President Obama’s recent speech about US intentions in space was uncharacteristically weak and unfocused, indeed, poorly expressed. His over-arching goal about humans in Mars orbit by the ‘mid 2030s’ was hardly an inspiring call to the barricades. He ineptly attempted to recall President Kennedy’s words “and to return them safely to Earth”. His timeline was too vague and his goals far too modest. Most importantly, he did not appear to understand that the US, and other space-faring nations, will never have a space program that is sustainable if it is not economically sustainable too.
Economic sustainability of space exploration and development is not based, and can never be based, on ever increasing national subsidies of NASA, CSA, RFSA, ESA, CNSA and other national space agencies.
Economic sustainability implies that space exploration and development will be based on a combination of public and private initiative guided by the principles of trade for mutual benefit as well as research, discovery and innovation for potential profit: these will help to create a stable, space-based economy that, in symbiosis with Earth’s, is the only way to avoid a space program that stumbles from pillar to post and (at least in the case of the US) has proven to be unreliable in every way that counts: getting people and material to and from space safely and providing a reliable, steady flow of benefits to Earth-based and space-based assets.
The most fundamental question is not “what is the technology we intend to develop for space exploration” or what “the next destination should be” – it’s why we should go at all. There are 2-dimensions to this ‘why’ question: a. Why would we want to leave Earth in the first place and b. Why, when we get wherever we’re going, we’re going there!
OK, let’s try to answer the first question: Why should we leave the Earth?
i. Because it’s there.
ii. Don’t put all our eggs in one basket/the Earth is fragile.
iii. It’s a voyage of discovery.
iii. There are spin-offs from space tech for science, environment, energy, medicine, health and more.
iv. For reasons we don’t yet know but will discover in the process, on the way and when we’re there.
OK, now answer the question: Why, when we get wherever we’re going, we’re going there?
i. We need at least one totally compelling reason to be there – such as to colonize the place, to find answers that involve healing and health, to exploit resources, to develop energy production or for some other purpose or idea that we have yet to conceptualize.
If, the other day, President Obama had instead asked for volunteers to sign up to be the first colonists on the Moon or Mars, I imagine he would have had quite a different reaction than the ‘ho-hum, heard that before’ outcome his speech, in fact, generated.
What type of reaction would Mr. Obama have had instead if he had announced that recent experiments have shown that living in a low gravity environment slowed cancer growth to a crawl in humans or prolonged life for elders by 25 years? That they could boogie like teenagers again in their new Lunar or Martian habitat? What if the President had asked people to sign up for a new retirement home to be opened next to Copernicus, on a sunny ridge with fabulous views of the crater and wonderful blue-Earth rises on the horizon?
I suspect that Mr. Obama’s new venture would attract a great deal of investor interest not to mention the 100,000 or so well-to-do, go-go elders that might be tempted to put their hard-earned money down in the form of rent deposits!
I wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek essay on this called “Moonshot Redux” – the thesis was based on the thought experiment: what if zero gravity or low gravity allowed elders to “live forever”? That, of course, would be a powerful motivator. You can read about it at: https://profbruce.tumblr.com/post/79872862926/bootstrapping-a-lunar-colony-for-real-the-value and you can see the You Tube video we made out of this at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9crQK3ReJHY.
The point I am getting at, is that you have to answer the second part of the ‘why’ question: what exactly are we going to do when we get there that will create a stable, sustainable space-based economy. It isn’t good enough to just get there. The US already did that: they got to the Lunar surface a few times but had no real plan on why, when they got there, they were there.
“Did you hear the one about the new restaurant on the Moon? Great food but no atmosphere,” Anon.
Clearly it would be a huge leap of faith to decide to actually colonize the moon (which happily shares the nice, warm orbital niche around the Sun with Earth) but this goal, together with a space elevator to and from the lunar surface, would galvanize not just US/Russian/Chinese/ Japanese/Indian/Canadian/European space programs, it would encourage private space transportation and development. It would almost certainly also result in Martian exploration and colonization as well as industrial exploitation of the asteroid belt. President Obama’s recently announced policy – go to an asteroid or Mars, once or perhaps a few times – will not work in terms of sustainable space exploration and development.
To better understand this, just look at European and Spanish opening up of the New World – for silver, sugar cane, for timber and military purposes combined with colonization efforts. Lunar/Mars/Asteroid expeditions must be tied to economic, environmental, energy, technological, social, trade, territorial, colonial and other factors for it to be sustainable.
Bruce M Firestone, B Eng (civil), M Eng-Sci, PhD
Real Estate Investment and Business coach
ROYAL LePAGE Performance Realty broker
Ottawa Senators founder
-MAKING IMPOSSIBLE POSSIBLE
-FREEDOM VIA REAL ESTATE INVESTMENT AND PB4L, PERSONAL BUSINESS FOR LIFE
-FEHAJ, FOR EVERY HOME A JOB
-MAKE YOUR HOME WORK FOR YOU, INSTEAD OF YOU WORKING FOR IT
-HIGHER ROI NOT JUST FOR OWNERS AND INVESTORS, BUT FOR TENANTS, GUESTS, VISITORS, NEIGHBORHOODS, COMMUNITIES, TOWNS, VILLAGES, AND CITIES TOO