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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Standing on the Earth looking Towards the Sky

I believe for years people have looked out at space and dreamed about sailing away in large ships, leaving earth behind and setting up Utopias at distant stars. These types of irrational expectations have caused the entire industry harm because people have never been given the chance to evaluate a serious, for profit, space program. While an individual may desire that humans go into space to explore, the fact of the matter is that the instruments of labor dictate that there must a strong financial reason to explore these possibilities. I want humans to go into space in a big way. Asking myself where this feeling originated, I am not sure. However, I can conjecture.

I read many science fiction books as a child and throughout my short life. Joules Vern, HG Wells. But I did not spend inordinate amount of time with them. In fact through puberty till I was 19 or so I tended more towards the realm of fantasy with authors like Piers Anthony, Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman, R.A. Salvatore. But then I drifted back to Science Fiction. I read books by Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein and Alistair Reynolds. These books helped me understand a small fraction of what could be. Of course their ideas were far fetched. But there were still some reasonable notes to take. For example the construction of a linear accelerator on the moon. No atmospheric resistance means that this could be used effectively as a Single Stage to Orbit (SSO).

I studied Aerospace Engineering in college at WPI. The most interesting classes I remember were Astronautics, the movement of bodies in space, and Spacecraft and Mission Design. In the latter I learned about project optimization. The summary of the class was to build the mission profile of a spacecraft that flew as close to the earth as possible, for as long as possible, with the least weight. Astronautics opened up the majestic realm of space travel to my phsyci. It was like a terrific ball with dancers going this way an that, and the goal was to find your way through them to the beautiful girl on the other side of the room, all the while, keeping time.

Other reasons have come up more recently. Through my US history research, reading books and talking with people, I've come to realize the importance of colonizing the west and the vast opportunities that it offered to all those that were willing to take the risks of coming here. And I've also witnessed a generation of uninspired young men and women plodding through the best education system known to man with no hope of applying the knowledge they worked so hard to attain. California is one of the richest and vibrant places in the whole world with innovation centers like Silicon Valley that are the envy of major governments. Those that came west, and then traveled even further it seems created the best atmosphere of innovation because they created a culture that accepted and grew off risk.

What I see today is that the US does not have the Vision, the Knowledge and Expertise, the Financial Backing, and the Willingness to Take Risks that could culminate in an expert space program. What I want to see is resources being taking from outside of the earth, not from the depths of the earth or her surface, but from other places like the moon or asteroids, that are then put to work to improve the conditions of the people on the ground in ways that we begin to understand today.

Why take materials from outside earth? I believe that we are currently exploring every which way we can exploit the material resources we have today on the surface of the planet. But what we have not done is conducted a thorough analysis of what materials we have in space floating around us. For all we know, we have the most precious and abundant materials just outside our earth-moon system, and we'll never get to them because we haven't even explored the possibilities that they could be useful.

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