Wednesday, May 24, 2017


There is a strong tinge of escapism among space fans. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, escapism gets a bad wrap. It just has to be used with care. I think it’s good for people to remember that things could be way, way better than they are. A vision of something that would be wonderful but can only be achieved with great effort can actually bring people together and focus them on making that effort. The problems begin with the false promises and hand-waving. If your head is out there, but your heart isn’t rooted down here, you’re in for trouble.

When i look around at the epic space projects proselytized by most of the prominent space advocates out there - settlement of Mars, supply of the world’s power from space, salvation of humanity, riches beyond compare - i’m disheartened. And please bear in mind that i believe in these things. I just think they have the order of operations all wrong. They skip over the heart and soul of the case to be made here. Many of them neglect it so badly they advocate sending people into danger, as though a bright future is secure as long as we manage to get out there and build giant things at whatever cost.

Au contraire. The brightness of our future is directly proportional to how good we are to each other, and little else is relevant. We are entirely capable of solving all the world’s problems with capabilities we already have, but we don’t because we are so messed up. Sending people into danger to do something that could be done better and cheaper right here on Earth if only we would grow up i’d call a net loss for our collective maturity. Now, i’ll grant you that although the kind of investment needed to create solar power production in space for the whole world is definitely far more than the investment needed to create solar power installations on Earth that could do the same (even including the cost of power storage and transmission infrastructure), contemplating that venture in space is tempting because it sidesteps all the politics that bog down the real world. It is the one arena where it is almost believable that one nation, or even one company, could slip the bonds of Earth, go it alone, and achieve something so singular that it changes all our lives forever. But the devil is in the details. Don’t flee that devil. He is trying to show us the lesson we really need.

The important thing here is not milestones. To hell with milestones. The inspirational thing about Apollo was not the small step for a man, it was the giant leap for mankind. The Apollo astronauts knew it better than anyone. They weren’t there because they were great heroes, their mundane workdays on the Moon were not the source of inspiration. They were there because literally hundreds of thousands of people working closely together, and exerted themselves to the utmost mentally, to plan and build the most astonishingly complex machines we had ever made. Our ability to work together in that way was the magical thing. That took us to a magical place. It wouldn’t have been magical if we hadn’t overcome our own limitations to get there. That’s why people mostly don’t even look out airplane windows anymore. The Earth stretched out below means nothing to them anymore. Achieving flight hasn’t freed us from our suffering. It has only made it a bit more complex.

That’s why Apollo can’t be repeated. It’s when you overcome yourself that you are taken to a place of magic. It’s not necessary to reach a new place to experience that. It is necessary to see the place you are for what it is - endlessly complex and interconnected with everything else.

To have that experience, take your time, share everything, listen well, and speak with care and honesty. What we space nerds have to give the world is our sense of the great abilities and experiences that lie in our future if we work hard together. That should be enough. Be content, and don’t get distracted with trying to make it happen. Just try to get across what it would mean. After all, that’s why it matters to you. Just pass that on.

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