Jul 05 2009
Special thanks to Eric Rybarczyk for his interesting emailed comments on Maslow Windows and for suggesting that I take a closer look at Buzz’ comments.
In addition to being the 2nd man to walk on the Moon in 1969, Dr. Buzz Aldrin is one of the most intelligent, energetic individuals you will ever meet, and recently, he became a “Man for All Maslow Windows!” Click .
Congratulations to Buzz for his brilliant synthesis of a stunningly positive vision of the human future in space. In today’s world of major global recession, asymmetric conflict, and a brewing new Cold War, a positive vision is hugely important. As pointed out at the beginning of the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window by Dutch sociologist Fred Polak in The Image of the Future,
The rise and fall of images of the future precedes or accompanies the rise and fall of cultures. As long as society’s image of the future is positive and flourishing, the flower of culture is in full blossom. Once the image of the future begins to decay and lose its vitality, however, the culture cannot long survive.
Although the details of his plan are certainly open for debate, Buzz — truly an icon of the 1960s — has provided us with an ebullient vision worthy of the 2015 Maslow Window.
The Maslow Window Model
About twice per century over the last 200+ years there are extraordinary pulses of great explorations (e.g., Lewis and Clark) and macro-engineering projects (e.g., Panama Canal) that resonate around the world. These “Maslow Windows” are times of extraordinary affluence-induced ebullience similar to “animal spirits” theorized to drive business cycles by British economist John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s. In response to ebullience, many in society ascend Maslow’s Hierarchy and, as their world view expands, find that great explorations and MEPs are not only intriguing, but seem momentarily irresistible. This captivating, but short-lived ebullience is triggered by major, twice-per-century economic booms over the last 200+ years that were first described by Kondratieff in the 1920s.
Thus the classic ideas of Maslow, Keynes, and Kondratieff — synthesized into this Maslow Window model — can explain the transformative pulses of great explorations and MEPs over the last 200+ years, including our 1960s fascination with Apollo and its rapid demise in the early 1970s. This model also points to the 2015 Maslow Window as the most likely time that visions like Buzz Aldrin’s will to come to fruition and revitalize society.
The Phobos Connection
I first met Buzz Aldrin in the late 1980s at General Dynamics in San Diego. He would come down from LA to share ideas about manned Mars missions, and the morning briefings would usually culminate with lunch at a local restaurant. His interests centered on Earth-Mars Cyclers — a concept for routine interplanetary transportation that he was developing with JPL — and mine were in using Phobos and Deimos (moons of Mars) as service stations for interplanetary vehicles and as manned orbital science stations.
Buzz now advocates a manned station on Phobos by 2025 to “monitor and control the robots that will build the infrastructure on the Martian surface, in preparation for the first human visitors.” I suspect his Phobos thrust is partly driven by the Russian Phobos mission scheduled to be launched in October, 2009, but now possibly delayed 2 years. In any case, Buzz’ manned Phobos base (or even an international lunar base) is exactly what we need before the 2015 Maslow Window slams shut on or before 2025. If we cannot achieve a human outpost in deep space by that time, we could be trapped in Earth orbit as the global economy slides for decades to the long wave trough (e.g., like ~1975-1995) and eventually recovers for the next Maslow Window near 2070. Keep in mind that nobody’s been beyond Earth orbit since the last Apollo mission in 1972, and that could occur again after 2025 unless we begin to colonize space.
Some may be surprised that Buzz suggests one-way missions as a way of jump-starting the colonization of Mars. In fact, during the 1960s, according to historian Matthew Hersch, competition with the Soviets for Moon firsts became so desperate that some suggested 1-way suicide missions, just so the first man on the Moon wouldn’t be a Soviet. But not surprisingly, NASA wasn’t interested.
However, Buzz isn’t suggesting 1-way Mars suicide missions, he’s advocating 1-way “pilgrim” missions. This makes more sense for Mars than the Moon because while it takes 3 days to get to the Moon, a manned Mars mission may take 3 years.
According to Buzz,
One-way tickets to Mars will make the missions technically easier and less expensive and get us there sooner. More importantly, they will ensure that our Martian outpost steadily grows as more homesteaders arrive.
Instead of explorers, one-way Mars travelers will be 21st-century pilgrims, pioneering a new way of life. It will take a special kind of person. Instead of the traditional pilot/ scientist/engineer, Martian homesteaders will be selected more for their personalities—flexible, inventive and determined in the face of unpredictability. In short, survivors.
Buzz’ Mars pilgrims would also have several other positive effects:
1) They would prevent the “Apollo-ization” of Mars. A dreaded effect that space advocates used to fret about where the “been there…done that” syndrome after a few landings would preclude our ever going back.
2) They would provide a planetary beachhead in space that would stimulate multi-decade plans for colonization of the Solar System even between Maslow Windows, when human spaceflight beyond Earth orbit has never occurred (see “The Phobos Connection” above). And…
3) They would provide an incentive to eventually develop interplanetary vehicles for routine transportation between Earth and Mars (e.g., Earth-Mars Cyclers) including the establishment of an interplanetary economy.
Going to Mars Together
I am on record for over 20 years as advocating an international approach to manned Mars missions, including even a specific macro-management concept for a global space agency (“Interspace”).
However, Buzz appears to be advocating a more-or-less U.S.-alone program for manned exploration of Mars, although he does propose an international program for the Moon.
This appears to contradict our spectacular foreign policy success with the International Space Station, known as an “international marvel.” As a major participant in the race to space during the Cold War, Buzz appears to favor an Apollo model for Mars over the more recent ISS experience. And there are fundamental differences between the two programs: Apollo was about space transportation and lunar exploration, while ISS is an Earth orbit MEP devoted to laboratory and space science. To be bluntly honest, the geopolitical impact of ISS is much lower than it was for Apollo.
As I’ve often written here and elsewhere, I would still like to see the U.S. achieve a “Grand Alliance for Space” with all other nations, including plenty of opportunities for cooperation and competition built in to the human expansion into the cosmos. But I have to admit, history doesn’t support such optimism. It isn’t just the story of the 1950s International Geophysical Year and the surprise Soviet launch of Sputnik, it also includes Amundsen’s deliberate deception of Scott so he could be the first to the South Pole in 1911. When the historical and/or geopolitical stakes are high, humans sometimes will deceive their competition to reach their goal first.
Buzz has conceived a vision for the near-term human future in space that is thrilling and highly motivating, but it’s certainly not without issues. These include continuing Shuttle to 2015, abandoning lunar science to a commercial-only emphasis, human rating of Atlas V, canceling Ares I, China joining ISS, and several others.
These would have to be worked out, but Buzz’ basic idea is compelling. He believes that the next major space initiative should be Goal-oriented, not focused on Infrastructure. As in the days of Apollo, if we can agree on a compelling enough goal in space, the public support and required infrastructure will quickly follow. On the other hand, bureaucrats usually favor an infrastructure approach because it’s more like a regular government program.
However, the last 200 years — including especially the 1960s — suggest that things happen fast because Maslow Windows seem to open unexpectedly (unless you understand the Maslow Window model above) and evolve quickly. Indeed, Maslow Windows don’t leave much time for extensive infrastructure development and are subject to wildcards (e.g., Vietnam).
Buzz’ genius is to apply an Apollo model for a 21st Century Mars Initiative to a multipolar space world. It’s certainly more consistent with the typical ebullience exhibited during Maslow Windows of the last 200 years than working hard to repeat a 40-year-old space feat on the Moon.
Lunar commercial development begins, Mars is reached and colonization starts, and everybody gets to play. All by 2025. It’s exciting and historically realistic.
Sounds like a lot of fun!