by Gary Barnhard
Creating the future is not a purely abstract concept. Indeed, each and every one of us is contributing to doing just that on a daily basis by the choices we make. NSS’ vision is people living and working in thriving communities beyond the Earth, and the use of the vast resources of space for the dramatic betterment of humanity.
What can we as individuals do today to lend our efforts to achieving this vision? What can we collectively do as NSS? There are many answers to both questions. What follows are my answers largely as I thought them coming from my perspective as a robotic, space, and computer systems engineer; and then several other perspectives which benefitted from discussion with my colleagues. We should advocate for:
- Mission enablement, sustainability, and affordability to be driving requirements for any heavy-lift launch vehicle system development project.
- Beyond Earth orbit spacecraft for a range of missions including the Moon, Mars, asteroids, and beyond.
- Critical mission-enabling technology such as electric propulsion, power beaming, refueling/fuel depot, advanced propulsion, inherently stable environmental control and life support system, in situ resource utilization, etc., that can hasten space settlement.
- The broadest possible use of the International Space Station both for direct mission support and as a focal point for science, technology, engineering, and math education.
- The fastest possible development of viable commercial cargo and crew transport capabilities to low Earth orbit and beyond.
Some might argue that the above list strays too far from polite conversation for most communities. They may yearn for something more accessible—a way to make these points that shifts the emphasis to the “why” rather than the “what.” Here is a more accessible take:
- Advocate for an increase in NASA funding to up to 1% of the federal budget to drive the economy.
- Support the emerging entrepreneurial and commercial space sector to create new markets.
- Promote space settlement as the ultimate goal of America’s Space Program.
- Promote space-based solar power as a solution to help solve the world’s energy crisis.
- Foster the development of space as a resource to better enable our stewardship of Planet Earth.
- Develop space-related educational programs that provide paths to engagement for our youth.
Perhaps it is best put more broadly still. To take ownership of the different perspective that space offers us—to look up into the sky to the Moon, planets, asteriods, and stars beyond as well as reflecting back on the only home we have ever known, Spaceship Earth. To that end, to draw on the words of Dr. Lee Valentine, it could be summed up as the following:
- Mine the sky to generate new real wealth.
- Protect and defend the Earth.
- Spread life into the Universe.
Better yet, find the understanding in your own words, in your own voice, to express the future you are willing to lend your efforts to seeing come to pass. Regardless, what is at stake is the future of our species.
I can think of no mission more profound, more worthwhile, and more enduring for which we may choose to mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
Gary Barnhard is an emeritus Chairman of the Executive Committee and emeritus Executive Director for NSS. He is also the President and CEO of Xtraordinary Innovative Space Partnerships, Inc. (www.xisp-inc.com). This article originally appeared in Ad Astra, Winter 2013.