Industrialize the Solar System

On this 40th anniversary of the first manned mission to the surface of the Moon, it is perhaps not so far fetched to venture a suggestion such as this. And after all, if, as conventional wisdom has it, it is within our power to micromanage the earth’s climate by shutting down our industrial combustion, going back to the moon and beyond isn’t far fetched at all.

I remember that summer afternoon in 1969 quite well. A memorable part of my childhood had been spent assembling plastic scale models of spacecraft – I must have built nearly all of them, from Mercury to Gemini to Apollo, and the astronauts were my heroes. As we followed the progress of Apollo 11 from Earth to Moon, I could name every module, describe every maneuver. To this day I remember Neil Armstrong’s voice, crackling with static, stating “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” If anyone had told me this would be the farthest we would venture as a species for the next 50 years, I would have thought they were crazy.

The relevance of space industrialization and settlement today is greater than ever, although you would never know from listening to our politicians or our media pundits, or even our NASA administrators. The most visible face of NASA these days is James Hanson, who is a fanatical coal-bashing global warming activist with little if any apparent interest in seeing humans ever travel beyond this planet.

Last year I was fortunate enough to host Elon Musk as a keynote speaker at the 3rd annual GoingGreen, a cleantech investor conference produced by AlwaysOn Media that I help to program. Musk, whose company SpaceX is in the thick of the competition to become a successful manufacturer of next generation orbital launch vehicles, gave a mesmerizing account of his company’s progress over the past few years. But when the time came for questions from the audience, the most memorable moment came when a journalist asked him how he could possibly justify spewing so much climate killing exhaust into the air. Musk avoided a direct confrontation with the questioner by stating his belief that we must become a multi-planet species, and exhaust from his launch vehicles were a necessary evil in pursuit of that objective. But Musk might have elaborated on the upside.

The case for space is multifaceted, with both economic and environmental benefits. In fact, there are few examples of a project that could have so many clear benefits in both of these key areas. But before enumerating them, let me state my position clearly – I don’t think anthropogenic CO2 emissions has anything whatsoever to do with climate change, and I think the attempts to regulate and restrict CO2 emissions are the most regressive, mean-spirited fraud in the history of the United States. So I couldn’t care less if rockets spew emissions, as long as they’re clean burning. In general, I believe the emphasis on restricting emissions instead of simply cleaning them up is completely misguided.

THE CASE FOR SPACE

(1)  Space development will catalyse economic development in general, which always enables higher environmental consciousness and greater resources to address environmental challenges.

(2)  Living in space requires recycling technologies for water and air that are many times more demanding than on earth, and these technologies will have applications that will improve water and emission treatment technologies on earth.

(3)  Zero gravity manufacturing and manufacturing off the planet can eventually allow us to do potentially hazardous work in space where there is no danger to the earth’s ecosystem.

(4)  There are benefits in terms of earth observation and ecosystem management that we have only begun to realize through a presence in space.

(5)  We may build satellite solar power stations and beam the energy they produce back to earth.

(6)  We can access minerals on the Moon, Mars, other terrestrial moons, and the asteroids that eventually can take pressure off resources on earth.

Item one is probably the most significant of all of these. Space industrialization will create wealth. The Apollo program, and the entire space program prior to that, yielded dramatic advances in technology that had rippling applications throughout the economy – microelectronics, materials sciences, and aerospace, to name a few. There is no reason to think a new and revitalized space program would not accomplish similar results, creating spectacular new wealth and helping to ensure American technological leadership.

With literally trillions of dollars being thrown into the U.S. economy today as part of a federal economic stimulus, it is a terrific shame that a U.S. manned space program, tasked with an urgent mission to industrialize the solar system, is not a top priority for these funds. Instead we are spending money making sure everyone can surf the internet, among other bottom-feeding uses of funds that do nothing to advance our technological prowess, but satisfy myriad oligarchical vested interests who only wish to perpetuate the status quo, stagnant technology and all.

I remember working at Hughes Aircraft Company’s Space & Communications Group back in the mid 1980′s. I remember watching the movie “The Right Stuff,” which came out back around that time. I remember hearing the old timers talk about how it was when Howard Hughes would show up at the labs at midnight, surprising the engineers with his detailed knowledge of the technical details of their projects. I remember hearing stories about how Werner Von Braun would have thrown men out of the space program on their ears if they had even thought a moon landing couldn’t take place by the end of the 1960′s. Today Von Braun would have been sued for creating a hostile work environment, and consigned to oblivion along with his vision.

Now we live in a nation where trial lawyers, union bosses, environmental extremists, and practitioners of race and gender politics control the federal agenda. These ruling politicians have based the currency of their careers on economic redistribution and the politics of resentment, and they are abetted by enervated corporate boards who only find appeasement to be a viable strategy. Politicians who would rather talk about “diversity” than consider the value of conquering space despite many inevitably tragic but necessary costs.  Politicians served by bureaucrats who would require an environmental impact statement before crashing a probe on the moon, much less develop a permanent base on its surface. They are so far removed from the heroes who braved the oceans in ships of wood and canvas or the heavens atop missiles that they have forgotten everything they are made of – people for whom the only sacrifice worth enduring is the evisceration of their heritage. People who cringe in fear of weather, and shut down our power plants to appease the Gods.

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