- it wasn’t science nor charisma that got the US into space: it was war
- maybe China will motivate the US in the post-Cold War era
- the joy of discovery should be a motivation
- as well as inspiring our young ones to “shoot for the stars”
- when people ask why we spend so much up there when we have so many problems down here, point out that asteroids prove not all problems are earthbound, some are earth bound
- plus, NASA’s budget amounts to just half a penny on the tax dollar
NdT is a huge supporter of NASA and would like to see that rise to 2 cents on the dollar. In terms of private activity in space, he subscribes to Saganism: namely, the private sector should be active in LEO and the public sector should be pushing the frontiers.
I find that a bit grating. Maybe as an academic (ie. used to depending on government funding), NdT is biased towards government leadership as much as I am biased against it as a entrepreneur/startup guy. Relying on government for long-term leadership is a fool’s game, as I think the slow decline of NASA bears out. I would love to see the space community transcend governmental strictures. Yes, I think government has a role, just not a central one.
The power of the network
The network is a powerful social organization that can render results far greater than its individual components. Just ask Wikipedia. Hell, the greatest network we have ever built was made to exchange scientific knowledge!
Rather than the bureaucratic hierarchies of national governments leading the human endeavour in space, the larger space community should take charge. There are many, many other organizations outside of NASA, ESA, JAXA etc that are a part of the space community. Lots grass roots and citizen-led organizations that want to participate in the exploration of space, for example:
- Planetary Society
- Mars Society
- Mars One
- Mars Drive
- Space Frontier Foundation
- Tau Zero Foundation
- B612 Sentinel Mission
- National Space Society (successor to the L5 Society)
- Scitizens groups like Citizens in Space and Citizen Science Alliance
Plus all the universities and private space companies.
Steven Johnson likes to say that “innovation often comes from the edge of the network.” The greater space community should be looking to link up all the disparate networks we have to find innovative solutions to the problems of exploring space.
Space problems: a levels analysis
Obviously there are a ton of problems that need tackling. For example:
- Engineering problems
- propulsion, heat distribution in space, etc
- Science problems
- oh my god a ton of these
- Environment problems
- medical, generation of air, food & fuel
- Market problems
- creating viable space markets, funding
- The Asteroid problem
- detection, prediction, redirection/destruction
Often the argument is that only national governments can bring about the capital to build infrastructure to explore space. That is why out of 200+ nations there are only two space-faring nations: Russia and China (sorry America, as soon as the SLS is ready, you will be re-upgraded). However, there is still much that a network could acheive.
I would reorganize these problems into three levels: Earthbound, LEO and Deep space (which could be further broken down into interplanetary, interstellar and intergalactic). Saganites tend to want to limit private participation to LEO. I contend that private organizations could be active anywhere along the stack.
Private organizations without their own space infrastructure can contribute knowledge and expertise to solve many of the engineering, science, environmental, market, and PR problems listed above. Admittedly, some problems will require the sheer weight of the bureaucracy, but that is okay. I don’t want to exlude them, just restructure their position within the network.
The issues now become: how do NASA et al. harness the power of the network? And more importantly, how can citizens (who have long since given up on joining NASA) get connected to the network? Finally, what do the leaders of a greater space community look like?