Space: We Want All of the Above

by Rick N. Tumlinson

We in the Space Movement get pretty stupid in our excitement over destinations, topics, and technologies. The Moon! Mars! Asteroids! Rockets! Helium 3! Space solar power! Space tourism! We go through fads, swarm around the hero du jour, and spend far too much time trashing each other’s ideas in favor of our own.

We all claim our solution is the magic bullet, while in reality, none of them are.

Thus, over the years, I have helped start the X PRIZE, given the Mars Society its first $100k, signed up the first space “tourist,” edited a book on the Moon, and funded Helium 3 research and space solar power technology—all while fighting on the front lines for cheap access to space—because I believe they all work together. Now I am working with my partners in Deep Space Industries to open up Free Space—the resource-rich ocean between worlds.

Ironically, some now attack me for being too focused on the wrong thing (their thing of course being “right”). Instead—according to these usually armchair astronauts—I should still be fighting for lower-cost launch (after 20 years of work it’s finally happening), a return to the Moon (yes we should), or humans to Mars (Musk, Tito, and NASA are blazing the trails right now—and it’s my goal to sell them gas, water, building supplies, and cheeseburgers for the road trip).

Not only is this “My way IS the highway” attitude missing the point, it is naïve, ignorant, and harmful to our cause. If there is only one mantra that we can all share in this battle for the hearts and minds of the world it should be: “All of the above!”

The space revolution is not about a limited sum game. It is exactly the opposite. It is about tearing down the walls of limits and allowing people to use their own energy, ideas, and resources to get up and out there and do what people do best—create. I admit there are some dumb ideas about technologies and destinations, but the biggest come from a misunderstanding of why we go to space, the results we seek, and the fastest, most pragmatic way to achieve those results. (Insert favorite screwed up government program or plan name here.)

We all have our own ideas about exploring space, and most of them are valid (exceptions being those that are illegal, break the laws of physics, and/or involve aliens). So let’s agree on a few overarching principles and get off this rock.

First, there is one thing we all must agree upon:

The opening of space to human development and settlement is the most important activity of the human species.

Opening the frontier affects all other activities and unless it is allowed, encouraged, and supported, the human race will not survive and all our other activities will be meaningless. From science to prosperity to climate change to planetary defense, unless we are working on them out there, we will eventually die down here.

Next, keep it simple when you talk about what needs to be done. Don’t go off on tangents and self-indulgent parabolas that lose everyone except other space geeks. As most people can only retain one idea (see above) and three points, focus on these:

Three keys to the frontier:

1. Regular, reliable, and low-cost access to and from space.

2. Utilization of the resources of space, wherever they are, for whatever purpose we need. (We must learn to live off of the land for whatever we need and harvest space resources to create what we want.)

3. Governments that understand and support the idea of an open and expanding human frontier in space by, of, and for the people. (At a minimum government should get out of the way. At the median they should enhance our work. Ideally they support us with proactive policies, mandates to purchase goods and services, and investments in pro-frontier activities through incentives, bonding, and yes, subsidies.)

That’s it! If we can get our governments to at least get out of the way and perhaps even agree to directly support the opening of the frontier; if we can get there and back cheaply and routinely; and if once there we can harvest what we need to live and prosper, it will begin, and it will perhaps never end.

And we can do it all without trashing one another’s ideas. In fact we can do it by supporting one another whenever we can. Sure, some of us are competing for funding or customers. That’s business. But we can still support each other. In fact we need each other, desperately, if we are to succeed at all.

As The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy put it: “Space is big.” There is room on this new ocean for everyone, for every dream, every type and nuance of every possible way of being, living, and existing. And until we actually begin our voyages and make the new lands out there home to whoever wants to go there, either all boats rise together, or we sink alone.

Let’s get the message straight and stay on that message. When it comes to space, we want all of the above!

Rick N. Tumlinson is the co-founder of the Space Frontier Foundation and chairman of Deep Space Industries Inc. This article originally appeared in Ad Astra, Fall 2013.

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