[FoRK] the space between...

Gregory Alan Bolcer greg at bolcer.org
Wed Oct 12 14:18:48 PDT 2011

...the bullets and the bombs.



It’s the Space Development and Settlement, Stupid

Posted By Rand Simberg On October 12, 2011 @ 12:00 am In 
History,Politics,Science,Science & Technology,Space,US News | 49 Comments

Today is the 519th anniversary of Cristobal Colon’s (aka Christopher 
Columbus [1]) discovery of what was to Europeans of the age a “New 
World.” But in keeping with these government-dominated times, it was 
celebrated (to the degree that it will be celebrated at all — such 
celebrations are now considered to be politically incorrect [2]) on 
Monday, in order to allow some government workers a three-day weekend.

Popular mythology, at least as was taught in many schools,was that he 
was an explorer and adventurer seeking a new route to Asia. This held 
true until he became the fascistic ogre who allowed the plundering of 
the Americas and enslaving and massacring of Siberian-Americans — or 
more-recent revelations that we are perhaps celebrating the wrong 
Italian [3]. So he persuaded Queen Isabella of Spain to hock her bling 
to finance his expedition.

Let’s ignore the fact that he was an awful navigator and misjudged the 
circumference of the globe by many thousands of miles [4], and that if 
America hadn’t been in the way of his route to Asia (he probably went to 
his deathbed thinking that he had gotten there), he and the crews of his 
three tiny ships would have died on the trip (probably him first, in a 
mutiny after which they might perhaps have turned back and lived, but 
probably not, because it would have been too late and their supplies 
would have run out). He blundered into it by dumb luck, and if he hadn’t 
found it, someone else (probably Portuguese, who were almost certain to 
bump into Brazil within the next ten or twenty years) would have soon.

The reality is the reason that Isabella scrounged up the moolah to 
finance his trip was that she was expecting a financial return — cheaper 
spices from Asia, at the time a hot commodity that involved long trips 
around the bottom of Africa and across the Indian Ocean, and back. She 
didn’t do it out of any noble search for scientific knowledge, and 
neither did he. He wanted to find wealth, seek fame, and spread the word 
of his religion (i.e., “God, Gold, and Glory”).

But in terms of space policy, we don’t seem to have learned the lessons 
of Columbus.

Since the sixties, our rationale for human spaceflight has always been 
described as for “exploration.” “For all mankind.” Star Trek, with its 
iconic beginning of “where no man has gone before,” did nothing to help. 
But space exploration for space exploration’s sake can’t justify the 
billions that we’ve been spending on it, particularly when robots are 
much more cost effective at it, and we haven’t “explored” anything 
beyond low earth orbit with humans in almost forty years.

It’s probably just coincidence, but it’s interesting that at the time of 
this anniversary of “exploration” by Columbus, NASA is slowly starting 
to take seriously the only viable rationale for human spaceflight — to 
actually create human settlements in space, for species preservation if 
nothing else — which is something that’s hard to do with robots. It’s 
admittedly a mixed message [5], but at least the topic is on the table:

     This discussion comes as the National Academies is set to perform 
this fiscal year (2012) “a review of the goals, core capabilities, and 
direction of human space flight” as directed by the 2010 NASA 
authorization act. Some have likened this to a “decadal study” for human 
spaceflight, analogous to those performed in the sciences, although 
there is a debate about how useful such a study will be.

     “We’ve charged in the bill the National Academies to do some work 
to try to help identify a consensus for what are the reasons for human 
spaceflight, what are some of the destinations that make the most 
sense,” Jeff Bingham, a senior advisor on the staff of the Senate 
Commerce Committee, said during a panel session of the AIAA Space 2011 
conference last month in Long Beach, California. Space settlement 
advocates will soon find out how well their arguments stand up against 
other rationales for human spaceflight in that study — which, in turn, 
could provide some clarity for future space policy.

It’s not a new discussion, but it’s heretofore been implicit, such as in 
George W. Bush’s speech [3] announcing the Vision for Space Exploration 
almost eight years ago, when he said that “human beings are headed into 
the cosmos.” But much of the speech was still couched in terms of the 
e-word, while hinting that the exploration should be a means, not an 
end. It’s time to make the discussion more explicit, because as the 
Augustine Panel agreed two years ago [6], if we aren’t doing this to 
settle space, then there is little point:

     “We have just started, I think, to realize in the last eight or ten 
years that we do have a goal for the national space program,” [Greason] 
said. “There is a national consensus among policymakers that we have 
that goal, but everybody’s kind of afraid to say it, because they’re not 
sure we can do it.” That goal, he said, is the “s-word”: “It is actually 
the national policy of the United States that we should settle space.”

     To support that claim, Greason cited a number of studies and 
speeches, including the conclusion of the Augustine Committee that “the 
ultimate goal of human exploration is to chart a path for human 
expansion in to the solar system.” He also noted President Obama’s 
speech at the Kennedy Space Center last April included a veiled 
reference to space settlement: “Our goal is the capacity for people to 
work and learn and operate and live safely beyond the Earth for extended 
periods of time, ultimately in ways that are more sustainable and even 

If the s-word, and not the e-word, is the goal, what are the 
implications for our policy?

Well, first, it would imply that we have to make access to space much 
more affordable and sustainable (as the Aldridge Commission [7] pointed 
out seven years ago). If we are serious about sending humans into space, 
we can no longer be spending billions to send a few people every year or 
two, as NASA currently plans (at congressional direction).

We have to have multiple, redundant, competitive means of getting humans 
into space, to drive down costs, and we have to start getting serious 
about research in the use of off-planet resources for propellant and 
life support, and learn how to close the cycle in environmental systems. 
It means that we have to start to understand the physiological 
implications of living in zero or partial gravity, and whether or not a 
full gravity is required for conception and gestation, and we have to 
find ways of ameliorating the health effects of radiation. It will also 
require the establishment of a system for recognition of off-planet 
property rights [8].

Unfortunately, congressional insistence on building a hyper-expensive 
“big monster rocket” that NASA doesn’t need [9], and that will enable 
neither exploration nor settlement, is wiping out available funds for 
all of these other critical studies and technologies without which we 
will not settle space. If Columbus had to deal with today’s Senate, 
instead of the more practical Isabella, he would have spent the rest of 
his days not exploring with available ships, but building a massive ship 
[10] in a Spanish harbor — a ship that would be eventually canceled 
without sailing after the Portuguese had discovered the lands 
unreachable to him.

As the New World was, space will be settled. The only issue is by what 
nation or nations, and when. Absent an enlightened change in policy, it 
won’t be the U.S., or if it is, it will take much longer than it need 
be, and all of humanity’s eggs will remain in a single fragile basket 
until then.

Article printed from Pajamas Media: http://pajamasmedia.com

URL to article: 

URLs in this post:

[1] Christopher Columbus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Columbus

[2] politically incorrect: 

[3] the wrong Italian: 

[4] thousands of miles: http://www.columbusnavigation.com/llen.shtml

[5] mixed message: 

[6] agreed two years ago: http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1860/1

[7] Aldridge Commission: http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/moontomars/index.htm

[8] off-planet property rights: 

[9] NASA doesn’t need: 

[10] building a massive ship: http://www.transterrestrial.com/?p=15422

greg at bolcer.org, http://bolcer.org, c: +1.714.928.5476

More information about the FoRK mailing list