitious space plans, and seems much less paralyzed by partisan squabbling than the West. But… China?

Latest in a long list of questionable practices, China is implementing a “social credit system” that seems “straight out of dystopian sci-fi.” Is this the bright future that we want to see? I welcome China’s push to the Moon and beyond, but I hope the Western world — burdened by slow democracy as it is — will continue to play a role.

I think there’s a way out. Besides Big governments and large corporations, global groups of citizens should take the initiative and launch next-generation space programs by-the-people, for-the-people. I dream of citizen space agencies able to raise real money for space missions. Space Decentral is a step in this direction.

First published in Space Decentral.

Picture from pxhere.