HIM: How do you propose that private space enterprise will do the exploring and colonizing? It takes hundreds of billions of dollars to venture outside of Earth's orbit. Where is that money going to come from? How will those that invested in that venture get there money back?
ME: Privates don't do the initial exploring, that is the only role the government should have. NASA is the Lewis and Clark and private business are the settlers on their heels. You start off by letting private industry take over ISS, which is a plan under consideration by the Augustine Commission, and one I fully support. This basically lines up with COTS, but should be allowed to go further where we lease ISS space to scientists. Now it's a profit center.
Get the ISS off the NASA books as much as possible, save for OPS and Mission Control, but then again private companies can provide the bodies to man those existing facilities, thereby relieving the burden further. The money comes from investors who see the potential in space. You act as though no rich people in our history have every taken a risk and invested in something that was unknown or overtly risky. Which leads me too...
HIM: Doing things in space is difficult, dangerous and, full of failure. Does the private sector have the patience and stamina to see through those kinds of odds?
ME: Yes, the private sector has more balls than people seem to give them credit for. Do you think settling the old west was easy? Do you think traveling over thousands of miles of crappy terrain, loaded with hostile weather, bugs, critters and pissed Native Americans was non-risky? However, businesses did it anyway, people went there, and they've profited. The gold rush...special resources...is one of the driving factors that fueled the expansion of the old west, and special resources will also play a key role in the profitability of the Moon and asteroids.
The problem has always been the heavy federal restrictions placed on the private industry, making it virtually impossible for them to get into space on their own. The government has maintained a nice monopoly on space travel, thinking they are the only ones capable of doing it. ITAR prevents international cooperation on many levels, old FAA restrictions made life difficult, and it was generally ridiculous to try and fight that uphill battle. However, in recent years, these restrictions have been lifted, or are currently being looked at for overhaul so that private businesses CAN get into space more readily.
HIM: What is there to make money on in space?
ME: LEO orbiting hotels. GEO orbiting hotels. Resource mining of the Moon (precious metals and especially Helium 3). Resource mining of asteroids, loaded with all kinds of materials we can use away from and on Earth, all acquired without damaging one single thing on Earth to get it.
HIM: No one is going to invest in Asteroid mining without a customer. No one is going to invest in Helium 3 mining without a functioning fusion reactor design that is commercially viable. No one is going to fund the colonization of Mars especially when there would be such heated debate about the possibilities of life and its destruction especially when we don't even know if there is any.
ME: All of this will happen, but you have to do it in the right order. It's stupid to think we'll be going from LEO to mining asteroids right away.
Step 1 - Privatize the ISS, giving private companies (of the world) significant experience in everyday space operations. At the same time, let the governments of the world press for developing systems and technologies for the Moon.
Step 2 - Once seasoned (10 yrs max I believe), private companies will take on the larger risks, and the greater rewards, of going to the Moon for 2 major reasons: Lunar tourism and mining operations.
Step 3 - It's not much of a leap after that for asteroid mining, considering how fast technology develops and that by exposing ourselves to the moon on a consistent basis, we will learn more about what technologies we need and can use.
Your lack of faith in the private sector is astounding to me. It's the private sector that represents the backbone of this nation, not the government. It's the private sector that represents the drive and desire to turn nothing into something, or at least give it a shot. Exploring space is no different that exploring new continents was 500 years ago. If you did an actual cost analysis of how much it cost Columbus to finally discover...well...South America, you'd be amazed at how much in today's dollars it would be. But Chris was backed by the Crown, so that's not a fair comparison, just food for thought. If you want to look at a private entity that assumed the risk and bore the costs, the East India Company is better suited for the logic argument.
Point being, to undercut the drive and desire of private space development is just as ridiculous as assuming the government will do any better.