Section 6.1.
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Where the NSS Local Chapters Came From

The origins of Artemis Society International go all the way back to the founding of the L5 Society and its local chapters.

You need to know the whole story in order to understand all the key pieces of the puzzle, and how those pieces fit together. I'll start with the known -- the NSS as it exists today -- and show you how it came into being.

The Takeover

The National Space Society came from a merger of the L5 Society and the National Space Institute. At the time NSI took over L5, the L5 Society had many strong, active local chapters, but was weak at central administration. NSI consisted of a handful of people with an office in Washington, DC who had previously turned a cold shoulder toward local space organizations.

The L5 Society focused on achieving a goal: space colonies and their attendant space industries. The National Space Institute did only political lobbying and fund-raising -- especially fund-raising -- and existed primarily to provide fun employment for the guys who ran it.

The L5 Society focused on achieving a goal: space colonies and their attendant space industries. The National Space Institute did only political lobbying ...

That explains how the National Space Society acquired its local chapters; and to some extent shows where much of the discontent within NSS got its roots. NSS today consists of a national HQ organization and a varied collection of local chapters. The local chapters wonder what NSS HQ could do to support them; while NSS HQ wonders what to do with the local chapters.

The NSS headquarters organization uses the local chapters as a wholesale recruiting engine; vital to NSS HQ because about 75% of NSS membership dues go to paying the salaries of half a dozen folks in Washtington, DC. The primary focus of local chapters, as seen by HQ, is political activism, providing labor to run conferences, and getting more dues-paying members. This is a far cry from the vision we have for local Artemis Society organizations, but nevertheless provides a good model because, after all, the National Space Society does have quite a list of local chapters.


Now, let's look back a few years into the earlier history of this phenomenon to see where those local organizations actually came from.

It all started at MidAmeriCon, the World Science Fiction Convention held in Kansas City, Missouri in 1976. The L5 Society had been around for a few months before then, but up to that point had no local chapters nor any idea of what to do with them. Originally, L5 grew from the earlier Princeton Conferences and the Space Studies Institute with their space colonization studies lead by Prof. Gerard K. O'Neill; but that's a different story.

Keith Henson, then president of the fledgling L5 Society, had a talk on the Worldcon program. They made up some flyers for the L5 Society to hand out at the convention. On that flyer they included a check box: "Check here if you would like to start a local chapter of the L5 Society."

That one line on the membership flyer provided the catalyst. If the L5 Society had left it off the flyer, it might never have occurred to me to think of starting yet another organization. I know of a few other local L5 Society chapters that got started the same way, so we can assume this phenomenon was prevalent among the local organizations -- if they had not suggested it, we would not have thought of it.

Here's how it really played out. At MidAmeriCon, my then-wife, Becky, dragged me into Keith's briefing. She had read their membership flyer, and had been watching the first couple of minutes from the hallway. "You're going to like this," she said.

She was right.

Becky and I had spent long hours discussing things like this, especially on weekends in our little mountain tent high in the North Cascades. When we're trekking the mountain trails, we tend to think more in terms of what it would be like to live on other worlds, to explore uncharted wilderness, to break open new frontiers.

Real people doing real-people things in bucolic woodland settings is a far cry from the sterile presentation of a handful of astronauts circling Earth in a metal marvel.

Note the important difference between our intellectual games and the concept of space industries as presented by government agencies. From the government, we hear about the economics of space industrialization. Economics is an abstract concept; vital, but boring. The L5 Society's presentation included some financial models, even charts showing the break-even analysis for solar power satellites; but that's not what people remember. Instead, images of people picnicking on beautiful hillsides overlooking quaint, cozy townships stay in the mind.

Real people doing real-people things in bucolic woodland settings is a far cry from the sterile presentation of a handful of astronauts circling Earth in a metal marvel. That's why the Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs, no matter how vital and rewarding they may be, cannot spark the public imagination the way the L5 Society story did. No government program can lead to this vision. If NASA were to attempt to present such a vision, it would be outright fraud; so they don't.

Now, back to the 1976 Worldcon, and the moment Becky was pulling me away from whatever conversation I'd been having in the hallway. Keith Henson, along with science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle and a couple of other panelists, were presenting a slide show. He showed what it would be like to live on a space colony, and why we want to do this, and how we can get there. The whole story was a very attractive future in space, a future for everyone rather than just a few hand-picked government employees.

I read the membership flyer, and after the briefing asked Keith about that line about forming a local chapter. No, he said, there were no local chapters of the L5 Society. Yes, they really wanted local chapters to get started, but they didn't know how. I asked Becky if she really wanted to do this. She was enthusiastic about the idea, so I filled out the membership form, checked that little box, and got to work.

Right after the Worldcon, Carolyn Henson called. She sent me a list of all the L5 Society members in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia; and the Northwest L5 Society was born. Some of the folks on the list had corresponded once or twice before, and even had a party of sorts at the home of Tom and Marcia Buxton in Kirkland, Washington.

Becky and I met with Tom and Marcia, and took the next steps. We had a lot of organizational experience from our college days, including having files of all the papers and processes required to create a non-profit corporation. We also had two natural meeting places -- our house, and the Buxtons' house just a couple of miles down the hill.

Those houses provided a key ingredient; since both the Bennetts and the Buxtons fell into the category of married couples with no children, we were able to provide a vital, scarce resource: large living rooms which normally were very neat and tidy, perfect meeting places for fledgling organizations.

We wrote to everyone on the list of NSS members, and things started to click. We filed the corporate papers with the state, thereby providing a model for all the L5 Society chapters to follow. I bought a set of 35mm slides from L5 Society headquarters, and outlined a talk based mostly on Gerard K. O'Neill's book The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space.

With Gordon Woodcock, from the Boeing Aerospace Company, and Jay Woods, president of Woods Industries, I did the first presentation by a local L5 Society chapter at SeaCon '76, a month later. Over the next two years, I logged exactly 100 public speeches on space industrialization.

The Chapters

Other local chapters formed. Some followed the Northwest L-5 Society model, and some used their own style with great success. Nearly all of them worked. Many of the local chapters claimed by NSS are actually independent space-interest clubs.

Among the local chapters is another alma mater of mine: the Galesburg L5 Society existed for years as the GaleStar Society, an astronomy club whose membership included people from the local community, Galesburg High School, and professors from Knox College. Another example is the venerable Lunar Reclamation Society in Milwaukee, publishers of Moon Miners' Manifesto, which you receive as part of your Artemis Society membership.

From my limited experience, I'd observe that when NSS HQ tries to form a local chapter from afar, rather than having it grow up from the local people's efforts, it tends to fail. I've seen this happen twice in Houston over the past few years.

Successes ...

Having presented that bit of history, let's summarize the key pieces of the puzzle that lead to the National Space Society as it exits today:

  1. Invitation to form local chapters right on the membership form.

  2. Immediate, encouraging feedback from L5 Society HQ.

  3. Availability of lists of members in the local area.

  4. Stunning visuals with people in the picture, available. as 35mm slides at a reasonable cost.

  5. A comprehensive presentation of the story in O'Neill's book.

  6. People with a strong interest in space and exploration.

  7. People with a strong background in creating organizations.

  8. Something to do -- the public briefings.

  9. A meeting place and headquarters for the local organization.

  10. Public presentation of the L5 concept before many audiences, starting with the World Science Fiction Convention in 1976.

... and Failures

To balance the list of successes, we need to consider the list of failures, because we can learn even more from failure than we can from success:

  1. L5 Society leadership allowed social causes to dominate the story coming from HQ, and hence alienated more than half of their membership in just a few months.

  2. The L5 Society's work focused on trying to get the U. S. government to fund the development of private industries in space.

  3. Key national leaders in the L5 Society lost interest in space colonies, and went on to follow other banners.

  4. L5 HQ never developed a solid role beyond providing 35 mm slides of the key imagery.

  5. There was never really a coherent, internally consistent plan for how to get from where we were to where we wanted to be; at least not at the national level.

  6. When NSI took over L5, nearly all funds were focused on paying salaries to NSI HQ personnel.

  7. When NSI took over, they completely abandoned the concept of space colonies, and switched the focus entirely toward political lobbying. (This is at odds with the activities and goals of many of the local chapters.)

  8. Folks from NSS HQ openly express considerable disdain for their own membership, citing the lack of interest among space professionals in the NSS.


Well, that's the historical story. I'll leave it to greater minds to figure out how we in the Artemis Project and Artemis Society International can apply the lessons of history to our goals for establishing permanent, self-supporting communities on the moon and beyond.

Related Essays in the Artemis Data Book

  1. NSS Chapters Story, Part 1
    Retells this story with more emphasis on historical origins

  2. NSS Chapters Story, Part 2
    Continuation of the story, up to the day of the merger


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