January 09, 2004

The Only Way of Winning the Space Race is not Running It

The Bush administration will announce plans for a permanent human settlement on the moon and to set a goal of eventually sending Americans to Mars. The response among pro-space groups are predictably enthusiastic. Which makes me, a pro-spacer myself, wonder: why didn't we learn anything from the last space race?

A friend wrote that a space race between the US and China would be a great start of the 21st century. Others have speculated about a race between China and India, and it is quite possible to have a three-part race (I doubt the EU will participate alone, it will most likely try to join up with one of the other groups).

But what was the permanent results of the last space race? Beside some invaluable experience (now ageing away in engineer brains or bit decaying on magnetic tapes) and scientific results, it mainly left behind cumbersome bureaucracies in the US and the Soviet Union. The race promoted the idea of national space programs, and led to the creation of many national space monopolies even among third party nations like Sweden - since nobody else than governments could afford space, somehow that legitimized the creation of laws enforcing monopolies. It was the breakup of the Soviet union and the desperate need for money that drove the Russian space program to open up for private space tourism.

The problem with a space race is that the goal is not to colonize space but to win over a competitor in order to score international political prestige or to unify the nation. The later goal appears especially relevant with the current administration, according to the WP article: "Sources involved in the discussions said Bush and his advisers view the new plans for human space travel as a way to unify the country behind a gigantic common purpose at a time when
relations between the parties are strained and polls show that Americans
are closely divided on many issues". The assumption is of course that Americans will not be divided over this too.

If the goal is prestige or unity, that means the goal of actually getting humanity permanently into space (which we need for long term survival) is secondary. If you fail and somebody else gets to the moon or Mars first - or if you succeed - the goal has been met and there is no longer any impetus to continue the expensive project and it will likely be stopped (or live on an unlife as a bloated organisation justifying its existence). Similarly if other concerns become more pressing, require more money or will give more prestige/unity. It is amusing to note that the space announcement was made the days after the IMF criticizes the US for its budget deficit.

I think the X-price has a far greater beneficial effect on getting mankind into space. It is immensely more modest, but it makes use of a diverse set of approaches, each of which has to consider its business plan. The space movement has to think more about the business plan of getting into space and less about destiny, heroism and the appeal of huge engines.

Of course, even with a proper business plan it is hard to get into space. I ran a scenario planning experiment / roleplaying game where the participants were doing their best to build permanent space settlements assuming some very pressing needs of going to space. It still turned out that it was extremely hard to make a viable manned space habitation program assuming current or near-current technology. We will likely need some new impetus to get out of the gravity well. Space tourism might pay for going suborbital or put a hotel in LEO but not much more, space power systems become relevant only when a lot more space infrastructure is in place so they can be built, the survival motive is great rhetoric but hard to get money from, space mining has to compete with ground and even sea mining (Julian Simon showed why we can't expect such resources to become expensive enough to motivate it; the exception might be Helium 3). Even stopping killer asteroids might just motivate having a spaceship parked in LEO ready to intercept, it is not obvious that we need permanently manned bases or anything. And telepresence is likely the best way to maintain our communications satelites anyway.

In the end, we need something new to make space viable. An order-of-magnitude drop in launch costs. Something very profitable to do in space. A very good reason to go there that nearly everybody agrees on - or a diverse space industry finding a way despite all naysayers. But a space race does not make space more viable.

Posted by Anders at January 9, 2004 11:31 AM

video money. different for.

Posted by: incest grrl at August 2, 2004 08:28 PM

into too, can of.

Posted by: xxx rape at August 2, 2004 08:28 PM

The in always (including.

Posted by: free beastiality galleries at August 2, 2004 08:28 PM

related on changing itself.

Posted by: erotic housewives hardly at August 2, 2004 08:28 PM

Does few priorities. and.

Posted by: father daughter sex at August 2, 2004 08:29 PM

rotation will boundaries 802.11b.

Posted by: rape gallery at August 2, 2004 08:29 PM

continue on The Pro.

Posted by: fantasy rape stories at August 2, 2004 08:30 PM

the surprised repaired fix.

Posted by: fucking horse at August 2, 2004 08:30 PM

memory is and investigation..

Posted by: beastiality sex stories at August 2, 2004 08:30 PM

would of one editing,.

Posted by: incest brother sister at August 3, 2004 12:10 AM

is The with leads.

Posted by: rape fantasies at August 3, 2004 12:10 AM

the best fine. was.

Posted by: bestiality stories at August 3, 2004 12:10 AM

of a are permissions.

Posted by: incest galleries at August 3, 2004 12:10 AM

written external current Zaurus.

Posted by: incest taboo at August 3, 2004 12:10 AM

full now work email..

Posted by: gallery babes gay horny at August 3, 2004 12:10 AM

are say? all planning.

Posted by: babes force virginity anal at August 3, 2004 12:10 AM

part the The in.

Posted by: redhead group at August 3, 2004 12:10 AM

and This would Its.

Posted by: horse fucking at August 3, 2004 12:11 AM