Zen Buddhism encourages practitioners to avoid confusing the finger pointing to the moon with the moon itself. The finger is only pointing the way to enlightenment; it’s not enlightenment. The Trump Administration’s impending moonshot proposal demands just the opposite of aerospace contractors: don’t confuse the moon with the finger.

it’s the journey, not the destination

Getting back to the moon isn’t about getting back to the moon. It’s about how we get back there.  Industry giants evolved to flourish in the slow-and steady red-tape government. Agency by agency, the Federal government is learning that the bureaucratic red-tape drag that, fortunately, keeps our government functioning steady and true through booms and busts is, at the same time, impeding the kind of competitive innovation that characterizes private-sector industry that rapidly adapts and changes in order to survive in a market evolving at a faster and faster rate. Many new species in the private-sector are designed for speed, for rapid change, for taking big risks with quick big wins and big payoffs, what industry giants traditionally avoid in favor of longer-term approaches that guarantee project success. By today’s standards, it’s a snail’s pace.


That’s why we hear the phrase public-private partnerships more and more. Public-private partnerships are not contracts. They’re partnerships. They’re not so binding and imposing and threatening to organizations entering into them. Partnerships don’t entangle businesses with red tape. The public stays public and the private stays private. The business keeps businessing.

Public-private partnerships are about finding sources that can do what the bureaucracy, by nature, simply cannot do, or at least cannot do well or sufficiently. And public-private partnerships encourage industry-wide change. Suddenly, there’s big competition for big dollars, and the faster producers win.

It’s not about the moon. It’s about how quickly and efficiently you can get there. And in the 21st century, the private-sector in United States should be able to do that pretty quickly.


In the 1960s, the space race was about the United States beating the Russians. And we did. In 2017, the new-space race is an intramural sport. Politico’s Bryan Bender interprets the Trump Administration’s impending moonshot proposal as a “struggle for supremacy between traditional aerospace contractors and the tech billionaires who have put big money into private space ventures.” Pennsylvania Congressman and space-policy leader Robert Walker describes the new-space race more bluntly: “’There are billions of dollars at stake. It has come to a head now when it has become clear to the space community that the real innovative work is being done outside of NASA.’”


Here’s the challenge. “The more ambitious administration vision,” writes Bender, “could include new moon landings that ‘see private American astronauts, on private space ships, circling the Moon by 2020; and private lunar landers staking out de facto ‘property rights’ for American on the Moon, by 2020 as well.’” The fight is between “Old Space, or NASA’s traditional contractors, and New Space characterized by SpaceX and Blue Origin.”

Industry giants are faced with a simple choice: truly revolutionize the business in ways that will beat the start-ups, or don’t.

Important here is not to confuse the moon with the finger.

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Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.