Aug 17 2008

10 Lessons Lewis & Clark Teach Us About the Human Future in Space

The seminal Lewis and Clark expedition (1804-06) explored the Lousiana Territory through to the Pacific and has more parallels with the 1960s Apollo Moon program and lessons for future human exploration and settlement of the Moon and Mars than most people realize. The top 10 lessons of Lewis & Clark include:

10. Despite political opposition, Thomas Jefferson was enthralled by the exciting science and monumental strategic implications of exploring an overland route to the Pacific. Analogous to President Kennedy’s 1961 speech to Congress announcing the manned Moon landing, Jefferson pursuaded Congress by explaining his visionary rationales and requesting funding in a letter. Like both of these Great Explorations,
Presidential leadership will be a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for any major space initiative like humans to Mars.

9. While Kennedy had the Soviet’s Cold War aggressions to deal with, Jefferson had to deflect Napoleon’s desires for a North American empire. In 1802 Jefferson wrote, “Every eye in the U.S. is now fixed on this affair of Louisiana. Perhaps nothing…has produced more uneasy sensations through the body of the nation.” Jefferson decided to send Lewis and Clark through Louisiana to the Pacific no matter who controlled it, and Kennedy boldly decided to go to the Moon in 8 years, although no one was sure it could be done. Like Lewis & Clark and Apollo, a compelling national strategic challenge (including international confrontations) will play a role in motivating Moon and/or Mars programs.

8. The 1960s Apollo Maslow Window featured the spectacular Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space programs which — in 8 years — culminated in the first man on the Moon in 1969. While not as well-planned as Apollo, Jefferson’s 3 pre-Lewis & Clark attempts to explore the northwest go all the way back to 1783 and, although unsuccessful, were highly instructive. They included a plan to explore from the Pacific coast eastward to St. Louis after a water passage from Russia; unfortunately, the would-be explorers were arrested in Russia and deported. The bottomline is: the first manned Mars expeditions may experience difficulties and will require at least a decade (one Maslow Window) of intense operational and technological preparations.

7. On April 11, 1803, when Napoleon decided it was more important to fund his European war machine than keep Louisiana for France — “I renounce Louisiana…not only New Orleans…the whole colony…reserving none of it,” — it may have surprised Jefferson, but he was definitely ready for action. Indeed the Corps of Discovery departed St. Louis only one year later. Likewise, although initially caught offguard by the surprise Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957, NASA was formed in 1958 and Neil Armstrong took “one small step for a man…” on the Moon less than 12 years later. Although the world is full of wildcards,
the antidote for a Sputnik-like surprise in the next 5-7 years is focused preparation, many international partners, and the ability to anticipate the unexpected.

6. As is typical for Maslow Windows, the decade just prior to Lewis & Clark was a major economic boom; per capita income increased by 25%, international credit was almost unlimited, and by 1800 the U.S. population’s doubling time was 22 years! The 1960s economic boom was unparalleled and, “For the first time in human history, a majority of people (in the U.S.)…could have all of their needs and most of their desires met on demand.”
The last 200 years — including Lewis & Cark and Apollo — show that Great Explorations (and Macro-Engineering Projects) are fundamentally triggered by major, rhythmic, twice-per-century economic booms that result in an unusual level of societal affluence and ebullience. This creates a mindset — as people ascend Maslow’s Heirarchy — where great explorations and large technology projects are not only favored, but seem almost irresistible.

5. Lewis & Clark were “shocked” to learn that the Rockies are not just a single wall of mountains immediately adjacent to the Columbia River headwaters; imagine the shocks awaiting future explorers on a complex, Earthlike world like Mars! On Mars there will be no friendly natives (such as at the Nez Perce Camp) willing to feed starving explorers, suggesting that a “split mission” strategy — where food, consumables, and return propellants are sent FIRST to Mars — makes a lot of sense. Lewis & Clark’s length of mission (2+ years), planned wintering in Oregon before return (like waiting for an orbital launch window to open), and other parallels suggest that aspiring Mars explorers need to be scientifically and psychologically prepared to handle anything, and might even benefit from the journals of Lewis & Clark and other long-term explorers (e.g., Magellan).

4. The Jay Treaty in 1794 opened new markets in Canada and the Great Lakes for the North American fur trade industry and by 1800 made some wealthy, including John Jacob Astor.
Inspired by Lewis & Clark, Astor used his wealth to open up the West by founding Fort Astoria and by sponsoring the Astor Expedition (1810-12), during which South Pass in Wyoming was discovered. For Oregon Trail emigrants and others, South Pass became the key to continental passage by land.
Entrepreneurs and adventurers (e.g., mountain men) played a major role in opening up the West. Today Richard Branson and others may be the new John Jacob Astors as they seek the low energy, safe, economical path — like Astor’s South Pass — to space.

3. The War of 1812 — a tragic example of post-Lewis & Clark ebullience gone wild as Americans unrealistically attempted to militarily conquer Canada — delayed post-Lewis & Cark attempts (like Fort Astoria) to open the West to commerce and people until about 1820. And by 1834 the fur market had declined. The famous Bank Panic of 1837 was a financial collapse second only to the Great Depression; the Panic delayed economic growth for several years until it accelerated again toward the next Maslow Window in 1847. Despite creating great financial hardship for many, the 1837 Panic also provided incentive for some to move west. Alhough economic recessions cause turmoil and hardship for many, the last 200 years show they are usually relatively brief (< 1 year) and inevitably give way to the major economic boom of the next Maslow Window. On the other hand, wars -- like 1812 or Vietnam -- always reduce or terminate Maslow-driven ebullience as well as the great explorations and MEPs (e.g., manned Mars) linked with them.

2. The journals of Lewis & Clark generated great interest in the West and made it possible for many to migrate there during the NEXT Maslow Window (opening in 1847). The migration westward did not follow Lewis & Clark immediately because of the War of 1812, economic stresses (including the Panic of 1837), and the time needed for both Lewis & Clark’s message to diffuse and emigrants to get organized. By 1846 the nation was really on the move with about 20,000 westward-heading emigrants.
The following are consistent with Lewis & Clark and the Great Migration West: 1) the colonization of space did NOT occur immediately after Apollo but is expected to begin during the 2015 Maslow Window, 2) Mid-19th Century westward migrations were limited by financial, operational, and safety factors, which will also influence early 21st Century space colonization, and 3) the first humans may start exploring Mars (during the 2015 Maslow Window) simultaneously with the first steps toward space colonization (orbital and lunar hotels) and space industrialization (solar power sats).

1. Ebullience!!! The California Gold Rush began in 1848 (until 1855) with 300,000 people being drawn to California. In the first 5 years about 370 t of gold was removed ($ 7 B at 2006 prices) with many times that being extracted over he next few decades. The Gold Rush coincided almost exactly with the mid-19th Century Maslow (Dr. Livingstone in Africa) Window, 1847-57, and displayed classic ebullience. One author sees the Gold Rush as a national fork in the road because it, “marked the moment when people stopped believing that hard work leads to a good life…(and) that anyone could strike it rich…a pursuit that continues to this day,” — a very ebullient mindset! The end of the Gold Rush and threat of the Civil War in 1860 moderated this attitude. One gold rush analog for space will be tourism. In the 1950s, New York’s Hayden Planetarium solicited reservations for Moon trips and collected 100,000; how’s that for pre-Apollo ebullience?! And in the late 1960s Apollo era, Pan Am’s commercials used to feature the tease line, “Who’s the only airline with a waiting list for the Moon?” after collecting tens of thousands of eager Moon trippers. So the market’s definitely there. Space tourism will start next year with brief suborbital jaunts but will soon graduate to weekend stays in Earth orbit hotels. Honeymoons at the Moon could materialize in the 2020s. Space resource “gold” could eventually include the Sun’s energy (collected in space for use on Earth), and oxygen (from the Moon) and/or water (from Mars) for habitation and rocket propellants.

With Moonbases becoming the international status symbol for aspiring space powers and entrepreneurs beginning to tap the $ multi-Billion space tourism market, the 2015 Maslow Window may eventually make us think of the California Gold Rush as a rather quaint, restrained period in U.S. history!

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One Response to “10 Lessons Lewis & Clark Teach Us About the Human Future in Space”

  1. […] Dr. Bruce Cordell of 21st Century Waves draws on the the Lewis and Clark expedition (almost as arduous as a trip to Mars) to get perspective on current space exploration hopes… 10 Lessons Lewis & Clark Teach Us About the Human Future in Space. […]

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