Archive for the 'Perspectives' Category

May 11 2008

NASA Programs and MEPs: A Brief 21stCenturyWaves Perspective

Currently, the most important issue for humanity’s future – within the next 5 – 10 years — is to resume the large-scale human expansion into space by achieving self-sufficient colonies (e.g. on the Moon) before 2025. This is serious business because such opportunities are not continuously available. Indeed, unless we breakout into space by 2025, the last 200 years of macroeconomic and macrohistorical experience teach that long-term trends in the economy, technology, and society will not be favorable again for human expansion until about 2071. This is especially sobering because attempting to estimate the geopolitical, technological, and/or economic state of the world that far into the future is essentially impossible, and therefore the next Maslow Window (2015 – 2025) is of inestimable importance.

Upcoming posts in Wave Guide 7 will focus on evaluating NASA’s progress toward this goal by commenting on events and trends in three areas: 1) the strategic vision for human expansion into space, 2) specific NASA programs – both human and robotic – that are operational or in the planning stages and their status, and 3) future technologies and potential space Macro-Engineering Projects that could impact progress toward near-term space colonization.

For example, the traditional strategic debate within NASA has been Moon vs. Mars as the next focus for human exploration and settlement. The “Lunatics” (meant genuinely affectionately) clustered at Johnson Space Center in Houston, while the “Martians” centered around NASA Ames near Sunnyvale, CA. Proximity to Earth, previous human experience, and opportunities for resource development have always decorated the Moon’s portfolio. But many Martians believe the Moon is scientifically boring and we should immediately focus our assets on the most Earth-like planet – Mars. In the past, I personally have been seduced by the scientific delights and colonization-potential of Mars, but two things have recently opened me to Moon dreams: 1) prospects for space tourism in Earth orbit and eventually on the Moon indicate that private activities in Earth-Moon space will stimulate space colonization, and 2) 2015 – 2025 may well be the last forecastable window for human expansion into space, and any space foothold is far, far better than none.

Since its inception in 2004, NASA’s official Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) has met with mixed reviews. It promised a return to the Moon by 2020 and eventually a crewed mission to Mars. Along the way a new Orion crew vehicle will fly by 2014 and Shuttle-Derived Launch Vehicles will be developed. Critics’ complaints include unrealistic cost estimates and schedules. Former NASA scientist Paul Spudis has deeper concerns, “The VSE in NASA terms has become all about building the new Orion and Ares vehicles with very little tying these spacecraft to their destinations….NASA still doesn’t really understand what its mission is…” Spudis recommends: “We’re going to the Moon to learn how to live and work on another world. It’s that simple.”

Spudis’ single-sentence mission is lunar colonization, which we forecast to begin after 2015. However, these and other concerns are typical of pre-Maslow Window times (such as now). After the Sputnik shock in 1957, the U.S. swiftly organized its assets into the greatest technology project of all time: Apollo! Upcoming Wave Guide 7 posts will monitor this transition at NASA as it occurs in response to the expected international Sputnik-like shock in the next few years.

No responses yet

May 11 2008

Non-Space MEPs — A Brief 21stCenturyWaves Perspective

Surprisingly, one of the most reliable indicators of an approaching Maslow Window has nothing to do with space; we call them Non-Space Macro-Engineering Projects (MEPs). Our definition of an MEP is adopted from a former president of the Society for the History of Technology, Eugene S. Ferguson; An MEP is 1) at the state-of-the-art of technology for the time, 2)extremely expensive (multi $ B) and usually physically large, and 3) sometimes practical in purpose, but often aimed at satisfying intangible needs of a spiritual or psychological nature and 4) it is always highly inspiring.

One lesson of the last 200 years is that each Window (except the first in 1801) is decorated with at least one MEP. Typically, one MEP is especially ascendant, but the secondary MEPs are often precursors of the approaching Maslow Window and a measure of real-time “ebullience”.
For example, the Mackinac Bridge, which connects the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan, began construction in 1954 after many decades of frustrating attempts. It opened in 1957 for a total cost of $ 1 B (2007 $). In 1959 an Air Force pilot deliberately flew his RB-47E Stratojet (a reconfigured bomber) under the bridge and promptly lost his wings! (Who could resist?!)

Secondary to the Panama Canal, the main MEP of the 1903-1913 Maslow Window, was the luxury passenger ship, the Titanic. Unless you haven’t been paying attention for the last 10 years, the words “Titanic” and “ebullience” definitely go together; if you haven’t seen the 1997 video, go rent it. Likewise the MEP jewel of the 19th Century was the Suez Canal, but it was preceeded by a gargantuan ship called the Great Eastern. Intended as a passenger ship, the Great Eastern only found use laying the first trans-Atlantic cable (another mid-19th Century secondary MEP).

Today the world is littered with so many plans for non-space MEPs you can almost hear them screaming, “Maslow Window approaching in 2015!” The current non-space MEPs include the 2001 foot Tokyo tower (due 2011) to be the tallest free-standing antenna in the world, the new 1,588 Kowloon Tower in Hong Kong (3rd tallest commercial building in the world), a proposed $ 16 B canal project in South Korea, Moscow’s $ 4 B Crystal Island development (due 2014) to be the largest building in the world and was recently compared to the biblical Tower of Babel by the LA Times (2/2008), mega-projects in China, mega-projects in Dubai, and many others.

Perhaps the best evidence for early ebullience is provided by the Panama Canal Expansion Project. At an estimated $ 5.25 B it will slightly exceed the original Panama Canal cost, and the original Panama Canal was the greatest MEP in the last 200 years until Apollo. In 2006 the Panamanians approved the risky, expensive project in a national referendum by 76.8% of all votes, and the president of Panama recently stated that the revenues from the expansion will transform Panama into a first-world country.

These and many other non-space MEPs will be tracked in future Wave Guide 8 posts for consistency with our expectations and forecasts for the increasing affluence and ebullience characteristic of an approaching Maslow Window.

2 responses so far

May 11 2008

Global Conflict — A Brief 21stCenturyWaves Perspective

The last 200 years teach us that every 56 years or so, when an unparalleled economic boom produces the exceptional affluence and eventually even the widespread ebullience that we call a Maslow Window, there is both good news and bad news. The good news is major human explorations like Apollo and spectacular macro-engineering projects like the Panama Canal. The bad news is the tragic death and destruction associated with a major war like W.W. I.

In the last 200 years there are no exceptions: every Maslow Window ended shortly before a major war. Although the wars themselves may not have directly terminated Maslow Windows, the destructive psychological and economic effects of the wars were sufficient to reduce the unusually high ebullience and affluence characteristic of society during a typical Maslow Window.

However, one bad omen is that the most recent Maslow Window (Apollo) was clearly terminated directly by the intensification of the Vietnam War in 1968. During this time there was campus unrest, budget and political pressure, and considerable anti-war feeling across the U.S.. President Nixon responded by canceling the last three Apollo missions (18, 19, and 20) and eventually by terminating the entire manned space program except for the Shuttle.

It is sobering to consider what might have happened if Vietnam had exploded just a few years earlier. All the Moon landings — not just the last 3 — might have been lost. Indeed, the most troubling and uncertain wildcard for the 2020s is the timing of future major military conflicts and their negative effects for society, including the potential loss of MEPs and the long-term postponement of human expansion into the cosmos.

Upcoming posts in Wave Guide 9 will focus on parallels between the previous Cold War and the current War on Terror as well as specific potential flashpoints (e.g., Taiwan) that political scientists and strategists have identified as future threats. If, as some analysts suggest, a new cold war has already begun, this will be partly an unfortunate consequence of generational and economic patterns of 56 years ago that are starting to repeat again today. A new cold war superimposed on the current War on Terror in the context of an increasingly multipolar world (e.g., including China and others), while potentially dangerous, would definitely be consistent with the specific forecasts of this blog.

No responses yet

May 11 2008

Pop Culture — A Brief 21stCenturyWaves Perspective

Pop culture and entertainment provide windows into people’s thoughts and passions without explicitly revealing them as in an opinion poll, and the obvious catch is their meaning must be inferred. The most obvious targets are pop music and movies, but other genres like television, novels, and fashion can also provide signals of increasing interest in space.

For example, Elton John’s 1972 top 10 hit – “Rocket Man” — was directly inspired by a story by famous science fiction author Ray Bradbury. It’s about an astronaut on his way to Mars who was lonesome for his wife. Rocket Man went to #6 in the U.S. so it obviously resonated with a large audience. David Bowie’s much less well-known song “Space Oddity” was timed for a 1969 release to coincide with the launch of Apollo 11, the first manned Moon landing mission. But it didn’t chart in the U.S. indicating the artist and the material are at least as important as audience interests!

Science fiction films in the 1950s (one 56 year energy cycle ago) were of uneven quality but explored several themes of interest to post-war audiences, including: extraterrestrial life and UFOs, and space travel to distant worlds. The best of these were, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1952) about a space alien (Klaatu) and his robot (Gort) who came to warn Earthlings about their violent tendencies, and “Forbidden Planet” (1956) that pioneered several elements later featured in various, immensely popular Star Trek TV series and movies. If you Google “Klaatu” you’ll see the rock group is organizing a letter writing campaign to get their music included in the re-make of the original movie!

Science fiction films have been released to large audiences consistently throughout the last 30-40 years. The list includes: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), possibly the greatest science fiction film ever, Star Wars (1977), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Star Trek, TMP (1979), ET: The Extraterrestrial (1982), Independence Day (1996), and many others. This suggests they are simply resonating with deeply held, long-lived interests of large numbers of people about the cosmos. In 2003, author Marina Benjamin (Rocket Dreams) suggested that since the death of the space program (!), frustrated would-be space travelers had taken refuge in cyberspace – another form of pop culture — where they now focus most of their “cosmic” energies.

The popular animated sci-fi sitcom, Futuruama does a good job reflecting popular attitudes about where we’re headed as a global society. The plot line chronicles the adventures of a 21st Century pizza delivery boy who is frozen for 1000 years and lives in the year 3000. In the year 3000, space has been fully colonized and Earth is headed by a unified government, lead by the preserved talking head of President Nixon. The Universe is a multicultural place with humans, robots, and extraterrestrials living in harmony. Although Matt Groening may not know it, he has depicted a future not too different from 21st Century Waves expectations.

One of the more interesting books you’ll ever read is by Howard McCurdy, called Space and the American Imagination. He contends that space advocates oversold the potential for space by highlighting fundamental American cultural themes like the frontier, the heroic explorer, and progress through technology. Both McCurdy and Benjamin apparently do not fully appreciate the relation of space exploration to major human explorations and MEPs over the last 200 years, as well as its strong interactions with long-term waves in human generations and economics. Upcoming posts in Wave Guide 10 will identify and comment on signals in pop culture of hightened public interest in space, exploration, and technology as we approach the opening of the next Maslow Window near 2015.

No responses yet

« Prev