NASA Considers Private Sector Collaboration for Mars Missions

We’re one step closer to a private, for-profit, libertarian utopia on Mars. Well, sort of anyway. This week, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories asked private space companies to sketch out how they would complete one of four different missions to the Red Planet, Ars Technica reported yesterday.
Those missions would include one for delivering a small payload of miniature satellites to Mars, one delivering a larger orbital spacecraft, one delivering an orbital image servicing spacecraft, and one for establishing a years-long communications relay between Mars and Earth.
Companies would be paid $200,000 for studying one of these missions or $300,000 for studying two of them.
Already NASA is making heavy use of private capital to get to orbit. Beginning in 2020, the agency started sending its astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) via rockets owned and operated by SpaceX.
That first Crew Dragon mission was the first time a private spacecraft had carried humans into orbit. Once a headline-grabbing event, private human space flight has almost become routine, judging by the lower profile of each subsequent SpaceX launch. Just last month, SpaceX carried its first all-European, all-commercial crew of four people to the ISS in a mission paid for by a private space company.
NASA is also leaning on private space companies to deliver payloads to the Moon and develop spacecraft and other technology for an eventual human return to the lunar surface.
This isn’t necessarily free market capitalism. It’s still the government paying contractors with tax dollars. But the increasing use of private contractors for space missions does open the door for more completely private, for-profit space flight.
“In recent years, NASA has been evolving from ‘owning’ all of the rockets and spacecraft that it uses to explore the Solar System to a more services-based model,” writes Ars Technica‘s Eric Berger. The agency invests some of the money necessary to develop privately owned spacecraft, which can then be hired by the government or private sector.
Republicans are trying to save their slim House majority by expanding the dreaded SALT deduction. The State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction does what it sounds like; it lets people deduct their state and local taxes from their federal tax bill.
It’s almost exclusively used by high-income taxpayers in high-tax Democratic states, effectively subsidizing those state’s high tax rates while shifting the federal tax burden onto everyone else. The 2017 GOP tax reform bill imposed a $10,000 cap on the SALT deduction, much to the chagrin of some Democrats who favor the policy.
But with the Republican House majority dependent on a handful of vulnerable Republican-held seats in New York, today’s GOP is warming to the SALT deduction as well.
On Thursday afternoon, Republicans on the House Rules Committee advanced a bill that would raise the SALT deduction cap to $20,000 for joint filers making under $500,000.
“This is about fairness with our constituents being double taxed,” said Rep. Mike Lawler (R–N.Y.), per Politico. “This is pro-family. This is about ensuring married couples are not being penalized in the tax code.”
Americans are getting back to work. The January jobs report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics this morning says that the U.S. economy added 353,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate held steady at 3.7 percent.
These numbers are beyond the projections of many analysts, who’d predicted the economy would add somewhere from 160,000 jobs to 275,000 jobs. That’s enough of an overshot to get reporters to describe the jobs report as “stunning” and “shockingly strong.”

Scenes from D.C.
Pro-Palestinian protestors are winning hearts and minds by blocking off traffic in front of the D.C. Holocaust Museum.
The nation’s capital obviously has a robust protest tradition, from civil rights marches to civil rights for Juggalos marches. The courteous thing to do is restrict your demonstration to the National Mall, which is made for this kind of stuff. The monuments provide great optics for your issue too, regardless of whether you like or hate abortion, want America out of a war, or want it more involved in one.
Disruptive street blockers will typically argue their cause is so important that it requires shaking ordinary people out of their apathy by extraordinary means. One could easily argue the opposite too; that a truly urgent moral emergency requires effective activism and message discipline so as not to alienate ordinary people who could just as easily not give a damn.
That’s something for people trying to free Gaza from the street in front of the Holocaust Museum to consider for the next protest.

Quick Links

  • New York, New York, the greatest city in the world and America’s largest, is experimenting with a new pilot program where people throw their garbage in a bin instead of dumping it on the street. We’ll see if it sticks.