21ST CENTURY WAVES:
Forecasting Technology Booms
and Human Expansion into the Cosmos
Futures Research Quarterly
Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 21- 41
Long-term trends in economics, technology, and society point to the decade from 2015 – 2025 as the analog of the 1960’s. The technology and exploration activities culminating near 2025 will be unprecedented and spectacular, and may include humans on Mars, tourists and solar power satellites in Earth orbit, and industrial and scientific operations on the Moon. This forecast is supported by a survey of the last 200 years which revealed routine clustering – during economic booms every 56 years – of major human explorations (e.g. Lewis and Clark) and macro-engineering projects (e.g. Panama Canal), as well as major wars (e.g. Civil War). New scientific evidence for the psychosocial power of the Space Vision suggests it is capable of providing a revitalizing force for human civilization in the near future. Despite its compelling nature, the Space Vision will not fully materialize until around 2025 when long-term trends in economics, technology, and society are favorable again. The next opportunity after 2025 for major human expansion into the cosmos will be in 2081.
“On the following pages…may be one of the most important scientific symposiums ever published by a national magazine. It is the story of the inevitability of man’s conquest of space…(It) is not science fiction. It is serious fact…the U.S. must immediately embark on a long-range development program…” These stunning words appeared in 1952 in the famous March 22 issue of Collier’s Magazine (Ref 1). The headline asked, ”What Are We Waiting For?” while the preceding page insisted that “Man Will Conquer Space Soon,” and featured an image of some of the Space Age’s greatest heroes, including the great rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, Harvard astronomer Fred Whipple, famous space writer Willy Ley, and the unparalleled space artist Chesley Bonestell.
They were right. Only 17 years after Colliers, Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon in 1969. It is important to realize that although we are well into the first decade of the 21st Century, our economic, technological, and strategic position today — viewed in the context of long-term trends — is highly analogous to that of von Braun in 1952. In fact, it is forecast here that in less than 10 years we will begin to experience the next wave of extraordinary events in space that will culminate in the first humans on Mars and major tourist and industrial operations in space and on the Moon. The purpose of this article is to briefly sketch answers to the following questions: 1) How can we scientifically make a forecast like this with high confidence? 2) What are we waiting for this time? 3) What are some of the near-term economic, technological, and political events we can expect that will culminate near 2025 in the greatest technology and space spectaculars ever seen?
A decade ago I wrote in Space Policy (Ref 2) that long-term trends in science, technology, and human history strongly suggest that the decade from 2015 to 2025 would be the economic, technological, and political analog of the 1960s. We should expect unprecedented “…activities in technology, engineering, and human exploration…(and) the focus will be on large-scale human operations in space.” This forecast was reasonable if one views 1960s-style space exploration within the context of other science, technology, and exploration activities of the last 200 years. Indeed, it became clear that major episodes of human exploration (e.g. Lewis and Clark), huge state-of-the-art engineering projects (e.g. Panama Canal), and exceptionally destructive wars (e.g. Civil War) cluster together roughly every 56 years near the times of economic booms. I hypothesized that a Human Exploration (HE) wave – driven mostly by intangible psychological and spiritual needs – exists with a period of approximately 56 years and could be documented over at least the last 200 years. The exploration wave is in phase with surges in macro-engineering projects (MEPs) and major wars apparently because they are driven directly by the same thing: an economic boom about every 56 years.
This macrohistorical, macroeconomic approach enables useful predictions for the 21st Century to be made solely by analogy with waves and events of the last 200 years. However, without a theoretical basis for these long-term trends, a full understanding was not possible. Two extraordinary things occurred within the last 10 years that have reinvigorated this field: 1) Professor Martin E. P. Seligman (Ref 3) (University of Pennsylvania) and his colleagues established the academic field of Positive Psychology in 1998, and 2) the NATO Advanced Research Workshop in Portugal on “Kondratieff Waves, Warfare and World Security” (Ref 4) brought together in 2005 the world’s key experts to explore the latest data and models for long waves in the economy, technology, and politics.
In particular, Seligman and the Positive Psychology Network have for the first time provided a firm, scientific basis for the value of personal optimism in human life; they’ve shown statistically through numerous studies that optimists do better in school, work, and life, and they even live longer. Positive Psychology provides the basis for understanding the crucial importance of these extraordinary, decade-long intervals every 56 years when human curiosity – which always exists — is finally unleashed by unusually good economic conditions, producing a brief flurry of major human explorations (such as the 1960s when Apollo occurred). I refer to these ebullient decades as “Maslow Windows.” On the other hand, the NATO Kondratieff Symposium, based on highly significant long-wave analysis by Professor Brian Berry (Ref 5) (University of Texas at Dallas) and others, showed that current data and analyses support more strongly than ever before the idea that long waves (with 50-60 year periods) can be seen in the economy, technology development, and major wars. This recent quantum leap in understanding supports my earlier tentative conclusion that long waves in the economy were somehow modulating the space program as well as earlier major explorations. In essence, current long wave theory provides the “missing link” that explains why the unparalleled, positive vision of the human future in space did not result in continuous human explorations and settlement of the Moon and Mars since 1969. Instead, major explorations (including, but not limited to space) have been confined only to decade-long “Maslow Windows” approximately every 56 years.
In summary, the two major themes of this article are:
1) New scientific evidence for the psychosocial power of the Space Vision suggests it is capable of providing a revitalizing force for human civilization in the near future, and
2) Despite its compelling nature, the Space Vision will not fully materialize until around 2025 when long-term trends in economics, technology, and society are favorable again.
The newly appreciated global power of the Space Vision plus the discovery of its modulation by well-documented long-waves, make the timing of this next chapter in human expansion seem almost inevitable!
THE SPACE VISION
Today, NASA’s space program has regained everyone’s attention, but this is often because of concerns for the safety of Shuttle astronauts, and not as a result of the extraordinary prospect of human expansion into the cosmos as envisioned by President Kennedy more than 40 years ago. However, humans should have another opportunity to colonize space within 20 years! One key reason is that when we combine ancient human obsessions about exploring far away places with alluring new high-tech capabilities, we create a powerful cocktail known as the “Space Vision.”
For example, by 2007 entrepreneurs plan to offer the public suborbital flights for only about 4 times what a luxury suite cost on the Titanic! And Earth-orbiting, zero-gravity hotels can’t be far behind. A little further downstream, imagine visiting Neil Armstrong’s still-pristine footprints made in 1969 at the ApolloTranquility Museum celebrating humanity’s first landing on another world, while on your honeymoon on the Moon!
For people who are serious about colonizing space, as opposed to just visiting it, imagine the settlements and later the major cities that will grow on Mars to support a new way of human life as we search for alien Martian life! (Ref 6)
NEW NEW SCIENCE AND VISION
Human society is a complex system subject to chaos theory where accurate information is usually scarce, the future is hard to predict, and unexpected catastrophes occur. Physicists have established that large interactive systems eventually organize themselves into a critical state – i.e., self-organized criticality — in which a minor event starts a catastrophe (Ref 7). Examples include falling snow flakes piling up on a mountainside until a little jiggle triggers an avalanche, or economic stresses building up until a “butterfly” produces a Great Depression. The “Butterfly Effect” is not only one of 2004’s more intriguing theatrical releases, it’s evidence of complexity in the real world that can threaten our future. Because it is not possible to forecast solely by analysis (e.g., with mathematical models and computers) in a complex system since the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, a positive view of the future – such as the Space Vision – is essential to avoid negative trends and events.
At the very time that President Kennedy was announcing the most visionary adventure of all time (the Apollo Moon program), Dutch sociologist Fred Polak8 published his exhaustive and authoritative account, covering over 2,000 years of history, of what makes civilizations tick. Polak’s #1 diagnostic indicator of societal health is its vision of the future: “The rise and fall of images of the future precedes or accompanies the rise and fall of cultures…” For example, a decaying vision of the future apparently allows self-organized criticality, in the form of seemingly minor negative events, to eventually nudge civilization into a downward spiral.
The hints of a scientific revolution have swirled around us for a long time. For example, one successful businessman who was a talented skier and tennis player was instantly transformed into a quadriplegic by an auto accident. Instead of giving up, he founded a now-successful Internet-based company that links professional speakers with speakers’ bureaus. His attitude was simple, “If I chose to be angry, it wouldn’t change things. So I chose to be happy. I saw happiness as a choice we can make every day.” Even the hospital staff was puzzled. His doctor wrote that he had exhibited “excessive happiness,” and recommended that he be isolated from family, friends, and other patients, so he could get over his denial and accept the gravity of his situation! The quadriplegic’s intense optimism and its spectacular impact on his personal and professional performance is reminiscent of a famous mind-body effect known for decades as the “placebo.” In this case a person’s beliefs and expectations about medical treatment may have a major biochemical effect regardless of the pharmaceutical potential of the drug. One University of Connecticut researcher says, “The critical factor is our belief about what’s going to happen to us. You don’t have to rely on drugs to see profound transformation.” He is convinced that the effectiveness of Prozac and similar drugs is almost entirely due to the placebo effect; i.e., the expectation of the patient.
Evidence suggests that negative vision (e.g. depression) works as effectively as positive vision (optimism). For example, depression is linked with heart disease. One California health official stated, “Treating depression, even in cases without severe impairment, may be important in both the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease.”
For the first time, scientists have provided the empirical and statistical basis plus the key insights that firmly establish the link between our vision of the future and our prospects for prosperity, longevity, and expansion. Many revealing studies by Professor Martin Seligman (Ref 3) and the Positive Psychology Network show that optimists — i.e., people with a positive vision of the future — perform better in school and college, and are more successful at work and home. They are also usually healthier and typically live longer. Their work confirms that individuals will naturally benefit from a societal vision that is highly positive and easily communicated, and one that addresses aspirations and values of fundamental human interest.
Because personal optimism is now scientifically linked with health, performance, and success, national visions significantly guide the future by influencing individual attitudes and beliefs. In the absence of a positive societal vision, many people will not be routinely reminded of their moral and ethical foundations, nor will they be encouraged to act intuitively in socially positive and supportive ways. Most importantly, many people may not become fully integrated with their highest goals in life.
For obvious reasons, it is of great interest to characterize the nature of our civilization’s current vision of the future. In this connection, the great rocket scientist and space visionary, Wernher von Braun – builder of the Saturn V launch vehicle for the Apollo astronauts — used to tell a story of the Ming Dynasty in 15th Century China. In 1405, their bold thrust into the open sea featured 62 ships up to 400 feet long, with 28,000 men. The Chinese could have rounded the southern tip of Africa, sailed up to Europe, cruised the Mediterranean, and changed the course of history. In fact, there is increasing evidence the Chinese fleet reached America 70 years before Columbus and circumnavigated the globe long before Magellan was even born (Ref 9). Nevertheless, by 1433 China’s lack of vision terminated their interest in exploration and expansion and killed their flourishing science and economy. One noted Chinese scholar explained the devastation this way, “Underlying (China’s) physical decay there was a deeper change, a depression of the spirit of the people…”
Adding urgency to this story is commentary by one of the 20th Century’s greatest sociobiologists, Rene Dubos: “The most distressing thing about the modern world is not the gravity of its problems…it is the dampening of the human spirit…Our very survival as a species depends on hope.” Von Braun’s concern was that — analogous to the 15th Century Chinese who inexplicably pulled back from their new frontier (e.g. North America) — the “dampening” of our spirit and the lowering of our “hope” might be the troubling signs of a sputtering civilization that has hesitated too long at the portals of its new frontier; i.e., the one that we opened in 1969, when men first stepped onto the Moon (Ref 10).
In addition, Seligman – father of the Positive Psychology Movement himself — states we are in an “epidemic of depression, one that through suicide takes as many lives as the AIDS epidemic and is more widespread.” A popular notion among some political commentators is that “one U.S. institution after another is losing its legitimacy among the people.” Some view what’s going on today as a kind of “social disintegration” that will lead to a “huge social upheaval in the U.S. and abroad.”
This is not good news for individuals trying to cultivate personal optimism or a vulnerable generation of young people whose vision of the future is dominated by drugs, MTV, and global terrorism.
WHY NOT NOW?
In 1989 at a meeting of scientists, administrators, and corporate leaders in Aspen, Colorado, NASA chose to ask the big questions: What about sending humans to Mars? What is it about the Space Vision?
It was clear in Aspen (Ref 11) that Space is the most visible, highly positive, adventure-saturated symbol of human exploration that exists. Indeed the Space Vision’s powerful connections with fundamental human values (especially teamwork, exploration and search for truth, mega-technology), its versatility in terms of potentially including other visions of the future (e.g., globalization, nano- and biotechnology), and its impressive parallels with historically successful visions as identified by Polak8, suggest strongly that the Space Vision may be civilization’s most culturally powerful vision of the future. If such a liberating vision were ever to be embraced by our civilization, it would trigger a reinvigoration of modern institutions and life that would ultimately penetrate to our core.
So if Space is really this stimulating, why isn’t it happening now? And why did it die so ingloriously in the early 1970s, when the last three Apollo missions were abruptly canceled even after the monumental Saturn V launch vehicles had been built?
One problem is lack of commitment and questionable marketing. Space opportunities that are framed in terms of fundamental human values and needs will be perceived as positive. For example, in 1992 I published a detailed concept for an international space agency (Ref 12) in which the U.S., Japan, the European Space Agency, and Russia, would share power equally. All other countries would have continuous opportunities to contribute and to share governance.
Some analysts believe that NASA’s public image has declined since its glory days in the 1960s. However even back then, the world was shocked by the Apollo 1 fire in which astronauts Ed White, Gus Grissom, and Roger Chaffee died during a preflight test while sitting on the launch pad. Although the Challenger explosion (1986) and the Columbia accident (2003) were tragic and devastating, the key point is that in each case problems were addressed and space successes followed.
The real answer is only peripherally related to current priorities, marketing, and public perceptions. It’s something much more fundamental.
For the last 200,000 years, the psycho-cultural centrality of exploration for humans has been unsurpassed, and indeed it is clear that space exploration is just the latest manifestation of this profound human impulse (Ref 13). With such long-lived, overwhelming human drives propelling us into space, it is only fundamental unmet needs – such as in Maslow’s Hierarchy (Ref 14) – that can explain our current confinement on Earth. Becoming a multi-planet civilization requires a significant investment and a high level of affluence, not a society still struggling to meet its physiological, financial, and safety needs.
WE’RE ALL SURFERS!
The Space Vision cannot materialize in a vacuum! It is developing at this moment in the economic, technology, and geopolitical context of the early 21st Century. Space colonization requires a large initial investment of money, people, and resources, and major exploratory thrusts (like Space) are usually precluded except at times of societal peace and unusual prosperity. That’s the fundamental reason that the post-Apollo lunar base and manned Mars plans of NASA Administrator Thomas Paine went unfulfilled in 1969 and the reason they don’t exist even today.
Major economic booms can be thought of as “Maslow Windows”. These are brief intervals when the “24/7”, obsessive nature of humankind’s 200,000 year-old psycho cultural drive to explore, is released from bondage. When the physiological, financial, and safety constraints that typically hold societies in bondage are loosened, Maslow14 believed that people and societies feel freer to play, explore, and self-actualize. The last “Maslow Window” was in the 1960’s when the U.S. spent $120 B to send 12 men to the Moon! The next will be between 2015 and 2025.
In addition to major HE (Human Exploration)2 events like Apollo, Maslow Windows are typically inhabited by MEPs (Macro-Engineering Projects)15, as well as tragic large wars16,4. These are reliable gatherings. In the last 200 years there is only one instance when a Maslow Window did not include all three entities, and that was in 1801 when there was no bona fide MEP2.
Over the last 200 years, Maslow Windows are separated by about 56 years and are part of what’s known as the “long-wave” phenomenon, first recognized by the Russian economist Kondratieff4 in the 1920s. His K-Waves pulsate every 50-60 years and are based on pricing and other economic data. Other long waves also exist including the 56 year energy use wave17 discussed here. Discovered in 1989, the total energy consumption cycle is approximately sinusoidal with an amplitude of about 20 % and a 56 year period; it is documented back almost 200 years. According to Modis17, “the whole world seems to be pulsating to this rhythm.”
In effect, each of us – whether we know it or not! – spends each moment of our lives “surfing” the long waves until we reach a Maslow Window and have our own 1960s-style experience! Many of us get to surf through 2 Windows, but very few ever see 3!
EXPLORATION/MEP WAVES – THE LAST 200 YEARS
Table 1 summarizes the major events (Ref 2) – Human Exploration (HE), Macro-Engineering Projects (MEP), and major wars – that cluster together, along with economic booms, approximately at the peaks of the 56 year energy cycle, over at least the last 200 years. Energy cycle peaks are in 1801, 1857, 1913, 1969, and (in the future) 2025. Secondary events are shown indented after their primary counterparts.
Table 1 MASLOW WINDOW EVENTS
Energy Peaks: 1801, 1857, 1913, 1969, (2025)
(D = Initial Event date – Energy Peak date)
Major Human Explorations (HE)
Lewis and Clark/American NW (1804-06) D = +3 yr
Livingstone/Africa (1852-56; 1858-64) D = -5 yr
King/American West (1863-66 )
Peary/North Pole (1909) D = -4 yr
Amundsen/South Pole (1911)
Apollo/Moon (1960-72) D = -9 yr
Gargarin/1st to Orbit (1961)
Macro-Engineering Projects (MEP)
Suez Canal (1859-69) D = +2 yr
Great Eastern Ship (1854-58)
Trans-Atlantic Cable (1866)
Panama Canal (1904-14) D = – 9 yr
The Titanic (1907-12)
Apollo (1960-72) D = -9 yr
Gargarin/1st to Orbit (1961)
Napoleonic Wars/Europe (1803-1815) D = +2 yr
War of 1812/N. America (1812-15)
Civil War/U.S.A. (1861-65) D = + 4 yr
W. W. I (1914-18) D = +1 yr
[W.W. II (1939-45) Trough]
Vietnam (1965-73) D = -4 yr
The Cold War (1953-62; 1979-85)
Major HE events are recognized by: 1) the exploration of significantly new geographical sites, 2) their ability to capture the attention of a large audience, usually of an international or global scale, for a variety of reasons, including competition, nationalism, and/or danger, and 3) expeditions that are often aided and/or enabled by state-of-the-art technology.
Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803 from Napoleon was one of the pivotal events in world history because it triggered an expansive era (until 1870) when the United States was the fastest growing nation in the world, in both geographical area and population. Lewis and Clark opened the floodgates to colonists and resulted in the USA becoming a bi-coastal entity.
The Lewis and Clark expedition is a superb example of an epochal pulse of human exploration coinciding with a peak in the energy cycle (Maslow Window #1).
The fact that Henry Stanley’s phrase — “Dr. Livingstone I presume?” (Ref 18) — is famous even 150+ years after the event, clearly suggests the intensity of interest in this major HE which coincided with the 1857 energy peak (Maslow Window #2). David Livingstone was a missionary, doctor, scientist, and anti-slavery activist. He spent 30 years in Africa, exploring almost a third of the continent, from its southern tip to the equator. He returned to Britain in 1856 and received a gold medal from the London Royal Geographical Society for being the first to cross the entire African Continent from west to east.
Although he was from Scotland, concern about Livingstone was so high in the U.S. and around the world that a New York newspaper sent Stanley to locate him (Ref 18). However, despite his honors and world fame, in the late 1860s Livingstone had difficulty raising funds to continue his African expeditions. Livingstone’s fate was similar to his spiritual brothers in exploration a century later – the initially triumphant Apollo astronauts — whose last three Moon trips were canceled to save money shortly after their energy cycle peak in 1969.
In the early 20th Century the only significant regions left unexplored on Earth were the North and South Poles. Polar regions were particularly alluring to adventurers because like Apollo they featured: 1) intense international competition; 2) hardship, danger, and deaths; and 3) an exotic destination with major international public appeal (Ref 19).
Thus, the polar expeditions are considered to be major HE events that mark Maslow Window #3 associated with the energy peak of 1913. The most symbolically significant milestone was in 1909 when Robert Peary became the first person in history to reach the North Pole of the Earth. Indeed, Peary was the Neil Armstrong of his day! Two years later, the South Pole was attained by Roald Amundsen. One measure of the global significance of Peary’s adventure was that even 45 years later, a distinguished panel of scholars and writers judged it to be one of the top 100 historical events of all time (Ref 19).
The greatest wave of human exploration of all time was the 1960s Apollo program which culminated in the first man on the Moon in 196910. For the first time a major human exploration event was totally integrated with an MEP, which makes Apollo unique! The real magic of Apollo was threefold: 1) it had the most extraordinary destination in human history (it was off world!), 2) it was the ultimate, state-of-the-art macro-engineering project (MEP), and 3) just for good measure, Apollo married modern science to the greatest exploration and technology event in human history (Ref 20)!
Table 1 shows that 3 of the 4 major HE pulses began 4-5+ years before their respective energy peaks; i.e., their “D” values are negative. The Livingstone and Peary expeditions were privately funded and benefited from good economic times and the ebullient Zeitgeist typical of Maslow Windows. Apollo was a government venture led by President Kennedy largely in response to the Cold War threat of the Soviets (e.g., Sputnik launch in 19