#95 May 1996
Section 18.104.22.168.095.of the Artemis Data Book
LOOKING FOR A SLOGAN?
Tired of watching a space program that just sends little metal cans to make big circles over our heads? We want, we need, our children are entitled to, we DEMAND "A Space Program That Goes Somewhere!"
Yes, "goes somewhere!" For fifteen years now, all we have had is the Space Shuttle, going nowhere, and the promise of a space station that would be purposely built as a down-looking dead end. Shuttle flights that did something clearly useful and envelope-breaking have been few and far between. It is against this desert of accomplishment that we now find some meager cheer in Shuttle flights to the Mir oasis.
NASA can hardly be blamed. It is the Congresses and the Administrations - a succession of both - that have lacked both imagination and the political courage to lead.
Space once meant "outer space", the realm of the Moon, the planets, and the stars. Through a succession of retreats in our vision and expectations, space now means low Earth orbit and geosynchronous orbit, small payloads and small launch companies. Space is just another close in onion-skin "sphere" layer above the atmosphere - the orbitsphere. Or call it the vantagesphere. It is a perch integral to Earth, from which we can conduct domestic planetary business more efficiently. To be sure, that is a real achievement, with more to come. Space in this sense is the upper layer of Greater Earth.
Some of us are content with that, even thrilled to the core with that. But there are others amongst us who had hoped for much more, and still hope for more.
Hope is not enough. Hope is at the mercy of powers beyond us in whom we place our trust. Hope is faith, misplaced faith, it can be argued.
Our vision is one of people living and working in space - not just token people in LEO stations, but real communities involved in taping the resources of space, materials and energy beyond Earth orbit. Whether our personal dream is to live in free space Settlements, or on the Moon, or on Mars, or elsewhere in the Solar System, it is certainly beyond LEO, beyond GEO.
It can be argued that the space-supporting public does not share our dream. Most of them have never heard of it save in science fiction parodies which totally distort expectations. Indeed, for the Public, orbit may be the frontier - in so far as orbital tourism is a real possibility, ten or more years down the road. Indeed tourists are the one thing it is possible to lift off this planet's surface for real profit.
Money to be made in LEO and GEO is important, but it leads somewhere only to the extent that it builds the capacity and the prerequisites for making money beyond. For it is only by making money beyond GEO that we can hope to expand human operations and presence there on any sort of durable footing. Adventure is great, but once the fleeting thrill is gone, what do we have besides memories? Another lull!
We do not need a space program that picks up where Apollo left off, returning humans to the Moon for more exploration and science alone. We do not need a space program which thrills a new generation of stay-at-home voyeurs by sending our proxies somewhere they have never been before, somewhere full of legend and myth and not yet founded expectations - Mars.
We need a space program that works to terrace the human economy into orbit and then beyond, solid step by solid step. We need a space program based on the drive for return on investment - on expectation of profit.
Commercial Space with a small vision is no better than Public Space with a small vision.
Developments that result in a boom for small launch companies and little payloads are fine - but they do little to prepare us for anything beyond. Commercial Space with a small vision is no better than Public Space with a small vision. We need commercial access to space on a scale that can handle large payloads: cabinsful of tourists, modules for Moon-bound and Mars-bound ships, mining and processing equipments and plants, and so on. Those who seek to get involved in "toy space" thinking to help build the frontier, are perhaps deluding themselves.
There are seeds of a brighter future! The lie in the push for CATS (Cheap Access to Space) vehicle able to lift sizable payloads to orbit. They lie in plans to build for-profit industrial parks in orbit.
Goldin's "smaller, better, cheaper" is useful to a point in that it helps get the prospecting done upon which more realistic space resource development scenarios can be based. We do have a need to satisfy our curiosity about the outer Solar System and we applaud Galileo, Cassini-Huygens, and the Pluto Express. But we kid ourselves if we think these are critical to our future. It is missions to the Moon, the asteroids, and the comets that are more pregnant with those human economic possibilities upon which alone genuine human communities beyond Earth orbit can rise and flourish. To this end we need to see that NASA corrects its aim.
And we need to continue to work for legislation that clears obstacles, that enables, that facilitates, and that rewards genuine economic development beyond GEO. -- Peter Kokh
This month we continue the story with those brute physical facts that will insert themselves, if not on day one, then shortly thereafter to begin carving nascent Lunan culture even more deeply. - The Moon is a very dry world. And its mineral assets lack several of the industrially strategic elements Earth's more generous endowment has lulled us into taking for granted.
Contents of this issue of Moon Miners' Manifesto