Kapitalist asked if Moonwards could also work on a plan that could happen in the world we know in a comment on the previous post. That was like pressing a big red button in the middle of my forehead, so i am responding here.
If we only think about what could be realistically done under existing political realities, we fail to see the real nature of space exploration. Decisions about undertakings of this scope should be made knowing the best and worst possible outcomes within our lifetimes. This is really important, but the matter is almost completely neglected. That's because we haven't had the tools before to really examine it. Now we do, and time is of the essence.
Paul Spudis has a wonderful detailed plan for lunar exploration, in my opinion the best out there by far, very realistic and reasonable. I have to ignore it almost completely. There is a list of reasons. I will look at the main three.
One, you can't sell ice mining to the public. I mean, maybe they'll shrug and say 'whatever, yay Americans in space', but there will be no new enthusiasm. It's like the ISS, but with wet dirt. Not interesting if you aren't a space nerd. Paul knows this. He has astutely designed something that can be done within the existing budget.
Two, it leaves out in the cold the many key facts known only to space nerds, a constant source of frustration. Nuclear ships are safe and the technology is ready, but nobody dares use them. Development of tethers would not be that hard for use in lunar orbit, and the payoff would be massive, but it is an unexplored road and everyone wants to stick to the safe, known things because budgets are lean and government types are skittish. The Moon has gigantic military potential once you are there and settled in. Really, gigantic. There is a tipping point beyond which activity in space will suddenly explode, that point may be much closer than almost anyone realizes, and it will change the world profoundly. People need to know these things. It's important.
Three, the world needs a new way of being, and it needs help finding it. The world we know can't continue the way it is. We have done pretty well, for such a young species. But we are becoming very powerful very quickly and we are ill prepared to handle that kind of power. The planet has become more peaceful over the last century but is an awful long way from being peaceful enough for me to be comfortable with a slew of technologies that we already have becoming commonplace around the globe, never mind the technologies just around the corner. Moonwards may not seem relevant to a search for a new societal model, but it is. Once it is actually modeling a society on the Moon, that will become clear. That has to be done extremely well in order to work, but it can, and if it doesn't, it will show a path forward that will.
This bit has been very hard to convey. Living in space is the goal here, the only thing the public really cares about. And they are right. That is the thing that will change who we are. Who will we become? Will we destroy ourselves? Will we devastate our environment? Will there be a powerful elite and a mountain of poor? Will we be free? Will we be people we could respect and admire?
Space science fiction looks at this, but through a glass darkly. We need to look at it directly and really think it through as much as we can before it actually happens. I'd say we likely only have 30 years.