A View of the National Space Strategy
At the Lunar Resources Roundtable, a tremendous variety of views were expressed about what the national space strategy should really be, in terms of nuts and bolts.
Almost everyone expressed strong and passionate support for the basic goals given in the President's vision statement. That's why people came to this meeting. But what does that vision really call for? Did the President really intend to turn space over to private companies in the short term, in a way that leads to the abolition of NASA and enormous loss, pain and liquidation of some of America's strongest technological capabilities? Did he -- like Lyndon Johnson -- intend to create a vast new government program with its own autonomous goals, disconnected from the natural growth of American industry and the positive, egalitarian spirit of the frontier? We do not believe the President or the American people truly intend or support either extreme -- but how could we truly unify the role of the government and the role of the private sector here?
We believe this question should be answered as follows.
First, for the sake of efficiency, the core goal of the lunar activity should be redefined. We should not be distracted by the goal of minimizing the time and cost between today and the time when we are certain that American footprints will reappear in the dust of the moon. Rather we should minimize the time and cost between now and our best average guess of the time when our enabling technologies, discoveries and infrastructure truly allow profit-making entities aimed at real public markets to "take over" -- to operate on a large enough scale, with diverse enough activity, that they truly posses self-sustaining economic growth in service to humanity.
Second, even though this involves risks, we must face up to these risks, rise to them as best we can, and replace the bureaucratic philosophy of minimum risk with the entrepreneur's philosophy of rational, calculated risk. There are many risks of technological failure if we expect to do too soon some things that we do not really know how to do as yet, or wait for an ideal solution to emerge from the clouds. However, there are even greater risks at present of losing the entire market and public support by not doing anything truly useful and new. They are analogous to the risks of investing billions in lead-acid batteries, at a time when the market demands a more advanced type of battery. Technology risks of excess short-term optimism and market risks of excess caution need to be balanced out -- and we need to be bolder in stepping forward.
Third, to implement these principles, NASA needs to coordinate much more completely, and immediately, with its passionate supporters in other agencies -- most notably DOD, NSF, the intelligence agencies and DOE -- and with industry, to redirect its attention towards specific long-term commercial opportunities such as the supply of energy, materials, manufacturing and tourism from the moon ultimately to earth, directly or via earth orbit. Lunar development should be part of a larger thrust toward the sustainable economic development of space in general. Economic activity in earth orbit plays a crucial role in making it truly realistic to make this work, to make it truly profitable on a large enough scale in the future. We are not there yet -- but we can get there, and the government needs to work cooperatively to get us there.
Fourth -- there are important and exciting fundamental new technology options here, well grounded in basic science and engineering, essential to the hope of making this real. This White Paper is not the proper place for discussing these new nuts and bolts -- but in our new partnerships, we desperately need to do so soon, before key opportunities may be lost in teh next few months. There are no guarantees that humans really can succeed in settling space in this kind of serious way, and no guarantees that our nation will survive the enormous challenges that it faces world-wide. But if we hold to our best hopes, without succumbing either to illusions or to bureaucratic timidity, and learn to think harder with fewer constraints, our chances of surviving and reaching out into the universe will be far greater.