by Michael A.G. Michaud
From L5 News, June 1985
This article is based on parts of Michael Michaud’s forthcoming book, Reaching for the High Frontier: The American Pro-Space Movement, 1972-1984, to be published by Praeger in the fall of 1985. Michaud, who holds L5 Society membership number 48, is the author of over forty articles on space and related subjects and is a member of the Aviation/Space Writers Association.
How far from the heights we fell.
After civil space spending peaked in fiscal year 1964, funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration went into a prolonged downslide that lasted for ten years, bottoming out in the mid-1970s. In constant dollar terms, NASA’s budgets dropped to less than one-third of their peak before leveling off. Meanwhile, due to cutbacks in defense and commercial procurements as well as in the civil space field, aerospace industry sales overall declined to a low point in the early 1970s. These events occurred in a climate of growing intellectual and political distaste for big technological projects, and at a time when the “limits to growth” thesis was being popularized.
These are the kinds of events that provoke the organization of interest groups. Real interest had been created in the space program, particularly among NASA contractors, aerospace professionals, and aerospace workers. Yet these groups were unable to prevent this spectacular reversal in NASA’s fortunes. More “aero” than “space,” they did not form new arms dedicated to lobbying for space. “The fact that the program was cut drastically,” says National Space Institute President Ben Bova, “shows the absence of influential space interest groups” .
There was another, much larger potential constituency for space — the millions of American citizens who were excited by their vicarious experience with space exploration and intrigued by the promise and the implications of this new technology. But, as engineer and writer G. Harry Stine puts it, this potential pro-space constituency was “totally unorganized” in the early 1970s .
Stine recalls an event which characterized the moment, a gathering he calls the “ship of fools” expedition. Science writer Richard Hoagland organized a voyage on the USS Statendam in December 1972 to observe the launch of Apollo 17 (the last Moon landing mission) from offshore. On board, invited speakers including writers and prominent space buffs participated in a symposium chaired by television personality Hugh Downs, who later became Chairman of the National Space Institute. Many expressed concern about the future of the space program, and it was recognized that existing organizations were not doing the job. However, there was no consensus as to what should be done.
A chart showing the formation of new space activist groups in relation to the NASA budget. Notice that as the NASA yearly appropriations dropped, new space groups rose quickly. (From Reaching for the High Frontier by Michael A.G. Michaud.)
The new pro-space movement that emerged in the mid and late-1970s was woven together from many threads. One was first expressed in organizational terms by a small, idealistic group called the Committee for the Future (CFF). While it never had much direct influence, the CFF enunciated many of the themes taken up later by other pro-space individuals and organizations.
The CFF originated from conversations in the 1960s between artist-philosopher Earl Hubbard and his wife Barbara Marx Hubbard (an heiress to the Marx toy-making fortune) and from Ms. Hubbard’s own search for meaning, described in her book The Hunger of Eve . Just as she started her scan through literature, looking for the crucial self-image of humanity, John Glenn was fired into space from Cape Canaveral.
Barbara and Earl became passionate advocates of the idea that the Space Age was the birth of a new era. While some humans would be attracted to nurturing and bringing harmony to the Earth, she wrote later, others would go beyond the Earth to build new worlds and to be transformed into new beings.
Barbara recalls her joy at the liftoff of Apollo-11 in July, 1969:
I identified with the rocket! I felt myself rising in space, breaking through the cocoon of the sky and moving into the universe…I cried uncontrollably as it rose into space, the words “freedom, freedom, freedom” pounding in my head .
July 20, 1969, the date of the first Moon landing, also was the publication date of Earl’s book The Search is On, in which he argued that it was time to move toward goals beyond material abundance. We must want to build a future for all Mankind, he argued, by exploring the universe and by developing new worlds . In September 1969, the Hubbards discovered a fellow believer in Colonel John Whiteside, then the chief US Air Force Information Officer in New York City. By 1970 they had decided to try and get a Presidential candidate in the 1976 campaign to endorse the goal of building the first “space community.”
The Hubbards, Whiteside, and a small group of friends met in June 1970 at the Hubbard home in Lakeville, Connecticut to found the Committee for the Future. There they produced the “Lakeville Charter,” which said in part, Earth-bound history has ended. Universal history has begun. Mankind has been born into an environment of immeasurable possibilities. We, the Committee for the Future, believe that the long-range goal for Mankind should be to seek and settle new worlds. To survive and realize the common aspiration of all people for a future of unlimited opportunity, this generation must begin now to find the means of converting the planets into life support systems for the race of Man .
In the fall of 1970, Los Angeles film producer George van Valkenberg pointed out to the Hubbards that two Saturn V rockets would be left over from the Apollo program. The CFF leaders came up with the idea of the first “citizen-sponsored lunar expedition,” which could pay for itself through the sale of lunar materials and television and story rights; there could be a general subscription to let the public participate in financing the project. This came to be known as Project Harvest Moon.
The CFF formed the New Worlds Company in January 1971 with the help of $25,000 from Barbara’s father. The purpose was to rally support for the next great goal: a lunar community. This would help generate popular pressure for the funding of the necessary intermediate steps such as the Space Shuttle. Through the offering of shares in the lunar enterprise to millions of people, a constituency with a vested interest in the development of the Moon and outer space activities would be created.
Barbara Marx Hubbard and John Whiteside briefed space program officials about the proposal. According to Barbara, Christopher Kraft of the Johnson Space Center said, “This step into the universe is a religion and I’m a member of it” . In the House of Representatives, Congressman Olin Teague introduced a resolution calling for a study of the feasibility of a citizens lunar mission. However, the idea got a cool reception at NASA headquarters. As a fallback, Barbara and Colonel Whiteside rewrote the legislation to propose a mission in near-Earth orbit called Mankind One, but that failed also.
Meanwhile, the CFF had begun holding future-oriented conferences called SYNCONs for Synergestic Convergence. One participant recalls that this enterprise attracted “space groupies” who followed SYNCON around the country . However, the CFF gradually de-emphasized the space theme, giving more time to other future-oriented issues.
In September 1973, the CFF moved its headquarters to a mansion in Washington known as “Greystone” and called it the New Worlds Training and Education Center. A number of volunteers lived there in a sort of commune, receiving room, board, and a small stipend. Barbara’s dinners and cocktail parties there provided a kind of “salon” for many people interested in the future and in space and may have facilitated some of the connections which brought about the new space movement and the spread of its ideas.
Meanwhile, Earl Hubbard separated from Barbara and dropped out of the CFF, though he published another book called The Need for New Worlds. Colonel Whiteside passed away. But Barbara remained intermittently active in the pro-space cause, among other things providing financial assistance to a new group called the L5 Society. She also helped organize support for a pro-High Frontier resolution in the House of Representatives in 1977. In 1984, she was leading a group called the Campaign for a Positive Future and ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic Vice Presidential nomination.
For all its good intentions, the CFF suffered from a lack of technical expertise and credibility. It got people involved temporarily in the pro-space cause, but did not provide a mechanism for continuing, purposeful involvement. Sociologist William Bainbridge concluded that the history of the CFF showed that there was little or no opportunity for amateurs to participate in furthering the exploration, exploitation, and colonization of the solar system . Yet the CFF was in many ways a harbinger of the new pro-space movement, which among other things sought to challenge Bainbridge’s conclusion by showing that space enthusiasts could have a real impact.
FASST, Against the Times
Another of the threads that came together in the new pro-space movement was made up of young people with a serious interest in aerospace technology. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, their views tended to run counter to the intellectual trends of the times, which were hostile to large, centralized technological projects. Many people involved in the protest movements of the time saw the space program as a white male-dominated, establishment project, irrelevant to the social issues of the day.
In September 1970, Professor Wilbur Nelson at the University of Michigan saw that the project to build an American Supersonic Transport (SST) was in political trouble. He brought together a group of aerospace engineering students who supported the project. In January 1971, a politically-oriented student named David Fradin formed an organization on campus called Fly America’s SST (FASST). Another active early member was Thomas Heppenheimer, later active in advocating space colonization.
Though clearly out of tune with anti-big technology rhetoric, FASST collected about 3,000 signatures on a pro-SST petition. In March 1971, Fradin and Heppenheimer delivered pro-SST testimony before a House subcommittee . The SST was cancelled anyway, leaving FASST without a role.
FASST regrouped and changed its name to Friends of Aerospace Supporting Science and Technology, broadening its interests as it spread to other campuses. The organization then became the Federation of Americans Supporting Science and Technology, keeping the acronym. Fradin and Heppenheimer testified before Don Fuqua’s Subcommittee on Manned Spaceflight in March 1972 .
FASST also supported the then embattled Space Shuttle, writing to Senator Mondale in February 1972 .
FASST moved to Washington, DC in 1974 and succeeded in getting funding from government and industry for conferences and studies on technology-related subjects, trying to improve understanding of science and technology-related issues among students. Fradin and Heppenheimer then left the organization, and former SYNCON participant Alan Ladwig became its new leader. FASST also hired young California space activist Leonard David to help with space issues. As of late 1975, the organization had about 400 members and twenty active chapters on college campuses, and its staff had grown from two to seven . FASST changed its name again, to Forum for the Advancement of Students in Science and Technology.
FASST retained a strong interest in space, helping to create the Shuttle Student Involvement Project in cooperation with NASA and the National Science Teachers Association and sponsoring or co-sponsoring meetings on space. The organization also got a contract to study student involvement in the Solar Power Satellite project. However, financial stringency forced a reduction in staff, leaving Ladwig and David as the only officers. FASST finally folded in December 1980, a victim of changing times; the sense of emergency about youth attitudes toward science and technology had passed.
As of 1984, Alan Ladwig was the Manager of NASA’s Spaceflight Participants Program, and Leonard David was a National Space Institute staffer and Editor of Space World. Another FASST veteran, Tom Brownell, was working with Boeing Aerospace in Washington, DC.
1 Interview with Ben Bova. December 5, 1983
2 Interview with G. Harry Stine. April 5, 1984
3 Barbara Marx Hubbard. The Hunger of Eve (Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1976) p. 123. Also see a review of the book titled “A Quest for the Meaning of Life,” by Edward S Cornish, in the December 1976 issue of The Futurist, pages 336-345.
4 Barbara Marx Hubbard
5 Earl Hubbard, The Search is On (Los Angeles: Pace Publications, 1969).
6 Barbara Marx Hubbard, 140
7 Barbara Marx Hubbard, 144.
8 lnterview with Alan Ladwig. March 1 1984.
9 William Sims Bainbridge, The Spaceflight Revolution: A Sociological Study. (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1976), 197.
10 Statement by the Student Group “Fly America’s Supersonic Transport” (FASST) before the Transportation Subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations, March 3. 1971.
11 Statement by The Federation of Americans Supporting Science and Technology before the Subcommittee on Manned Spaceflight of the Committee on Science and Astronautics. U.S. House of Representatives, March 14, 1972.
12 Letter from Federation of Americans Supporting Science and Technology. February 1, 1972.
13 FASST News, January-February 1976, 3.