When we were in the early stages of producing the NSS Strategic Plan, we analyzed what had worked well for us in the past. We looked at not only the history of NSS, but also the history of our two precursor organizations, the L-5 Society and the National Space Institute. These organizations merged to form NSS in 1987. We found that our most important contributions were in the arena of ideas. Much success had been obtained by promoting ideas such as space settlement and the importance of space resources.
Ideas are powerful forces and can be used by organizations with no more resources than NSS to have a decisive impact on the course of human events. The key to such a strategy is to have powerful ideas; and that is NSS’s greatest strength. We are on the right side of history and that has profound strategic implications.
Consequently, we decided that the central thrust of the NSS Strategic Plan would be the promotion of ideas — specifically, the promotion of ideas associated with space settlement broadly defined.
Education, publicity, and politics are the obvious approaches to promoting ideas. In this short column, we have space to discuss one example — our use of publicity to promote the idea of space solar power (SSP). If successful, an SSP program could solve our long-term energy problems and go a long way toward creating the space economy needed to make space settlement viable.
In part, to help generate publicity for SSP, NSS allied with the Space Development Steering Committee. This is an informal group that combines leading space experts with mass media gurus. Howard Bloom, a member of the NSS Board of Governors, founded the group in 2006. Bloom is a mass media specialist and has a history of helping movements, such as the Space Movement.
With help from Bloom and logistical support from the NSS staff, I organized and moderated the first NSS SSP press conference. This took place at the prestigious National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on October 10, 2007. It was primarily aimed at providing publicity for the now famous and highly favorable Defense Department report on SSP. See here for a copy of the report and here for pictures, short videos, and a recording of the press conference. The result was an explosion of positive SSP media coverage — dramatically more than any previous event had generated.
The press conference was followed on December 26, 2007, by a favorable Associated Press (AP) article authored by Charles Hanley that I contributed to, titled “Drilling Up – Some Look to Space for Energy.” Most newspapers and numerous other media outlets use AP as a major source of material. This time was no exception and another large wave of publicity was generated.
NSS’s second SSP press conference occurred on September 12, 2008, at the National Press Club. I organized, moderated, and spoke at length about the benefits of SSP at this event, but the main purpose was to provide publicity for that night’s premiere of the Discovery Channel’s SSP television program. John Mankins was the star of both the TV program and the press conference. He reported the results of his successful experiments, which beamed power between two Hawaiian islands. This was a substantial step toward the beaming of power from space solar power satellites to Earth.
The impact of our SSP media efforts has been dramatic. At the website locations of the two press conferences, there is a partial list of links to the articles and media generated by our efforts. The combined lists have over 75 entries. These include NPR’s All Things Considered, Aviation Week, BBC, Discover magazine, Fox News, LA Times, MSNBC, Popular Mechanics, Space.com, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal.
The foundation of the NSS Strategic Plan rests firmly on the enormous power of our ideas. This bodes well for the future of NSS and humanity.
This article was written by Mark Hopkins, Senior Vice President and Senior Operating Officer of the National Space Society. The article originally appeared in Ad Astra, Spring, 2009.