Posted by: spacewritinguy | March 19, 2008

Conservatives in Space – Chapter 1

Starting with the End in Mind

Bottom Line: If we create a space economy, we will improve our lives here on Earth.

It is often helpful in policy debates to start from first principles (your assumptions) or your desired end state (your intended outcomes). What follows is my vision for the future.

First, Some Assumptions

Some of these assumptions are so obvious that they should not need to be stated. However, for the sake of clarity, and to give this book its philosophical underpinning, I will state the basis for this proposed future anyway:

  • Equality in the eyes of God and the law. Individual human lives are sacred and endowed by their Creator with unique capabilities and deserve to be treated as equals under the law. Laws should be written with this principle as their foundation.
  • Equality of opportunity and capitalism. Civilized societies should ensure equality of opportunity for individuals, not equality of outcome.
  • Limited government. Individuals have a greater chance of personal success when they are given both maximum freedom and maximum responsibility for their actions.
  • Representative government. To quote Winston Churchill, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.”

Later in this book I will discuss how space settlement ensures the continuation of these Western (and now mostly American) principles, but these points will do for a start. What follows is a description of what life might look in the future as I see it–a living example of how my previously stated assumptions might find expression in the real world. So relax, sit back, and relax for a few pages while I indulge in a little story telling.

The Future of the Private Sector

Welcome to America, circa 2100. Much to the surprise of political pundits, international diplomats, and Marxist university professors, the United States continues to be the leader of the free world. Unlike the military adventurism of 50 years ago, our nation’s investments and emigrations into space are now the driving force behind that continued leadership.

Spacecraft Manufacturers and Spacelines

Perhaps the most dramatic transformation in American society has been the development of routine commercial access to space. Thanks to extensive research efforts by many parties, including NASA, a dozen rocket-building companies provide low-cost vehicles for a wide range of passenger spacelines, cargo and satellite launches, and occasionally military hardware.

Freed from the need to support NASA’s human spaceflight operations, many of the “big boys” took the hint and moved into more entrepreneurial activities. While the Atlas and Delta launchers provided interim launch service to the International Space Station, Boeing, Lockheed, ATK, and others began buying up or teaming up with their smaller rivals in the commercial field. When Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic committed to flying their Rutan Flyers up to Bigelow’s new inflatable space station, the space industry realized that there would be plenty of work for everyone.

Obviously the most important development in space traffic was the development of fully reusable single- and two-stage-to-orbit launch vehicles. While not flown as often as commercial airliners, these new ships quickly doubled, tripled, and then quadrupled the number of payloads launched to orbit within five years. Launch costs dropped, but traffic increased, effectively keeping many companies’ revenues at the same levels.

The original “spaceports” built 40 years ago in New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma provided testing grounds for ground operations. Other conventional airlines began to take the space trade seriously, entering the marketplace that only Virgin Galactic had occupied at first. As the new spacelines gained experience flying suborbital and then orbital tourists, they gradually proved that space vehicles could operate with small ground crews requiring not much more than a high school education. The age of mass transit into space has begun.

Space Construction, Mining, Secondary Services, and Utilities

Like airlines on Earth, the spacelines would have a hard time making money without somewhere to go. The biggest growth markets in low-Earth orbit (LEO), L4/L5, the Moon, Mars, and the asteroid belts are in construction, logistics, and all the “little things” that make life in these outposts worth living. The simple reason for this is that starting rocket transportation companies or spacelines require the most market capitalization. If someone else is taking care of that, others could concentrate on smaller tasks. In fact, if the government had tried to fund all of the activities that private entrepreneurs were investing in, Congress would have shut down the whole project years ago.

Not everything is brought up from Earth anymore, though: some items, like foodstuffs, seeds, specialty high-technology items, and entertainment packages, continue to be produced primarily “down under,” as the home planet is now called (much to the dismay of Australia’s board of tourism). Many industries are now home-grown, including mining and ore processing, simple tool and die manufacturing, spacesuit repairs, and “coffin hotels” for weary construction workers building habitats around the Inner Planets. Because of the complexity of everyday life in the orbital, lunar, and planetary habitats, the space economy has become a virtual paradise for small-business entrepreneurs.

Third-Tier Suppliers and Vendors

Space isn’t for everyone. Isolation, close quarters, spacesickness, and lack of “fresh air” still keep many people from doing more than visit. However, the space economy still has a vibrant Earthbound component, everything from accounting to spaceport concessions to human resources and finance. Special courses have been set up at Harvard and Yale to address the unique intricacies of interplanetary finance, tort law, asteroid mining rights, dual-planet custody rights, and intellectual property.

Meanwhile, the number of large and small businesses providing goods and services to the space economy grows every year as launch costs continue to drop. “Spacers” are no longer a specialty market, but a necessary part of any mass-marketing campaign. Consumer products that become popular among the Lunarites or the Martians have a certain cachet with young people. On the manufacturing side of things, companies that can get their parts, components, or assemblies approved for use off-world develop a better following on Earth, which has a much more forgiving environment.

Arts & Entertainment

HDTV broadcasts from Luna City have been common since the settlement’s founding. Twice-daily news briefs are sent from Mars by laser. While the Martians haven’t had much time to devote to TV as entertainment yet, Earthly visitors watch with great interest as habitats comprising Mormons, Christian Socialists, Ayn Rand Objectivists, and others set about their individual social experiments in new ways of living. Live concerts by Earth-based musical or theatrical performers are a special treat on the Moon and L4/L5 colonies. The Royal Shakespeare Company hopes to raise enough money to send a troupe to Phobos and Mars soon.

Meanwhile, folk music from the various construction and settler crews about life in the black has begun to filter back to Earth. A confusing mishmash of bluegrass, jazz, salsa, rap, and “Bollywood” tunes, the music isn’t quite as appealing to older adults as it is to the younger generation. On the plus side, teenagers are at least learning to become multilingual, as they learn the many ways to say “Don’t throw up in your spacesuit.”

In the visual arts, painters have begun emigrating to Mars, as its garish land forms inspire a whole new revival in representational landscape art, as there is no need to exaggerate the reality of the place. While most of the artists can simply paint what is without embellishment, “the Mars School” of painting is trying to get students to convey, through their brushstrokes, “the Martian aesthetic.”

On both Mars and Moon, sculptors are having a marvelous time tantalizing Earthbound collectors with sculptures that are impossible to create or display in Earth gravity but stand up just fine in the other worlds’ lower g’s.

When the first human trip to the moons of Jupiter heads for Europa, the Union of Space Artists has already lobbied to include an artist/sculptor/poet on the crew to capture what, if any, life forms the crew might find beneath the moon’s rugged ice-covered seas.

Religion and Philosophy

Just as art and music followed us into space, so too did religion and philosophy. Many early travelers, operating under close quarters, realized the absolute necessity for prayer, meditation, and ritual as a means of maintaining individual and crew stability. Non-denominational chapels are as common in the settlements as they are in commercial airports and spaceports. Individuals merely press a button outside the door for the appropriate faith’s ornaments to appear upon the altar.

Another important religious issue touching the religious establishment has been the death of life on Mars and the discovery of living organisms on Europa and around other stars in the galaxy. With irradiated fossils being the only sign of life on the Red Planet, the still-recent Martian settlers have begun cautious discussions about “terraforming” their new homeworld-to make it more like Earth. It has been suggested that “Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas,” be reworded to say “Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the worlds in the skies.” The discussions about existing life inside and outside the solar system, however, are leading to profound discussions about what “Created in God’s own image” might mean if human beings encounter intelligent life in the near future. The Society of Jesus–the Jesuits–scored a major coup by including one of their own members on the Jupiter mission crew. The arguments between Father Yoruba and the artist, Nelly82, have already become famous in the news.

Elsewhere, many philosophers–often degreed professionals who take scut-work jobs so they can perform their research anonymously–are writing new papers and theories about how human beings can or do interact in artificial environments in distant places. Others are trying to develop political theories that can unite the multiple languages and cultures now cross-fertilizing across the solar system. Still others write back to Earth that they are disappointed that human beings have not been fundamentally changed by living on other worlds: they are just as mean, petty, selfish, and cantankerous as they are at home.

There has been one important blessing: advanced technologies and tests developed in the wake of the Lisa Nowak scandal filtered out all potential for demented or hostile behavior. With everyone from ground crews to passengers to space pilots receiving these exams before lifting off, there have been no terrorist attacks in the settlements. Violence, fights, and even murders have occurred in the heat of the moment, but pathological personalities have been excluded from space, for which its citizens have been duly grateful.

Settlers and Children

As spaceflight began to drop in price, a number of private foundations began to put their considerable resources toward funding settlements on the Moon or Mars. The L4 and L5 space cities were built by government-private industry consortiums, and so were less likely to attract the seriously independent-minded pioneers.

Groups ranging from Mormons to Communists to Ayn Rand Objectivists to Reformed Amish began training at camps in the Arctic and Antaractic outbacks on Earth to prepare for life on the frozen frontier. Their goals were simple: they hoped to get away from life here and find a new beginning for a way of life that they saw being threatened. All of the settlements have their own internal governance structures, but agreed to follow the Concert of Worlds Declaration, which guaranteed that no human being would be subject to persecution, harm, or death at the hands of a local government. And, again, no one was allowed to board a spaceline vehicle going to the outbound immigrant transport without a full psych screening, ensuring the avoidance of blatantly hostile or harmful behavior.

Even before space settlements had the space, time, and facilities to manage children, people began having them. Some Lunarite children are already permanent residents, as a transition to Earth’s six-times-more-powerful gravity would put their more fragile, longer bones at risk and also confine them uncomfortably to a wheelchair for the rest of their lives. Similar, though not as severe problems would affect children born on Mars. Kids growing up on the L4 and L5 free-space cities, of course, have no such handicap, as the great, rotating structures where they live provide Earth-standard gravity for all.

The Spacer kids do have a different outlook on things–something of great interest to psychologists and sociologists–the most obvious being their utter confusion when faced with claustrophobics. Having spent their entire lives surrounded by human-made structures and spacesuits, the thought of standing on the outside an open-air planet fills them with some misgivings. A group of L5 kids visiting Earth for the first time didn’t understand what the big media fuss was about and why reporters kept asking them silly questions regarding things they took for granted about life in Tsiolkovskigrad. One ten-year-old quipped, when asked what he thought of Earth, summed up the opinion of most of his peers: “Dirty, noisy, and rude.

Otherwise, the children in the settlements have a much more intuitive feel for life in space because machines and spacecraft are, to them, simply facts of life. They usually speak three to six languages, depending on who financed and built their settlement, and often lapse into an incomprehensible slang when they want to keep secrets or be left alone by grownups or “groundhogs,” as they call Earth people. While they appreciate the cultural exchanges they have with “sister schools” back on Earth, they are most interested in communicating with their own kind, meaning other children who have grown up away from Earth.

Naturally there is some rivalry within the space generation. Like any kids, they inevitably make up unfair or impolite nicknames for kids from other settlements or other worlds. They look down on Earth people particularly, but are circumspect enough not to say so within earshot of grownups. Living as they do among mostly well-adjusted adults with high educations, their attitude is hardly surprising, but where these attitudes will lead in the future is still anyone’s guess. Some hope that they will be able to find solutions for the problems that Earth still struggles with, including crime, poverty, and war. However, right now, the oldest of the “space kids” is only 25, and hasn’t made any grand plans regarding his future yet.

The Future of the Government

Military

Some of what the United States Aerospace Force flies today would have been familiar to its predecessor service of 100 years ago. Satellites for communications, missile launch detection, battlefield surveillance, and global positioning systems (GPS) are still in place. However, the satellites are now less expensive; launched, upgraded, decommissioned, deorbited, and replaced more rapidly; and the ‘sats’ are more capable than in years past. The revolution in low-cost launchers benefited the armed forces in a number of ways, from rapid troop deployments to maintaining space access, clearing away “space junk,” and projecting force without ever leaving the continental U.S. (CONUS).

One of the more effective force-projection tools are winged tungsten cylinders no more than 20 feet long and one foot in diameter. Launched from hardened silos or from orbit, “Thor’s Hammers” (called “Rods from God,” by the airmen who maintain them) enter or reenter the atmosphere at a speed of nearly seven miles a second, a “rod” uses simple kinetic energy to crash into its target with all the force of a nuclear weapon and none of the fallout. The “rods” are the ultimate bunker buster.

The USAF has two squadrons of specially modified military space planes that can deliver troops, weapons, or cargo anywhere in the world in half an hour. These “Screaming Eagles” have reduced troop deployments abroad, as the long, slow logistics tails of 100 or even 50 years ago have been replaced by “just in time” deployments. America’s armed forces have an even better reputation, as they are no longer occupiers so much as SWAT teams, whisking in and out to address crises while leaving local constabulary troops to handle day-to-day ground operations.

The services are also smaller than they used to be. Of course, with less dependence upon petroleum from Asia, America’s commitments in the region have dropped off tremendously. However, they have picked up new duties as the Solar Economy has extended well beyond Earth’s orbit. USAF contributes to SPACEGUARD, the global organization charged with locating, tracking, and (if necessary) deflecting asteroids and comets that could strike the home world.

Most of the USAF’s time, however, is spent answering distress calls between Earth, Moon, Mars, the L4/L5 colonies, or the Asteroid Belt. They make good time, as they’re currently the only organization that can afford continuously accelerating spacecraft.

NASA

Government-operated space programs haven’t gone away. In fact, when human and cargo launch services were turned over to the private sector, the Aeronautics, Space Science, and Earth Science Directorates all found themselves embarrassingly rich. Projects like the James Webb Telescope, Terrestrial Planet Finder, and other projects cut short by the budget crunches late in the ‘Oughts suddenly found themselves back on schedule or even accelerated.

The launch services and spaceline providers compete eagerly for NASA contracts, as they get free commercials out of the bargain. The space launch industry is also kept busy launching new telescopes, Earth observation satellites, and long-range probes to the outer planets.

Perhaps NASA’s greatest contributions to the space economy have been its pure research efforts on aeronautical and aerospace technologies, tasks that took the agency back to its roots in the old days of the National Advisory Council on Aeronautics (NACA), while at the same time recalling the Apollo era, as the agency established bases at both of the lunar poles. Sometimes by providing prizes to individual competitors, sometimes by performing expensive research itself, NASA has proven to be a benefit to the entire industry. The agency takes special pride in the research it has done on solar power satellites, single-stage-to-orbit vehicles, and near-vacuum construction methods, all of which found a much broader marketplace once exploitation of knowledge was moved over to the private sector.

NASA has big plans for the future. As near-Earth space continues to be developed by private industry, the NASA-sponsored mission to Europa and autonomous probes are seeking out landing sites for future scientific outposts and settlements on the moons of Jupiter. Assuming the next budget request is approved by Congress, the President will direct the Administrator to begin design studies for the first interstellar probe to Alpha Centauri.

***

What we see here is a fully integrated, dynamic, and culturally diverse space culture. There are tensions, wars, rivalries, and challenges, but there is also progress, profit, and chances for a new life. About the only social engineering aspect one can find is the psychological screening of passengers and crews traveling up to and through space. If we can detect and prevent individual human beings intent on doing harm to others from acting, other types of “profiling” become unnecessary.

It is a capitalist culture engaged in free trade, limited government, and economic growth. Those who would complain about the evils of cultural imperialism or American/Western jingoism might contemplate what the space economy would look like if it were guided solely by principles laid down in Communist China, authoritarian Russia, or socialist Europe; or the place of women in space under Iranian sharia law; or how the culture might look different if India’s birth-is-destiny caste system were to hold sway. Space provides a further venue for demonstrating the progress available to a maximum number of individuals under Western standards of equality and liberty. For make no mistake: all of these nations want to get into space, and sooner or later, they will.

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Responses

  1. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Stacey Derbinshire

  2. Nice writing style. I will come back to read more posts from you.

    Susan Kishner

  3. Thanks for the compliments, all. What a shame I had to dig through the spam filter to find them!


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