I admire Astronaut Vance Brand and appreciate all he has done to advance US and International space travel. His Viewpoint, Don’t Give Up Human Space Exploration - AW&ST, Oct.8, 2012 laments the lack of US leadership in the evolution of human space presence and then presents a path forward that seems to depend on national will (i.e., government). It is true that little progress in manned spaceflight is being made by NASA, and this is painful for those of us who grew up with the can-do, rapid-fire pace of 1960's NASA. What Mr. Brand and, until recently, I have not fully grasped is the vitality of the US "commercial" space enterprise and its importance for real progress. What other country has any commercial space development, much less a half-dozen. Mr. Brand, however, did ask a very powerful question: "What will historians say about us 50 years from now?" This simple, yet profound, perspective altering query led me to look backwards at the path we (hopefully) will have taken - a much easier task than looking forward to the future and its infinite possibilities. Fifty years from now, in 2061, Earth will be celebrating the first century of humans in space. Herewith, then: The First Space Century in Review 1961 - 1986 The first 25 years were, predictably, national space efforts that paralleled the political atmosphere. Initial warlike posturing sped the development of rockets, capsules, a temporary step on another world, spaceplanes, and early national space stations. 1986 - 2011 The next 25 years were marked mainly by cooperation between former national sparring partners as the cost and complexity of maintaining humans in orbit via government controlled programs led to stagnation and a kind of status quo. Other national human spaceflight programs emerged as did commercial spaceflight programs – initially with government subsidies that parallel those to airlines in the first half century of atmospheric flight. 2011 - 2036 The third quarter of our spacefaring century produced little new on national, governmental scales, though additional countries demonstrated the knowledge and will to equal the accomplishments of the two original superpowers. Fortunately, the pace of populating low-earth orbit with commercially viable, human work sites and recreational sites increased dramatically. This was aided by international agreements on limited liability for commercial spaceflights and spaceports which meet reasonable, international safety standards. 2036 - 2061 The final 25 years of our first century of life in space have produced what many hoped for at the end of the 20th Century: permanent settlements off-earth. Looking back, the innovations that made this possible were first: ultra-high efficiency photocells (>80%), and high-temperature (25 degrees C), flexible superconductors. With these, conversion of ice to breathable oxygen and clean fuel eliminated the need to bring everything with us on long trips (on earth as well as in space). Second, and as important, was the realization that round trips beyond earth orbit were not necessary and were, by definition, not success oriented. The early planetary pioneers were motivated and, yes, thrilled at the opportunity to “colonize”. And, although mistakes were made costing many precious lives, those that followed were still eager to go, with eyes wide open, where few others had gone. And as happened on Earth in the last millennium, once those brave souls were able to demonstrate self-sustaining ecosystems, we have had the inter-planetary equivalent of planetary international travel, emigration, and of course sightseeing (though for now limited to those few hundreds with the monetary means and to those few, fortunate winners of the space lottery).
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