May 25, 1961 marks a significant turning point for the world as we knew it then, and with which we’ve come to now, as President John F. Kennedy communicated to Congress the most profound mission statements ever put forth for humanity (so far)…
“Now it is time to take longer strides–time for a great new American enterprise–time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth. I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment. Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others. We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.”
The official transcript of JFK’s speech to Congress was provided to Space.com and can be viewed in its entirety, here.
Reading these words (and hearing them aloud in our minds with Kennedy’s accent and inflection) invoke a kind of optimism and empowerment difficult to articulate :
“This decision demands a major national commitment of scientific and technical manpower, materiel and facilities, and the possibility of their diversion from other important activities where they are already thinly spread. It means a degree of dedication, organization and discipline which have not always characterized our research and development efforts. It means we cannot afford undue work stoppages, inflated costs of material or talent, wasteful interagency rivalries, or a high turnover of key personnel.
New objectives and new money cannot solve these problems. They could in fact, aggravate them further–unless every scientist, every engineer, every serviceman, every technician, contractor, and civil servant gives his personal pledge that this nation will move forward, with the full speed of freedom, in the exciting adventure of space.”
In ‘Fight for Space’, we spoke to former NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz, Theoretical Physicist Lawrence Krauss, GWU Space Historian John Logsdon, Mars Society CEO Robert Zubrin, and former NASA Astronaut Story Musgrave regarding the societal and cultural impact of JFK’s speech and the actions that followed:
(Above) The film isn’t after a sugar-coated approach to communicating American history. Our mission, however, is not one of conviction, but an examination of the historical, cultural, personal, and political events (with respect to all the underlying circumstances) which dismantled our nation’s human spaceflight program.
Generations of the post-Space Age era are owed - as are the generations ahead - honest insight into humanity’s resumé regarding the decisions which ignited the industrial revolution but which sabotaged electric transportation; and why members of our human community would shelve something as magnificent an achievement as the Saturn V rocket; in turn, turning our backs and shifting our society’s momentum from the grandest and most abundant frontier of our or any other time during the history of our species?
In 1966, as a direct result of America’s capabilities and predicted evolution by natural progress (considering how quickly we began to explore space and rendezvous with the Moon), visionaries who were already dreaming big and understood the influence space exploration would become amongst a global society with so much potential, began to work toward imagining a more beautiful and limitless future.
Walt Disney’s original project designed for Florida (“Project X”) is reflective of the lifestyle of The Jetsons, Jacque Fresco’s The Venus Project, or Biosphere 2; whereby a Utopian metropolis was pitched called “the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” or, Epcot; shades of which can be seen via influence throughout Disney’s new film, ‘Tomorrowland.’ Walt’s original pitch elaborating upon Epcot to be granted funding of the project can be seen in its entirety here.
Walt Disney describes Epcot, offering up a future dependent upon space exploration, quickly implementable technology integration into our lives, and a burgeoning economy:
“Epcot will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing and testing and demonstrating new materials and new systems. At Epcot we’ll always be a showcase to the world for the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise…Epcot will always be in a state of becoming. It will never cease to be a living blueprint of the future, where people actually live a life they can’t find anywhere else in the world.
We don’t presume to know all the answers; in fact, we’re counting on the cooperation of American industry to provide their very best thinking during the planning and creation of our Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. And most important of all, when Epcot has become a reality, and we find the need for technology that don’t even exist today, it’s our hope that Epcot will stimulate American industry to develop new solutions that will meet the needs of people expressed right here in this experimental community.”
Walt was no dummy. He saw the grandeur and infinite scope of an expanding horizon of progress in what the commitment to what America’s expansion into space could bring. Today’s “imagineers” are attempting to achieve similar dreams. In the ‘Fight for Space’ clip, Robert Zubrin elaborates:
“Who do you think were these 40 year old technological entrepreneurs that built Silicon Valley in the 1990′s? Well, they’re the 10 and 12 year old little boy mad scientists in the 1960′s making rocket fuel in the basement; that’s who they were, and they created this technological revolution.”
(Above) The Space Frontier Foundation is an American space advocacy nonprofit corporation organized to promote the interests of increased involvement of the private sector, in collaboration with government, in the exploration and development of space.
Perhaps, however, ‘We Must Be Our Own Kennedy’, suggests Rick Tumlinson, Founder, Deep Space Industries, New Worlds Institute, EarthLight Foundation, Space Frontier Foundation, Orbital Outfitters Inc. in a recent editorial via HuffPost, and it mirrors the directive of the film so well that it’s worth paying it forward in its entirety:
“Sometimes you have to change course to get on course. And the first small step in doing so may be to realize you didn’t really know where you were going in the first place - and why. When President Kennedy set us on a path to the Moon in the 1960s, he knew exactly why - to produce a photo-op that would clearly show America would be the winner in the decades long battle of political systems called the Cold War. Whatever else followed (or didn’t). his goal was clear. Those assigned the job understood the strategy needed to succeed and it was magnificently achieved.
Yet from the moment those images of Buzz and Neil arrived on the world’s television sets, our human space program has been lost - for a blatantly simple and obvious reason - after the first giant leap to take that first small step there was no plan for the next one, because there was no second question to be answered. Why go to the Moon? To beat the Soviets. Done. There was no serious conversation about why we should stay or go further or do more. And without a “Why?” whose answer is as compelling as that of stemming possible world domination by a competing “evil empire” that inspires people to do impossible things, they will settle for the possible, and mediocrity will reign. And thus, for almost 50 years we’ve spent incredible amounts of money doing the possible. While pretty pictures fed an eager yet small group of passionate aficionados, the reality is our space program was simply and literally going in circles.
It is not the fault of the incredible people who dedicate their lives to this vocation. They are true and loyal builders of dreams, if only one were given them to build. Yet Kennedy is gone, Camelot’s faded into history, and while the beast to the east rumbles and snorts and stomps, the crystal clarity of that old Soviet monster is no more a threat to the gates of our future. Sure, presidents roll in and out of office and wanly lay out their own “Vision” on commemorations of our past astronautic glories and State of the Union speeches, but none has really done anything to assure it really happens after the end of the applause.
As if the menu were the meal, they have variously called for a return to the Moon, exploration of Mars, grabbing an asteroid, or simply preparing to go anywhere. Each new administration changes the recipe, each new Congress adds its own bacon flavor to the mix, and meanwhile, those back in the kitchen lose focus, lose hope and in many cases literally die off while waiting for the order - costing us experience and the ability to build a knowledge base able to achieve anything.
Meanwhile, without a shared vision the spaceflight community rips itself apart, fighting over the best destination and order, what we should do when and if we ever do anything; and most recently, who should do the job of getting us there, the private or public sector? These fights are long, politically bloody, and at times almost at the level of religious. And no one wins - not really. Not NASA, not the companies, not the scientists, not those who dream of creating a civilization in space, and certainly not the U.S. taxpayers who have spent almost a trillion dollars since Apollo on a national ticket to nowhere.
Here’s the irony. We could have it all. There was nothing technical or physical stopping us from having moved on from Apollo to a permanent Moon base, the development of industries in space and the establishment of the first human communities on Mars. We could have - we can - do it anytime we actually decide that it is our goal, organize ourselves to make it happen And Just Do It. It has been over 50 years since the proclamation was made that sent us on our way to the Moon the first time. And Kennedy was right when he said we go not because it easy, but because it is hard…but we misunderstood what the hard part really was.
The hardest part of opening the frontier is not space. It is us. It is not physics, but fear that keeps us from greatness; not technology, but timidity that holds us to this planet; and it is not danger, but indecision that keeps us locked on this rock, and will suck our civilization down into it to be the found fossils of the future. Thus, the core of the challenge. Without a clear top level goal based on a shared Vision, what’s left is a fight over tactics and resources to achieve them. Without an understanding of Why there can be no discussion of How and all that is left is to fight over What we are doing, Who gets to do it and how much money they can make pretending to do it.
It has to end - or we, in this incredibly fraught moment of time when we have birthed the weapons of destruction and the wings of the possible from the same egg; when we are teetering on the edge of an abyss and yet can still sense the call of the stars - we will fall. We will stop merely going in circles and begin the long slow spiral downwards into a future of less for all, and hope for none. So we who are ourselves the children of Apollo must now set the course. And it is clear there is only one overarching, all inclusive, destiny level inspirational goal that can unite us to do something impossible. The human settlement of space.
We go out there to stay; that people have the right to risk themselves to build a better new world, and that by doing so they will help save and improve the old is The idea of our time. There is nothing else as compelling, as clear in its description and meaning, as ingrained in our very being and history as the idea that our future lies beyond the borders of our present. It always has. It always will. And today, having covered the sphere of this one world, that future lies upwards and outwards to others.
So yes, as the man said, there is a reason for us to do this thing and the others that are not easy, but hard. That reason is because it is what we are meant to do as human beings. While in his time the reason “Why?” was derived from war, this time it can be born of hope. And while in his time he could only comprehend the first small steps, we have the ability to understand what a giant leap this endeavor can offer us and our children.
It really is up to us. We cannot wait for the next Kennedy to set us on our path to the stars. We must be our own Kennedy, set the path ourselves and do what it takes to make it happen. Except this time We Stay!”
(Above) Introducing Deep Space Industries, a privately-held American company in the asteroid mining sector with plans to offer general utility commercial space services beginning in approximately 2016.
Tumlinson’s proclamation and passionate advocacy couldn’t be communicated any better, by anyone, or at a better time in history, as the U.S. House of Representatives passed the SPACE Act (“Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act of 2015″); a bill to promote the development of a United States commercial space resource exploration and utilization industry and to increase the exploration and utilization of resources in outer space.
Laying out the parameters for the space mining industry (such as DSI and Planetary Resources, Inc.), it states –
Any asteroid resources obtained in outer space are the property of the entity that obtained such resources, which shall be entitled to all property rights thereto, consistent with applicable provisions of Federal law.
Noted by the House Science Committee in regards to the FAA (quoted by WashPost):
“The bill preserves the FAA’s ability to regulate commercial human spaceflight in order to protect the uninvolved public, national security, public health and safety, safety of property, and foreign policy. It also preserves FAA’s ability to regulate spaceflight participant and crew safety as a result of an accident or unplanned event.”
What does this have to do with space settlement? Everything.
(Above) The impending space economy. View larger infographic here.
Sure, we get our spacefaring kicks out of science fiction films like Star Wars and Star Trek; however, the pioneers, the mavericks, the ground floor industries who enabled those cosmic frontiers to be explored aren’t extrapolated upon or even mentioned at all. Yet, we’re living during a time when very serious companies have been gearing up for this moment, and alliances have been forged long before this begun. It’s time, and the SPACE Act is the green light.
SETI Institute Senior Astronomer Seth Shostak on the societal implications of Commercial Spaceflight:
Bigelow Aerospace, for instance, is ready to test its inflatable habitats, which will allow people to live in space. With an FAA launch license to provide access, CEO Robert Bigelow would, for instance, be able to stake his claim on a prime piece of lunar real estate.
Space policymakers are quite confident that celestial territory is poised to usher in a profound industrial revolution of epic proportions. Under the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, crewed vehicles are limited to operate within a 125-mile “non-interference” zone designated to keep astronauts protected. Whereas if a similar standard were applied to commercial space endeavors on the Earth’s moon or elsewhere, Bigelow, for instance, could position itself to become a leader in the initial rush.
Yet, this is merely an isolated example. There are others:
- Space X is developing reusable rockets, 3D printed engines, reinventing transportation systems (mimicking that of Disney’s Monorail), a deep space launch vehicle, and a transportation module for human colonies on Mars.
- Paragon Space Development Corporation has been designing spacecraft, developing advanced thermal protection, and perfecting life support systems.
- Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources, Inc. are testing technologies to begin scouting, tracking, characterizing, mining, and in situ utilization of asteroids.
- Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and XCOR Aerospace are advancing through dynamics procedures to provide paying customers a leisurely excursion to the stratosphere for a view of the Earth with a window to the rest of the universe.
“The open road still softly calls, like a nearly forgotten song of childhood. We invest far off places with a certain romance. The appeal, I suspect, has been meticulously crafted by natural selection as an essential element in our survival.
Long summers, mild winters, rich harvests, plentiful game; none of them lasts forever. Your own life, or your bands, or even your species might be owed to a restless few - drawn by a craving they can hardly articulate or understand - to undiscovered lands, and new worlds.
Maybe it’s a little early. Maybe the time is not quite yet, but those other worlds - promising untold opportunities - beckon. Silently, they orbit the sun, waiting.”
– Carl Sagan (excerpt and above art from the short film ‘Wanderers’ by Erik Wernquist, below)