Reviewed by: Greg Autry
Title: The Case for Space: How the Revolution in Spaceflight Opens Up a Future of Limitless Possibility
Author: Robert Zubrin
NSS Amazon link for this book
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Date: May 2019
Retail Price: $25.00/$11.99
Space luminary Robert Zubrin has just released The Case for Space, a book that expands the motif of his seminal The Case for Mars throughout the solar system. While the founder and President of the Mars Society has long been associated with efforts to colonize the Red Planet, his new book makes it clear that he does not suffer from planetary myopia. Just the opposite. Dr. Zubrin sees Mars as a critical element in a solar system well organized to serve humanity. The Case for Space demonstrates the author’s rare breadth of domain knowledge, which covers engineering, science, economics and policy as well as his depth of knowledge on every significant destination in the solar system from the Moon to the outer planets.
I’ve been particularly grateful for Robert Zubrin’s strong voice in the lunar policy arena. Serving on the Presidential Transition Team at NASA, I watched the laying out many of the agency’s current goals, including returning to the Moon to stay. Like many of you, I want to see that particular goal fulfilled with actions, not simply policy statements, bigger budgets and updated programmatic timelines (though these are all encouraging). Zubrin has been absolutely relentless in his efforts to redirect NASA toward a simpler, cheaper, faster and ultimately more sustainable return to the Moon. His Moon Direct model could deliver on the administration’s mandate requiring the agency to return humans to the lunar surface by 2024. More importantly it would do it in a way that would leave humanity with a permanent lunar presence and place the U.S. firmly in the lead for the upcoming lunar land rush. Zubrin’s excellent chapter on Moon Direct is reason enough to buy The Case for Space.
In his new book, Zubrin’s digs right into the issues of lunar resource extraction, energy generation, manufacturing and transportation that will drive the quick settlement of Earth’s “eighth continent.” Zubrin leaves no Moon rock unturned in either closing or rejecting the business case for each idea. For instance, in considering the likely (relative) abundance of the He-3 isotope of helium on the Moon, Zubrin delves into the physics of fusion reactors and why lunar He-3 is the preferable fuel for Earth’s emissions-free energy future. He looks at everything from the physical practicality of extracting this material to the economics of transporting it. All of these topics are addressed in a style that any space enthusiast will easily follow and enjoy.
While the book seriously analyzes the reality and economic value of cis-lunar resources, it doesn’t find itself trapped there. Zubrin understands that once you leave Low Earth Orbit (LEO), every other destination in the solar system is simply a function of propellant and time; and there is no good reason to delay human expansion. Mars and the asteroid belt await and Zubrin does the math for us. For instance, if you’ve wondered about the economic details of asteroid mining, I won’t spoil it here, read the chapter.
Zubrin is unapologetic in his assertion that the purpose of the solar system, if it has one, is to be the home to a greater human civilization. Zubrin swiftly disposes of the bogeyman of planetary protection with its ridiculous notions that Mars is likely to harbor simple organisms that might either be dangerous to or that ought to be somehow “protected” from humans or other Earth life. Solid evidence from meteors and the realities of planetary physics makes it clear that our worlds have been exchanging DNA for billions of years and that process is ongoing, like it or not. Zubrin is not about to sacrifice his vision of prosperous human future for the sake of some hypothetical and needy space bacteria.
You may be surprised to find there is a strong case for colonizing many of the icy moons of the outer solar system. Zubrin argues that the rich atmospheres of distant gas giants like Saturn, Uranus and Neptune offer sufficient fuel to keep a solar-system wide economy running for millions of years. Their natural satellites offer gravity, water and in the case of Saturn’s big moon, Titan, comfortable atmospheric pressure. Zubrin doesn’t stop there. He moves on to take the most serious look at interstellar travel that I’ve seen in a long time. He takes particular care in exploring the engineering, economics and politics of likely drive mechanisms for future nuclear starships. Curious about the economics of producing anti-matter for a starship? It’s in the book; seriously. He does the same through job with terraforming planets, including the Earth.
In fact, one of the nicer surprises in The Case for Space is a balanced and honest analysis of terrestrial climate change. Free of traditional political agendas, Zubrin looks at the historical data, the current trends, the causes and the possible cures through a hard-nosed, scientific and economic lens. Understanding that we all share an interest in a productive and predictable climate for our home planet, Zubrin wisely rejects political solutions designed to push civilization back into the middle ages and instead focuses on viable technical solutions to real problems that can deliver win/win outcomes for the environment and the economy.
Last and not least, Zubrin is a student of history and moral philosophy. He understands the broader ideological and political context in which our expansion into the solar system must occur. He calls up the unsung heroes of space settlement to paint a picture of a space frontier that is diverse and naturally disposed to individual freedom. Zubrin understands that going to space is not just desirable, it is necessary to the survival of the ideals of liberty that established our nation. He writes, “Without a frontier from which to breathe life, the spirit that gave rise to the progressive humanistic culture that America has offered to the world for the past several centuries is fading.” The alternative to space is cultural homogenization, stagnation and authoritarian control over dwindling limited resources. Those of us deeply embedded in the space community understand that space development is the Rx for a dismal Malthusian future and Zubrin makes our case better than anyone has to date.
I’d ask every space enthusiast to pony up a hundred bucks to buy five copies of The Case for Space. Keep one for yourself and give four directly to young people you know or drop them off at a local school or library.
Greg Autry is VP of Space Development for the National Space Society and Director of the SoCal Commercial Space Initiative at USC. Twitter: https://twitter.com/GregWAutry
© 2019 Greg Autry
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