I saw in the midst of all the hurricane-related news this morning that science fiction author, technologist, and political advocate Jerry Pournelle has passed away. I am saddened by this, though not greatly surprised, as Dr. Pournelle has been in ill health for a while now. Still, he shaped a great deal of my thinking and post-formal education, and so I’d like to take a few minutes to share my thoughts on the man. Continue reading “Reflections on Jerry Pournelle”
I’m a few days late posting this, but it’s taken me awhile to conjure up some words to reflect my latest orbit around the sun. Partly it’s because I thought of myself as 48 a few months back. Still, I think it’s good to take my mental/emotional temperature to see how I’m doing and sort things out in literary form. Enjoy (or not) as you see fit. Continue reading “48”
So here’s the problem with paranoia about your fellow human beings: you end up losing your voice. First you learn not to be an jerk—probably a good idea, especially if you become aware that a lot of what you’re saying offends or hurts people. Then you start worrying about giving offense of any kind. You start refraining from giving your honest opinions about the important matters of the day because you are only too well aware that you are in a minority or that some of your opinions are unpopular with a large chunk of your associates. You can’t be seen as too much of a partisan one way or the other or you risk getting kicked in the wallet when someone decides you’re “too controversial.”
If you’re an introvert, you dislike being the center of attention, and almost nothing in the current hot-house petri dish of politics gets you put in the media crosshairs quite like an unpopular opinion.
And let’s say you were bullied as a kid, so you’re quite aware of how human beings act if they dislike you or want to get you to shut up. Thugs appear, sometimes one on one, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in small groups, sometimes in mobs. They come with fists and weapons and voices raised in hostility. They leave nasty or threatening messages or make crank calls that threaten the safety of yourself or people you care about. They follow you home and to places where you are known to frequent so that you never feel safe. On the worst occasions, they take action and beat the snot out of you, preferably in front of an audience so you are seen to be humiliated and beaten down by others.
That is becoming the real nature of human beings engaged in “political discourse.” And if you wonder why the “voices of reason” are silent or ignored, it’s often because they’ve decided the exercise of freedom is not worth attracting the attention of the mob. So, congratulations, Humanity: the best in us is often destroyed by the worst in us because no one enjoys being alone in the face of the mob.
Maybe any thoughts you have aren’t the best that humanity has to offer; but they’re still yours. The “obvious price of expressing your opinion” need not be violence. Disagreement, certainly. Criticism, of course. But disagreement and criticism are not enough anymore. Any opinion that doesn’t ring true with the prevailing cultural orthodoxy must be shouted down; the characters of those speaking them must be impugned; their livelihoods must be cut off; their words must be suppressed with force. That is not what I was brought up to believe, but that’s where we are heading, and the gentle-souled introvert has obvious reason for concern just as much as the outspoken firebrand. How did it come to this?
Hello, America! I thought I’d jump on ye olde band waggon and throw in my thoughts about the USA as we celebrate the 241st anniversary of our independence. Read on or ignore as you see fit. It’s still a free country as long as we keep it that way. Continue reading “Americanism is a Choice”
Edith Keeler: Did you do something wrong? Are you in trouble? Whatever it is, let me help.
Captain Kirk: “Let me help.” A hundred years or so from now, I believe, a famous novelist will write a classic using that theme. He’ll recommend those three words even over “I love you.”
–Star Trek, “The City on the Edge of Forever”
I don’t invent machinery, I help explain and market it. I rarely speak at conferences, but I have volunteered to work at or run them. I am neither a scientist nor a cheerleader, yet I help keep a bunch of them communicating and organized. I don’t write original ideas in paper or book form, yet I contribute editorial and narrative support to others. I do not formulate bold new space policies, but I do help polish the language and try to share them with others. I do not build, I assemble. I cannot program a computer, but I am a quick study as a super-user. I am rarely a leader, but I make a good second or third in command.
I am not handsome or dramatic enough to be a star, but I’d make a decent character actor. I might not form some amazing partnership–personal or professional–but I am likely to introduce people who do. I don’t come up with new philosophies or remarkable spiritual insights, but I will take them into my soul and integrate them into my life so others can see the results. I’m unlikely to be in a parade and much more likely to be one of the people cheering from the side. I don’t write great books, I read and review them.
Why am I sharing this? I suppose because I sometimes doubt the value I contribute. And maybe because as I get older I’m getting more realistic about what I am likely to accomplish (or not accomplish) in life. There’s a lot of emphasis in our culture on being the star or the originator of great things. There isn’t much glory attached to being just a member of a team. Yet my motto for years has been “I’m here to help,” and I try to prove that with every opportunity I can. There are those who originate and those who must deliver. Somewhere along the line, I learned the value of helping make dreams into reality even if it isn’t my dream. Maybe I’m content to let my life be this way, with the trust and hope that what I’ve done has been worthwhile. At the end of the line, I’ll hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” and that will be enough.
By the time you read this, I will be on vacation, not home. I decided to get out of town, even if it’s still in Florida. Still, I try to do one of these birthday essays once a year just as a way of checking in with myself and with you, my readers (I appreciate both of you) to see where I am with respect to myself or the world.
I’m coming more and more to know the sort of person I am and the sort of person I am not, and I’m willing to accept both. I am very much an introvert, for example. I can go hours or even days at a time without engaging in much verbal conversation. Much of the time my apartment is even quiet as I start my day: no radio, no TV, just me, the sounds of my daily routine, and whatever foolishness is buzzing about in my head. This does not mean I dislike people, merely that I don’t seem to require the presence of another person in my domicile. In fact, I’m usually more relaxed if I don’t have company. My habits are those of someone who requires a “Fortress of Solitude,” and is increasingly aware that such a lifestyle is likely to keep people at a distance. So be it.
I am still not an athlete, nor do I desire to be. Those of you who feel the urge to climb a mountain or run a marathon–God bless. You can take my turn. I won’t stop you, but don’t feel you have to invite me to your quest. My favorite physical activity is walking through aesthetically pleasing landscapes, interesting architecture, or preferably both. I can walk anywhere from one mile to ten at a stretch and do not notice or mind the passing of time. It’s hard to say what I’m thinking about on these walks. Often I’m not thinking at all, but merely using the exercise as a way to clear my mind and the scenery as a way to relax it. A long stroll through a museum would probably do me just as well.
I’m a very serious person, despite my verbal habits of wit and sarcasm. My reading list consists of a lot of philosophy, history, science fiction, and other such things that help me ponder or understand Big Questions. It’s all very abstract, dry, and contemplative. My musical tastes have been shifting, too. Not as much ’80s pop or John Williams soundtracks while I’m writing, more Mozart, Beethoven, or other classics.
Vexed by some of the rather angry chatter I’ve seen on Facebook, I’ve ratcheted down that hourly habit to something closer to a brief daily lurk before I find other things to do. The extra free time has allowed me to catch up on my long-neglected reading list, and so I’m trying to take a good whack at reading those books I’ve meant to read for a decade. So far, so good. Thirty-four books read this year; only 197 more to go before I can start adding books back onto the list again. I’m sure some will come to mind.
On the whole, thanks to a very loose freelance schedule that still manages to pay the bills, I’ve become less of a workaholic. I’ll do whatever work is in front of me gladly until the pile has dwindled, then I set thoughts of work aside and go read a book or take another walk in the vegetable-steamer heat of summer in Florida. Slowly, I’m learning how to be inactive, to take pleasure in downtime. This is a big shift, as I spent much of my time from 25 to 45 thinking about work. On the whole, I think this is a good thing.
Politically, I remain a gentleman of the Right, though more and more I find myself in the Libertarian camp, especially as the two most prominent prospects for president this year fill me with equal dismay. I maintain very strict standards for myself (and very definite opinions about others) but I have no interest in inflicting my personal morality on other people. Nor am I particularly interested in having someone else’s ideas foisted on my unwillingly. I live by an increasingly outmoded notion of “Live and let live.” I figure it’ll be appreciated somewhere down the line.
Otherwise, to quote that great philosopher Popeye, I am what I am: a graying, somewhat overweight, middle-aged and self-contained Anglo who usually has a book, pen, or computer in his hand. Eventually I’ll think of something useful to do with all the ideas I have in my head, but for now I keep on living my life, hopeful that eventually it’ll all make sense at some point or, barring that, I’ll do something constructive to do with myself that makes me feel like the journey has been worth the fare.
And so I celebrate living another year on this blue planet, curious to see what happens next.
For the last month or so, it has really sucked to watch the news. It started with the terrorist attack at a gay nightclub in my home town of Orlando, Florida, and it quickly devolved into mayhem and macabre behavior in Istanbul, Baghdad, Kabul, and elsewhere. Social turmoil roils abroad and at home, with the racial divide at its all-time worst level in years and law enforcement-related shootings and politicians of all stripes fanning the flames. At the same time, we have contentious elections and presidential candidates who don’t have the full confidence of the nation to solve the problems we face.
There have been worse times in human history, but there have also certainly been better, and right now we seem on one of those downhill slopes that does not bode well for peace or prosperity.
And while all this is going on, I’ve been contemplating human beings going into space. Not just to the International Space Station, our 16-year effort to engage in international engineering and science. No, I’m a space advocate by inclination, which means I spend some of my free time writing things to encourage policy makers or the general public to get behind the notion of going back to the Moon and on to other places in the solar system. Maybe even different solar systems eventually.
I can hear some of you now: For gosh sakes, why?!? Be realistic. Don’t we have more important things to worry about? Don’t we have better things we could spend our money on?
Maybe. And then again, maybe not. Space advocacy—all geekiness aside—has lofty goals for humanity:
- Improve our technologies out in space and, by extension, here on Earth.
- Expand and improve Civilization.
- Ensure that humanity survives somewhere in case there’s some sort of massive war or other disaster here on Earth.
Our imperfect species
And yet the question must be asked: are we capable of putting aside substantive and petty differences to unite for the purpose of expanding out of this world? Some of my more cynical friends would even ask, should we?
I won’t deny that there is more than a helping of utopian optimism in the space advocacy community. Some of it is born out of the Star Trek vision of a positive future, some of it born out of perhaps-unrealistic expectations about how space settlement will affect us as human beings. We tend to accept only our best and brightest into the astronaut corps, and the Russians, Chinese, Japanese, and Europeans set high standards for their space voyagers as well. And yet we’ve had astronauts who cheated on their wives, one astronaut who drove cross-country in pursuit of a romantic rival, and another former astronaut charged with killing two kids in a drunk driving accident.
Astronauts are people, too. They’re not mass murderers, to be certain, but neither are they immune to the frailties of our species—rage, lust, pride—pick your deadly sin. For as much as the late Gene Roddenberry and others might believe that we will improve as a race, I’m not so certain.
Despite all my misgivings, I still get angry with people who suggest that humanity is so far gone, that we have done such awful things to ourselves and the Earth, that we should stay here so as not to contaminate the rest of the universe. I consider that, to put it mildly, balderdash. For all our hubris and evil—and heaven knows there’s plenty of both to go around—I’m not convinced we’re that far gone.
Human beings are also capable of great ingenuity when it comes to solving problems. The tech blogs I read regularly identify new technologies for or from space that can solve many of the environmental challenges we face here on Mother Earth. Some of them are at a technology readiness level (TRL in NASA-speak) of one—meaning only theoretical. Others are in testing. Some are operational—level 9.
There have been, are, and will be lessons learned space that can help make life better here. That’s been proven many times. The effort to investigate and explore other worlds continues to pay dividends and will do so as long as we continue the effort.
But should human beings establish permanent settlements on the Moon, on Mars, or on stations flying above our heads in orbit? To borrow from one of our more popular space operas, when Luke Skywalker asked his mentor Yoda “What’s in there?” The little green oven mitt replied, “Only what you take with you.” So will it be when we send people to other worlds to be permanent residents.
We will have capitalism and communism and socialism. We will have greed and lust and rage. We will have politics and regionalism and struggles for power. We will have religious practices, both sublime and sinister. We will have love and generosity and kindness and heroism. We will have families and strong communities and people we admire. We will take all that we are and move it into the harshest environments imaginable because we seek glory or power or wealth or military advantage or freedoms or ways to fix the environment on Earth. We will take all these things with us because that is who we are.
What is it all about?
We have international treaties and statements of intent to prevent specific types of conflict from happening. We have banned weaponry in space, though we continue to develop space weaponry. And even Star Trek, optimistic as it has been, uses phasers and photon torpedoes.
Some would prefer that we establish only a small set of justifications for going into the space frontier, but until space is opened up to multiple interests, we will most likely not go. (And for those who think we are irredeemable as a species, that would probably be just fine.)
We’ve had great plans to explore the ocean floors or polar regions, yet those places remain nearly empty and they’re easier to work with than the Moon or Mars. “Science” is not enough of a motivator to build in those places and so we don’t—such was the intent.
So should we extend human civilization to other worlds? A similar question to ask might be, “Should you and your spouse have a child? If so, why?” The bottom line is that we have children to perpetuate ourselves. We do so out of love for our partners or hope for the future. Mind you, I don’t have a spouse or children, but I see that as a reflection on my limitations as a potential spouse or parent, not because I think marriage or children are bad things.
I believe we’re capable of doing good—enough good in the future to warrant staying around and making more of ourselves. In similar fashion, I believe that we will and should one day spread out into the solar system. No, it will not be Utopia. But we can try to make things better than we’ve had them, one person or instance at a time, just as we keep trying here on Earth.
That’s still worth doing, regardless of how the headlines read
I’m spending some quality time at the 43rd Space Congress on the Space Coast learning what sorts of space activities are going on in the neighborhood of Kennedy Space Center. Short version: a lot!
The Congress has apparently been a longstanding institution on the Space Coast (run since 1969), but it went off the radar after 2010, the year the Shuttle Program and Constellation were shut down. The event has been resurrected by the Canaveral Council of Technical Services and other local organizations. They’ve managed to bring in a lot of smart, informative speakers. A shame it isn’t being better attended.
In parallel with the Congress, some folks associated with the local chapter of the Project Management Institute are hosting some classes about topics like managing in an Agile software development environment. Since I arrived ridiculously early, I sat in on the Agile Development session, learning quickly that I’m not wired for that stuff, but the speaker had a solid command of his subject. He’d better: he was promoting his business, which provided test preparation for the PMI-Risk Management Professional exam.
NASA & Air Force Innovation at Cape Canaveral Spaceport
“Cape Canaveral Spaceport” is a relatively new name for the Kennedy Space Center (KSC)/Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) complex, which is presented to potential launch customers as a single entity. This panel discussed the efforts being made by the two “sides of the house,” NASA and the Air Force, as well as Space Florida, to promote the Spaceport. The participants included Mark Bontrager, a Space Florida Vice President; Tom Eye, Director of Plans & Programs from the 45th Space Wing; and Scott Colloredo, who’s Director of KSC’s Center Planning & Development Group.
Bontrager kicked things off by assessing the economic environment the Spaceport faces now compared to the environment 35 years ago. In 1980, the U.S. controlled 100% of the world commercial space launch market. By 2010/2011, that domination had been completely lost, with zero U.S. commercial launches in those years. Things have changed in the last five years, with SpaceX, Orbital ATK, and other commercial providers springing up or actually providing launch services.
In response to this uptick in commercial launch providers, Space Florida–an entity created by the State of Florida to facilitate commercial space activity here–has been helping fund infrastructure that allows space-tech firms to get established on the Space Coast. Much of this infrastructure has come in the form of converting unneeded Space Shuttle buildings like the Orbiter Processing Facilities (OPFs) into places where the X-37B and CST-100 can be processed for flight.
Tom Eye, in discussing the Air Force side of things, was quite proud of the fact that over 800,000 square feet of office space has been leased or given to space-related businesses at CCAFS. In addition, Launch Complexes 37 and 41 are being run by United Launch Alliance, LC 40 is being used by SpaceX to launch Falcon 9 while LC 13 is being set up for SpaceX to land first stage boosters. LC 36 and 46 are being administered by Space Florida. The Shuttle Landing Facility (SLF) is being looked at by multiple customers. And while all this activity–real and potential–is happening, NASA needs to upgrade its launch infrastructure. There were 18 launches at CCAFS in 2014; there are 26 on the manifest for this year; and 2016 could see 30+ launches. That’s a lot of work ahead, but it’s exciting. Eye explained that 57% of launches at CCAFS are now commercial.
Meanwhile, on the NASA side of the house, there isn’t so much fire and smoke–yet–but a lot of construction is underway. Scott Colloredo laid out KSC’s vision to become a “multi-user spaceport,” supporting NASA’s future missions like SLS/Orion, transferring ownership of unneeded facilities to commercial users, and operating “leaner and greener.” KSC has been busy converting OPF-1 and -3 for Boeing as well as the Vehicle Assembly Building’s High Bay 2 for other potential commercial users. Launch Complex (LC) 39A is being leased to SpaceX for Falcon 9 and Falcon 9 Heavy launches.
Meanwhile, to keep its commercial customers happy, Space Florida has been helping commercial launch providers by working with NASA to streamline safety and other requirements. The point is not to provide someone like SpaceX or Boeing with a 500-page prescriptive document for how they must run their operations, but instead give them a shorter list of requirements, which say things like “Must be compliant with OSHA and FAA regulations.” Another strategy Space Florida is pursuing is long-term agreements with commercial launch providers to give them time to build a sustainable business. SpaceX, for example, has a 20-year agreement with NASA to get things rolling at LC 39A. In addition to the more well-known entities, KSC is building two new launch sites near LC 39 to support small satellite launchers. Not much of this makes fire and smoke–but it will in the next few years. SpaceX is hoping to launch Falcon 9 from LC 39A by 2017.
All of this speaks well of the Spaceport’s future prospects, but the panel still cautioned the audience not to expect a 16,000-person civil service workforce like the Space Coast had during the Shuttle era. Still, it’s a far cry from the dark days of 2010, when KSC faced the end of the Shuttle program, the cancellation of its follow-on Constellation, and a drastic downsizing of the civil service and contractor workforce. In short, the Space Coast is not “closed.”
Emerging State/Local Government Roles in Space
Jim Ball, a consultant with Spaceport Strategies, LLC, started off his talk by explaining the obvious: “This is not your father’s space industry.” Indeed, in addition to the resurgence of American commercial launch providers, other states are starting to building spaceports of their own to lure some of that business to their region. At present, New Mexico, Alaska, and Virginia have built spaceports. Texas is “in the game, but not operating yet,” and other states believe they can host spaceports of their own once reusable vehicles make it safe to do so. In short, KSC’s natural advantages–relative proximity to the Equator, open ocean, useful launch azimuth directions, and suitable port facilities–are not necessarily enough to guarantee that launch providers will automatically look to Florida as a place to do business.
Ball explained that launch service providers have a long laundry list of things they want from a state before they set up shop. On the technical side of things, they want a safe, license-able site that is operationally suitable for their needs and with access to infrastructure (highways, seaports, airports, etc.). On the business side of things, they want assurance that they will be able to launch on time, that they have launch decision authority, and that they have a reasonable amount of autonomy in how they conduct their operations. Their top three priorities, according to Ball, are unencumbered access to their facilities and equipment, commercial standards for launch operations, and operational flexibility. Like any other businesses, they want some consistency in regulations, rules, and taxes.
The State of Florida, recognizing the need to bring in more customers once it was confirmed that Shuttle was retiring, established Space Florida out of three separate state entities to smooth the way for commercial entities to do business in the state. To that end, this quasi-state organization (“a county without geography” was one colorful description I heard today) has a charter to promote and grow Florida’s space industry and capabilities; identify, plan, and fund space infrastructure; own, manage, and operate Spaceport Florida; and of course ensure public safety. Other states will establish similar entities eventually, but for now Florida is unique in creating this organization.
Keevin Williams, a VP of Special Projects at Space Florida, focused on the financing and regulatory efforts Space Florida has promulgated in support of the space industry. To that end, the Florida legislature has put spaceflight informed consent laws into effect; as well as a research and development tax credit for space-tech companies. In 2008, the Florida Growth Fund was empowered to invest up to 1.5% of the Florida pension fund in high-tech companies, including space entities. Meanwhile, the Florida Opportunity Fund makes $500K-$2M investments in small companies. In addition to these financial votes of confidence, Space Florida has facilitated the hand-over of Shuttle Program facilities to commercial industry, leaving them to pay only operations and maintenance fees so they can concentrate on developing their technologies. Williams describes much of what Space Florida does for the space industry as “blocking and tackling” regulatory and financial problems.
Leigh Holt, who has advocated for the space industry at the county level, explained that all these policies have become institutionalized into the Florida law books and budget by convincing the legislature that space infrastructure is, in fact, a transportation service, akin railroads or highways. Money for space is always scarce, but the highway budget in Florida is well funded, which might explain why we have construction year-around. A $1.5M line item for “space” gradually morphed into a $22M transportation infrastructure item. These sorts of changes occurred at the local level because Space Florida and NASA couldn’t and wouldn’t “lobby” for them.
And while this forward-thinking legislation and funding puts Florida out ahead of the other 49 states, a lot of the space-friendly lawmaking was born out of the panic that ensued once the locals in Brevard County realized that Shuttle was going away. The area had suffered massive layoffs and a long recovery period after the end of the Apollo program, and the locals were determined to prevent a repeat of that downsizing as much as possible. They haven’t been completely successful, but the current state of business on the Space Coast owes a lot to the efforts Space Florida has made and to the successes of SpaceX.
These two panel sessions provided great background for understanding the state of the space business here in Central Florida. I will share other insights in the near future. But for now, I must crash. Back at it again tomorrow. Part 2 can be found here.
As a practicing introvert, I don’t make a big habit of getting out into public for large parties. Once a year, I make an exception for Yuri’s Night. For the uninitiated, Yuri’s Night is an excuse for space geeks and other space-interested folks to get together and celebrate the anniversary of the first human to fly into space, Yuri Gagarin. The brainchild of Loretta Hidalgo (now Hidalgo Whitesides), whose birthday is April 12, the original concept was sold as a “Cinco de Mayo or St. Patrick’s Day for space geeks.” The concept went viral quickly, with the “official” site (Loretta’s, of course) providing logos, selling t-shirts, sharing party sites, and offering tips for setting up one’s own festival.
What exactly happens at a Yuri’s Night party? Truth be told, it varies. Some folks show up in space- or science fiction-related costumes. Some folks plaster Yuri Gagarin temporary tattoos on their bodies, like my buddy Laura Seward Forczyk.
What else happens? Well, space people show up just to hang around other space people. And by space people, I guess I mean those of us who are fascinated by space exploration or even actually work in the space industry–NASA, military, or private sector. Depending on the dedication, organization, and resources of the people involved, It can be a party in a bar, which is what we did for the first Yuri’s Night in Huntsville (thanks to Laura for reminding me! And yes, that’s me in the Hoban Washburne shirt below)…
…to a full-blown invasion of the Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville…The point being, hey, it’s an excuse to party, have fun, be a tad silly, and hang out with people who share a common interest in, and love for, space exploration. Is there drinking? Certainly. Par for the course, I suppose. But the point isn’t just drinking, like other holiday gatherings I could name. And sometimes you can even do a little good. I recall that at least one of the Huntsville events raised money for Court Appointed Juvenile Advocates (CAJA). These are “my people,” so of course I join in, even if it gets a little loud at times.
I always learn something or talk to interesting people at Yuri’s Night. This year, one of my interesting talks included Chris Lewicki, CEO of Planetary Resources, who was in Florida because his company’s Arkyd 3R satellite was about to be launched to the International Space Station. From ISS, it will be launched into a low-Earth orbit from the Kibo science module. Once in its proper orbit, it will test technologies that will eventually lead to an asteroid-detecting and -prospecting spacecraft.
Another worthwhile chat I had was with Gabriel Rothblatt, a lawyer and space advocate who recently ran for Congress in Florida’s 8th District (the Space Coast, of course!). His big interest when we talked was in streamlining the process for commercial space companies that want to launch their rockets out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). He’s advocating for a “Port Authority” sort of structure, where the actual Port of Cape Canaveral would also have launch approval authority–from cruise ships to space ships!–and any potential launch customers would only have to go through one set of red tape to get approvals.
For instance, if SpaceX wants to launch off of Launch Complex 39A, they have to get approvals from NASA for use of the facilities but also from the U.S. Air Force, which maintains the Eastern Range off the Florida coast. A Port Authority for the Space Coast would maintain its existing facilities plus a few of the launch pads at CCAFS, which would be converted to commercial use. It would be the Port Authority’s job to centralize approvals so that a launch customer would only have to go through one round of red tape instead of two or more.
Rothblatt was also interested in some of the “singularity” technologies, including nanotechnology. Nanotech, theoretically, could extend life spans by providing people with molecule-sized robots in their bloodstreams that would kill things like cancer, clear out cholesterol, etc. Why get interested in longevity? Aside from extending life spans, it could change the dynamics of space investments. Rothblatt reasons that if people were living 150-200 years instead of 70-100, they might be more willing to invest in ventures such as space settlements, which will take decades beyond the usual planning (or investing…or even thinking) horizons of most people alive today.
A third cause Rothblatt advocates for is space settlement. “Fifty years ago, we had to send humans,” he said. “The computers weren’t that good or that fast. Now they’re getting to the point where they can most of the basic things without the need for humans. Space settlement is the only compelling reason to send humans into space” long-term. It’s hard to argue. Settlements mean families, communities, businesses, cultures, and all the things that (so far) only humans do. A lot of what he was saying sounded familiar, so I asked if he’d been talking with Rick Tumlinson. Indeed he had, which was why he was talking to Tumlinson’s New Worlds Institute about space settlement.
There are exciting things happening in the space business. It’s not quite that NASA-centric vision that America had in the 1960s, but a lot of our rapidly developing technologies are making space more democratized and, eventually, more accessible. And perhaps, more hopefully, dedicated individuals are willing to run for Congress to promote a technologically promising future. It’s that sort of thinking that makes even an introverted space geek like me happy he goes to a loud party once a year.
I’m a big fan of Star Trek. I like the notion of a high-tech, idealistic future with attractive architecture and clean streets. So I do wonder, occasionally, what it will take to get there and whether specific policies enacted now can make that future happen. Or, if not THAT exact future, something like it.
Politically it seems like most of the folks interested in making the environment clean are on one side of the political spectrum–but their primary political methods for ensuring that we get that clean environment are coercive: more government rules, regulations, and taxes. Such policies interfere with economic growth and even freedom in some cases, causing many folks to resent the policies even if they result in a better environment for everyone.
On the other side of things, we have capitalism, which depends on continual growth, which means continual expansion of products and services, which in turn means we must extract more resources and very often create more pollution. Many people believe that growth can continue unchecked without any consequences.
This endless hostility between environmentalism and economic growth doesn’t need to be permanent. There have to be policies that can be pro-economic growth that also support the environment. I’d like to see cleaner streets, self-driving electric cars, clean air and water, trash heaps used for resources or fuel, and more greenery in cities and towns.
- Why not talk tax breaks (not subsidies, which are direct payments of taxpayer monies) for such technologies?
- Why not streamlined regulations to bring newer, safer nuclear power plants online?
- Why not treat space as an economically undeveloped area (“enterprise zone“), where space-based solar power and asteroid mining can be developed tax-free for 20 years until the space above our heads has an economy strong enough to produce growth?
- Why not zoning laws that set aside space for and encourage greener technologies?
- Why not capitalist-based incentives to develop carbon sequestration or other technologies?
Science fiction author David Brin calls these technological efforts TWSBDA (Things We Should Be Doing Anyway). If you find a way to provide incentives for building world-improving technologies that lead to profit (without direct government spending), you might eliminate some of the political friction in the climate change debate. We can do all these things–create a better, growing economy with more clean energy and more technology–without coercion and without sticking it to “the system.”
Or perhaps I’m just being too optimistic again. Jeez, I hope not. I really want to see someone build a starship.