By Mark Hopkins (from Ad Astra Winter 2016)
The vast majority of the resources of our Solar System lie in space rather than on the Earth. By settling space, we can smash the resource limits of Earth, leading to a hopeful prosperous future for all of humanity. Unlike what many have argued, the future need not be one of lowered income due to resource limits. Space settlement allows continuation of the American dream—each generation being better off than the one before.
On September 27, 2016, Elon Musk announced a bold plan to build a settlement in space—specifically, on Mars. There is no question that Musk is a rock star. His announcement was at the meeting of the International Astronautical Congress (IAC), the world’s leading international conference for aerospace professionals. His presentation was scheduled for 1:30 PM. It started an hour late. People began to line up to see the presentation at 9:00 AM. At space conferences, standing ovations are rare. This is the first time I have seen a standing ovation not only at the end of the presentation but also when the speaker walked into the room. At one point, Musk asked who among the several thousand in the audience wanted to become a Mars settler. Every hand that I could see went up. During the question and answer section, a girl asked if she could come up on the stage and kiss Musk. No bras were thrown, but it came close.
The National Space Society (NSS) had anticipated that the Musk presentation would be major news. Bruce Pittman and I watched the presentation with a press release mostly written already. The press release went out shortly after the speech, well before that of any other space advocacy organization.
It soon became apparent that Musk had broken the dam. On the Saturday after the event, I went to a party where no one else knew more than an average amount about space. Space settlement was a major topic of conversation. The next Monday, President Obama and the actor Leonardo DiCaprio joked about Mars settlement on TV. The next day, October 4, Dennis Muilenburg, the CEO of Boeing, challenged Musk, claiming that a Boeing space vehicle would be the first to land a person on Mars. On October 11, only two weeks after the Musk event, President Obama on CNN outlined his vision for space, which includes sending people “…to space not just to visit, but to stay.” Later on the same day Charles Bolden, the NASA administrator, published a blog post titled, “Making Human Settlement of Space a Reality.”
As a result of the rapid and accelerating pace of events, NSS will hold a Space Settlement Summit on January 10 and 11, 2017. This will be an exclusive, invitation-only event held at “Shutters on the Beach,” a luxury hotel in Santa Monica, California. The leaders of the space settlement movement from both inside and outside space circles will gather, discuss, network, negotiate and plan how best to move forward. For more than 40 years, the National Space Society has led advocacy for space settlement. We shall continue to do so.