Thanks for reading my blog.
Times have changed. We're not going to get Apollo Redux (anytime soon anyway), and Space Shuttle is finally being put to rest (long overdue if you ask me). And sorry, space cadets: we are not going to Mars anytime soon.
The current fiery disagreements over the future of human space exploration usually fail to answer the basic question:
Why should we bother?
The world has lots of problems - global and intra-national economic disparities, financial instability, overpopulation, increasing competition for ever-dwindling natural resources, degraded natural environments, ocean acidification, and global warming. Assuming we all kind of want to keep living on this planet together, all those problems supercede spaceflight - which is thus seen as something of a luxury. We need to understand this.
And yet - I believe spaceflight is critically important.
Polls show that most Americans think that NASA gets about 20% of the Federal government spending. The real number is less than 1%. Current political rhetoric notwithstanding, there is room to enhance the budgets for space exploration without cutting funding for other important social and political priorities.
Why spaceflight? How should we do it? And who should do it?
I start from the premise that human spaceflight is important and worth doing. If every human activity is reduced to hard cost-benefit tests, many important but risky endeavors that require long-term investment just wouldn't happen. Art wouldn't exist. Access to higher public education would be much more limited. Basic scientific research that may or may not have eventual applications wouldn't exist. Human society would be intellectually, aesthetically, and psychologically impoverished.
Man does not live on bread alone. We need the inspiration that comes from exploration and adventure. It's essential. And while space geeks don't like to admit it, there is no real direct economic benefit from space exploration. In that sense, it is a luxury. But the indirect benefits of human and robotic spaceflight - the expansion of human knowledge, technological spinoffs, and the benefits of enhanced enthusiasm for STEM education - make the endeavor an important one.
And yet we must all recognize that the tug of more immediate human priorities are often more important, so until the day comes when most human suffering is ended, the Earth's environment is healed and stable, and the financial coffers are full yes, those priorities do compete for funding resources.
If we're going to keep going to space, we'll need:
1. A good reason. And it will have to be a reason that recognizes the legitimate need for solutions to other pressing human and planetary problems that, when push comes to shove, take precedence over flying to the moon or Mars. But competition over funding resources need not be a show-stopper. We can do more than one thing at a time.
2. A more diverse set of national actors and institutions to do it. That means two things:
a. public as well as private sectors working in coordination, and
b. international collaboration, not single nations going alone.
Those two premises underpin this blog.
Specifically, I'm going to focus much attention on three major long-term developments. The first is the emergence of China as a major player in space. The second is the increasing importance of international cooperation (and joint funding support) for spaceflight. The third is the emergence of the commercial spaceflight sector as an integral partner with government in space exploration.
This blog isn't intended to be a comprehensive space news blog. If you're looking for one of those, I recommend you try Parabolic Arc or one of the several other excellent sites that report major daily developments. I address issues that interest me insofar as they relate, however tangentally, to those two premises. Or to put it another way, the who, how, and why of human spaceflight.
I'm not an engineer or a physicist. I am very aware of the limits of my knowledge and am transparent about those limitations. My work over the last 3 decades involves high-level science, politics, business, and economics in the international arena. I endeavor to remain humble, but...
I have a perspective and I intend to use it.
One policy note: I will post stuff and go back and tinker with it over the next couple of days. So don't consider any wording final until it's been up for at least a week. My rules.
Most importantly, I look forward to exploring this subject and to learning more with, and from, those who are kind enough to read this blog. Thanks for looking, and for contributing.