A Phil Hall Op-Ed: In concept, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is the federal agency whose primary focus concerns the needs of current and potential homeowners and rental housing tenants. However, another federal agency is getting into the housing sector: NASA.
Yes, that NASA – the one with the rocket ships, the satellites and Elon Musk as a multi-billion-dollar contractor. NASA’s primary focus is the Artemis missions, which is supposed to create a new era in Earth-to-Moon-to-Earth derring-do. Never mind that going to the moon became a been-there/done-that exercise a half-century ago – NASA wants to return to the lunar surface, and not just for collecting rocks.
Last week, the media was filled with stories that NASA is planning to build houses on the moon. And, no, the media reporting this was not The Onion or The Babylon Bee. The agency is completely serious in planning the construction of houses by using 3-D printing technology that will create domiciles to be set up on the moon and occupied by both astronauts and ordinary civilians. Even more amazing is NASA’s insistence that its first housing subdivision will be ready by 2040.
And who is the home builder for NASA’s lunar community? Well, it’s not the obvious suspects like Toll Brothers or D.R. Horton – an Austin tech company called ICON has the federal contract. According to the New York Times, ICON is working with the architecture firms Bjarke Ingels Group and SEArch+ (Space Exploration Architecture) on concepts and designs for these residences, which will be created on Earth using 3-D printing and then sent up to the moon.
I need to stop at this point and stress that I am not anti-NASA. I was an enthralled kid who eagerly watched the Apollo missions and I fondly remember the unique American-Soviet cooperation with the Apollo-Soyuz joint mission. Today, I am fascinated with the discoveries from the ongoing research into space and I have been joyfully flabbergasted by the extraordinary images captured by the Webb Telescope.
But for the ultimately in stupidity, why is NASA – and, by extension, the federal government – wasting time, energy and taxpayer money on such a cockamamie endeavor? After all, there is a housing shortage across the country, which is not helped by interest rates that will probably reach the moon faster than the Artemis rockets. Shouldn’t the federal government be doing something about that?
And let’s be serious – from a logistics and maintenance standpoint, getting the 3-D printed houses the moon is only half the problem. After all, getting a plumber during a weekend or a holiday here on Earth is a minor miracle – what happens if your toilet breaks on the moon?
From a real estate perspective, I assume the lunar housing will be rental rather than private property – I don’t think Fannie and Freddie are going to securitize moon mortgages. And I would hope that Fair Housing Act covers these new homes.
NASA has not produced a budget for this boondoggle, but I suspect (in typical federal behavior) the costs will skyrocket and the project will be years behind schedule.
Even by the very low standards of government waste, NASA’s venture into the homebuilding sector is a new low. Perhaps the federal government needs to spend more time worrying about this planet before sticking “For Rent” signs on the moon.
Phil Hall is editor of Weekly Real Estate News. He can be reached at [email protected].
Photo courtesy Columbia Pictures