Archive for the 'Wave Guide 6: Entrepreneurs' Category

Feb 27 2011

Commercialization of the Moon — How Soon and Who?

The Journal of the British Interplanetary Society (Vol. 63, No. 2, 2010) highlights a fresh perspective on near-term lunar development. In fact, the authors assert that

Action taken in the next few years can lead to the gradual, steady expansion of commercial, market-based activity on the Moon and in the neighborhood between the Earth and the Moon.

How soon will lunar hotels accommodate serious fun-seekers from Earth?
Click .

Economists Wei Lin (Xiamen Univ., China) and Kruti Dholakia and Euel Elliott (both of UT at Dallas) imagine a bright future for international development of the Moon — potentially including lunar resources, human colonization, space-based solar power, asteroid mining, fusion energy — but wisely counsel that such endeavors,

…require a long-term perspective.

This is good advice, not only because of their multi-century timeline — 2020 to 2150 — estimated from NASA and other sources, but because of predictable long-term economic trends as well as wildcards.

For example, they list 2020-2030 as the time when human flights resume to the Moon and scientific explorations expand. But the first permanent lunar base (including first colonization and in situ resource use) dos not occur until after 2030 (-2050).

This creates a potentially serous timing issue because the 2015 Maslow Window is likely to end abuptly by the mid-2020s due to long-term economic and geopolitical forces. The last time this happened was in the late 1960s when 3 Apollo Moon missions were canceled by President Nixon in response to

…budget exigencies during a time of rising domestic turmoil over the Vietnam War…

Unfortunately, over the last 200+ years (back to Lewis and Clark), this is the typical pattern for termination of an Apollo-style golden age of prosperity, exploration, and technology: a rapid economic downturn accompanied by a major, international war.

Every effort should be made to accelerate initial colonization activities on the Moon. Because unless a human outpost can be established in deep space (i.e., a Moonbase or Mars system colony) by the early-to-mid 2020s, we risk being trapped in LEO for several decades after 2025, like we have been since 1972.

Citing the International Space Station as an admirable model for international cooperation in space, and the continuing effects of the 2008-10 financial crisis, the authors suggest that,

Rising powers like China and India are seemingly well placed to assume a more prominent role given their growth rates and their ability to weather the economic crisis compared to the West.

For example, China is apparently moving ahead with landing humans on the Moon by the early 2020s. And while the authors neglect the stunning global boom expected near 2015, they do suggest an intriguing “paradigm shift” regarding the increasing fraction of commercial versus government (as during the 1960s Cold War) activities in 21st century space.

Whether our next “Sputnik Moment” will be triggered by expanding international commercial activities in space rather than a 1960s-stye geopolitical compettion acted out in space, is not clear. But it will likely begin with smaller Sputnik Moments in education, international economics, and in military technology that are already taking shape.

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Nov 28 2010

Harvard’s Joseph Nye sees U.S. “unlikely…(to) be surpassed…” Well Positioned for the 21st Century

With a global recession, the continuing threat of global terror, and a polarized political season, it’s easy for Americans to assume problems are many and solutions are few. And for some, this brings into focus the question of American decline.

However, in a special edition of Foreign Affairs (November, December, 2010) on “The World Ahead”, Joseph S. Nye, Jr. of Harvard takes a longer-term and broader perspective than most “declinists” and concludes that America is well-positioned to succeed in the 21st century.

Will the spectacular foreign policy and technological success of the International Space Station inspire the United States, and other global leaders, to pursue a united, global approach to human settlement of the solar system?

Nye’s approach is broadly consistent with’s view that current trends favor America as a key leader in the new (post-2015) global Space Age over the next 20+ years, and beyond.

America’s Future Decline Has Been Greatly Exaggerated
Nye disposes of alleged parallels between the United Kingdom’s decline and the U.S., and notes that, despite its global empire and naval supremacy, by World War I the UK was not the global leader in GDP or military spending.

He suggests that belief in U.S. decline is psychological and not unusual in history. For example, Charles Dickens once observed that

If its individual citizens are to be believed, (the U.S.) always is depressed, and always is stagnated, and always is at an alarming crisis, and never was otherwise.

Nye mentions that belief in America’s decline rose after Russia launched Sputnik in 1957. This was the seminal, Cold War event that launched the first Space Age and triggered the extraordinary, Camelot-style Apollo Maslow Window .

China’s Future Ascent Has Been Greatly Exaggerated
Although Goldman Sachs projects that China’s GDP will surpass America’s in 2027, Nye points out that, even if true, China will lag in GDP per capita long after 2030.

A complicating factor is that macroeconomic trends over the last 200+ years indicate that the 2015 Maslow Window should close by 2025 (if not before) and that by 2027, economies may experience severe long wave-related downturns similar to 1973.

In the coming decades, not only will China feel a competition from Japan and India — both with good U.S. relations — but, according to Nye,

Whether China can develop a formula that manages an expanding urban middle class, regional inequality, rural poverty, and resentment among ethnic minorities remains to be seen.

Indeed, Stratfor continues to forecast that by 2015 China will experience a major Japan-style economic collapse.

In any case, a weakened China would not be a positive development either on Earth or in space, as I indicated in a 2008 post: “10 Reasons Why China is Good for Space”.”

American Demographic Decline and Economic Stagnation?
Unlike China and most of the developed countries of the world who’s populations are seriously aging, America’s history of immigration is the key. According to Nye …

With its current levels of immigration, the United States is one of the few developed countries that may avoid demographic decline and keep its share of world population…

Indeed, Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew believes it’s “Sinocentric culture” will make China less competitive and unable to surpass the U.S. in the 21st century, because the U.S. can

attract the best and brightest from the rest of the world and meld them into a diverse culture of creativity.

This is underlined by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor who’s 2009 survey ranked the U.S. #1 in opportunities for entrepreneurship because of its

favorable business culture, the most mature venture capital industry, close relations between universities and industry, and an open immigration policy.

However, a stagnating U.S. economy would be a “showstopper” according to Nye.

Identified recently by both the current U.S. Secretary of State and the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a threat to U.S. national security, the growing U.S. national debt will reach 100% of GDP by 2023 — a particularly vulnerable time near the expected end of the 2015 Maslow Window. Plus, as debt-to-GDP ratios grow, so do interest rates which limit private investment and slow economic growth.

To cure the debt, Nye recommends “spending cuts and consumption taxes that would pay for entitlements” post-recession. In fact, both long- and short-term trends in a variety of sectors point to a major economic boom by 2015.

National Power is “Like Calories in a Diet…”
More is not always better.”

The United States’ power is not what it used to be, but it also never really was as great as assumed.

Nye cites post-WW II when the U.S. was the dominant economic and military superpower in the world but could not stop the “loss” of China, or “roll back” Communism in Eastern Europe, etc. etc…

This is important because mistaken beliefs about national decline and/or power, “can lead to dangerous mistakes in policy”.

Historically, American power is based on “alliances rather than colonies.” Therefore, in the 21st century…

The United States is well placed to benefit from such networks and alliances, if it follows smart strategies.

A good example is the international, technological marvel known as the International Space Station. With a little luck, ISS could inspire a truly global 21st century approach to human settlement of the solar system.

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Jun 13 2010

Can the UK Lead the New Space Age?

David Ashford of Bristol Spaceplanes Limited, says the answer is “Yes!” assuming development of airplane-like, reusable launchers or “spaceplanes” by the UK; see Journal of the British Interplanetary Society (Vol. 62, No. 10, pp. 354-361). He believes the UK can become a leader because of it’s long history with rocket fighter technology, and by being (somewhat inadvertantly!) well-positioned to take advantage of the prevailing expendable launcher mind-set.

Does the Saunders Roe Rocket Fighter of 1957 hold the secret to the new Space Age? Click

Ashford’s article is particularly interesting because of his: 1) advocacy of this near-term aviation approach to space access, 2) presentation of a roadmap showing how the UK could become its leader, and 3) sketch of the “new space age” — which is compatible with the anticipated 2015 Maslow Window — in terms of markets and an approximate timeframe.

Spaceplanes are Exciting

Spaceplanes should be able to significantly reduce the cost of access to space (by at least 2 orders of magnitude) and were studied over 40 years ago. For example, the USAF/NASA X-15 rocket plane (1959-68) became “the first fully reusable spacefaring vehicle.” Although suborbital, the X-15 set many altitude and speed records. Two X-15 flights went above 100 km (both in 1963 with Joe Walker) and Pete Knight reached 4519 mph (Mach 6.70) in 1967. Neil Armstrong — the first human on the Moon in 1969 — flew seven X-15 missions.

A happy Neil Armstrong poses with his X-15 rocket plane. Click .

Early in the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window, the X-15 had a major impact on pop culture through a 1961 movie of the same name that featured videos of actual X-15 flights; it’s still available on Directed by Richard Donner (e.g., “Superman”, “Lethal Weapon”, “Maverick”), several of the movie’s stars remain well-known today, including Charles Bronson, Mary Tyler Moore, and James Gregory.

Instead of spaceplanes, Cold War time pressures (the “space race”) and the need to minimize costs led to the use of converted expendable ballistic missiles, including ICBMs (e.g., Atlas), to launch early satellites and humans into space.

The UK’s Advantages

Ashford argues that the UK’s 1950s experience developing the Saunders Roe SR.53, a prototype for a mixed jet and rocket propulsion fighter, indicates that a program for a small suborbital spaceplane (the “Ascender) “does not need any new technology.” The Ascender would reach Mach 3 on its way to 100 km altitude. It would carry one pilot and one passenger (or experiment) and have 2 HTP and kerosene rocket engines (for lift-off and ascent) and 2 jet engines (for back-up). The suborbital Ascender could be used for astronaut training, technology development, and science, as well as “carrying passengers on space experience flights.”

The second UK advantage is psychological. Because the “main obstacle” to a spaceplane approach to space access is

the mind-set induced by five decades of expendable launchers. The UK is probably best placed to break from this mold of thinking because it has no significant commitment to expendable launchers or human spaceflight using these for transportation.

If the government were to match industry to fund the entry-level spaceplane, the UK could lead the way to the new space age.

Although these are clearly marketing talking points for Ashford’s firm, they also display admirable ebullient qualities characteristic of the approaching 2015 Maslow Window and may be of real strategic value to near-term human expansion into the cosmos.

The New Space Age

Ascender would be followed by a first-generation orbital spaceplane called “Spacecab” — a one ton payload-class (e.g., up to 6 astronauts), two-stage-to-orbit, piloted, horizontal take-off and landing vehicle. Spacecab could launch satellites, deliver crew and supplies to space stations and beyond, and take thrilled passengers to space hotels. It would make routine maintenance and use of space stations more economical and contribute technology and operational expertise to the development of reusable, less expensive heavy lift vehicles.

Ashford indicates that the routine use of spaceplanes will result in space losing its “exceptionalism” because “access to orbit will become routine.”

Reusable space tugs would be used for higher orbits, and these could be readily adapted as lunar transfer vehicles … The cost of the first lunar base would be about 10 times less with this approach then it would have been with Constellation. Ten times! …

The cost of science in space will approach that in Antarctica …The term “new space age” is becoming recognized as a suitable name for this radically improved space scenario.

Although our (Ashford’s and my) concepts for the new space age are defined somewhat differently, they are likely to amount to the same thing, so it’s interesting to compare timescales. He shows the spaceplane road map culminating with Spacebus in about 15 years, and the New Space Age itself beginning about 7 years earlier.

Thus Ashford’s New Space Age might start sometime between 2018 and 2020 if spaceplane development began within the next 2 years. Based on macroeconomic data and historical patterns of the last 200 years — including current global trends — the next Maslow Window should open near 2015 and close around 2025.

Definitely the same ballpark.

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Feb 13 2010

Can The Private Sector Take Us Into Space?

In today’s Wall Street Journal (2/13/10) Peter Diamandis says ‘yes’ and Taylor Dinerman says ‘not yet.’ Their views highlight the challenges and potential for both private and public space activities in a multi-polar space world as we approach the anticipated 2015 Maslow Window — a 1960s-style golden age of prosperity, exploration, and technology.

Is this our near-term portal to space colonization? A Dream Chaser approaches the International Space Station. Click .

To understand their differing perspectives on space commercialization, it helps to know something about each. Diamandis is a Harvard-trained physician who founded and runs the X Prize Foundation and other private space-related firms including Singularity University, the brainchild of tech guru Ray Kurzweil, author of the widely challenged notion (the Singularity) that in “a future period when the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.” Taylor Dinerman is an author and journalist based in New York City who writes a regular column for and is on the board of advisors of Space Energy, a company working on space-solar-power concepts.

Basically we have a clash of the relatively simple requirements of the personal spaceflight industry with space power satellites that will require more complex operations in space and probably larger, government-built launch vehicles. In a sense it’s entertainment versus utilities.

It’s revealing that Diamandis’ focus is almost entirely on the profit potential of space while Dinerman highlights private sector failures in space access.

For example, Diamandis suggests that “American capitalism and entrepreneurship” will lay the foundation for “the future Google, Cisco and Apple of space to be born, drive job creation, and open the cosmos for the rest of us.” He compares some people’s myopic view of space with “Seward’s Folly” (the widely criticized purchase of Alaska in 1867) in light of the unlimited “metals, minerals, energy, and real estate” in space. And he links Moore’s Law with not only “exponential growth in computing technology” but with future “breakthroughs in rocket propulsion.”

Diamandis is clearly excited about private enterprise in space: “Privately financed research outposts will be a common sight in the night sky. The first one-way missions to Mars will be launched. Mining operations will spring up on the Moon … One thing is certain: The next 50 years will be the period when we stablish ourselves as a space-faring civilization.”

Two things here: 1) The “first one-way missions to Mars” occurred in the 1960s (e.g., Mariner 4 in 1964), so I assume he means the first private one-way Mars mission and NOT the first one-way manned mission!, and 2) the history of the last 200 years shows that major pulses of human exploration and large-scale engineering projects tend to be focused in relatively brief intervals called Maslow Windows; and although Diamandis imagines privately funded space projects, they are still likely to be confined to the rhythmic. twice-per-century, decade-long Maslow Windows because the laws of economics (e.g., the long wave) and public interest (e.g., ebullience) will still drive them.

On the other hand, Dinerman believes that “The public sector simply is not up up for the job.” He cites the need for ‘man-rating’ each private spacecraft by NASA “that will take years,” and the difficulty of getting insurance. Although Dinerman doesn’t mention it, imagine the effects of a Titanic-style failure on the personal spaceflight industry. (The unsinkable Titanic was a secondary MEP of the Peary/Panama Maslow Window of the early 2oth century that has parallels with the space tourism industry (also a secondary MEP) of today.)

According to Dinerman, “Over the past 30 years over a dozen start-ups have tried to break into the launch business.” The only one to survive is Orbital Sciences of Dulles, VA. Aspiring space entrepreneurs seeking government subsidies will remember Lockheed-Martin’s private-public partnership “fiasco” with the X-33 design that was chosen to replace the Shuttle in 1996. Canceled in 2001, it cost NASA nearly $ 1 B and Lockheed Martin $ 357 M.

Dinerman concludes that,

The space entrepreneurs may claim that they can send people into space for a fraction of the previous cost, but they have not yet proved it. NASA’s policy is neither bold nor new; it is yet another exercise in budget-driven program cancellation.

Dinerman’s budgetary point is supported by the NASA administrator’s declarations that NASA “Cannot do big things very much anymore,” (Space News, 1/11/10) especially in a time of trillion-dollar+ stimulus/bailout packages. It is also consistent with the severe economic and geopolitical — and now the political — challenges President Obama now finds himself immersed in; see “State of the Wave — 10 Space Trends for 2010.” Ironically, his lack of focus on space may have led to this golden opportunity for the private space industry.

Neither Diamandis nor Dinerman mention specific grants already made to space companies including $ 20 M to to Sierra Nevada Corp. for development of its Dream Chaser crew module (launched on an Atlas V); See “For 2010 — A Dream Chaser Come True?” And $ 6.7 M to United Launch Alliance for an emergency sensing system for Atlas V and Delta IV rockets. Unlike other start-ups of the last 30 years, these have a reasonable chance of success and may play an important role in the 2015 Maslow Window.

One final question: Are there useful parallels between Lewis and Clark and the ebullient 19th century exploration and development of the United States, and the 1960s Apollo Moon program and exploration and development of space? I think there are. As I pointed out previously in “The Way Space Really Works,” 19th century analogs suggest that market-driven private space activities of today will play a central role in near-term human expansion into the cosmos.

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Sep 10 2009

Immortality — An Ebullient 21st Century Technology That's to Die For!

The World Future Society’s journal The Futurist (Jan-Feb, 2009; David Gelles) highlights an intriguing analysis of Silicon Valley’s attraction to physical immortality. The people involved call themselves transhumanists which involves “part science, part faith, and part philosophy,” but their focus is “radical life extension and life expansion.”

Dr. Aubrey de Grey, a world-class anti-aging champion, is head of the Methuselah Foundation. Click de_grey.jpg.

Some believers envision using biotechnology to reach ages near 1000 years, or “freezing the terminally ill…” using cryonics, in hopes of “…a second opinion from a future doctor,” and ultimately even uploading a human mind onto a computer. Drivers of this ebullient movement include the Who’s Who of Silicon Valley; e.g., dot-com millionaires like Peter Thiel (co-founder and former CEO of PayPal), technologist Ray Kurzweil (prolific inventer and Chancellor/Founder of Singularity University), and biologist Aubrey de Grey (Cambridge Univ PhD and head of the Methuselah Foundation).

Here at, Silicon Valley transhumanism piques our interest because it points to the growth of early ebullient thinking expected to be a key driver of the 2015 Maslow Window.

Over the last 200+ years, widespread ebullience has been at the core of fleeting and rare, but spectacular decades that we call Maslow Windows. Rhythmic, twice-per-century major economic booms trigger transformative clusters of Great Explorations (e.g., Lewis and Clark), macro-engineering projects (e.g., Panama Canal), and even major wars (e.g., WW I). For a few brief shining moments, many ebullient members of society are catapulted to higher levels in Maslow’s Hierarchy where their expanded world views make great explorations and massive MEPs seem not only intriguing, but almost irresistible. Other ebullient individuals — who for personal reasons, do not ascend to elevated levels in Maslow’s Hierarchy — sometimes become involved in destructive pursuits, including major wars.

However, the key is ebullience — an intensely positive, almost giddy, feeling of confidence in the future — that drives Maslow Windows like the 1960s Apollo Moon program and the Lewis and Clark explorations over 200 years ago. The next one is expected near 2015, and the early ebullience of Silicon Valley transhumanism suggests it will be on time.

Interest in immortality was generated during the early stages of the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window by physicist Robert Ettinger’s 1962 book, The Prospect of Immortality. Ettinger asserted that “if a body were frozen shortly after death, future technologies would be able to revive the recently deceased.” Ten years later, as the Apollo Maslow Window was closing, Ettinger brought transhumanism into focus by suggesting that “rather than relying on cryonics to revive the dead, forthcoming technologies might make death obsolete.”

Whatever questions you may have about the people and/or the technologies, this is truly the essence of 1960s Camelot-style ebullience!

After the 1960s Maslow Window, nearly 200 bodies were frigidly ensconced in the Arizona vaults of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation. For a time Walt Disney was rumored to be among the elite 200 but he’s apparently buried in Forest Lawn Glendale near Los Angeles, not far from Michael Jackson’s new final resting place.

After the 1960s Maslow Window slammed shut, ebullience faded right on schedule as the long wave descended during the 1970s, 80s and into the 90s as “futurism gave way to materialism.” About the time of the Internet bubble burst (circa 2002) the famous Extropy Institute closed although scattered online discussions of transhumanism persisted.

During the early approach the 2015 Maslow Window, Alcor’s business was resurrected with over 800 ebullient members signing on to be frozen at death (and hopefully revived in the future), as the Silicon Valley became the “Galactic Center” for transhumanism, with several groups — e.g., Foresight Nanotech Institute, The Singularity Institute, the Immortality Institute — vying for prominence.

Today’s transhumanists see “the body as a machine, and the brain as a computer.” In a stunning display of ebullient techno-optimism, they believe that a Moore’s Law for medical technology will enable us to “fix, improve, and upgrade ourselves… (and) change the world.” And according to the popularizer of the most popular transhumanist concept — The Singularity — Ray Kurzweil explains that it is “a future period when the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.”

The Transhumanists’ impressive early ebullience today virtually guarantees that the 2015 Maslow Window is right around the corner!

But even Kurzweil admits that The Singularity could ruin our entire afternoon if, for example, rogue nano-machines were to “disassemble everything on Earth…(or a) Cyborg army might decide to wipe out the human race.” And even Theil, a major transhumanist benefactor admits, “There’s always this big question about how much of this is too bizarre to be affiliated with.”

Others are more direct. For example, Johns Hopkins political scientist Francis Fukuyama labeled transhumanism “The world’s most dangerous idea…(because) the first victim of transhumanism might be equality.” Fearing a “new, high-tech eugenics,” Richard Haynes of the Oakland-based Center for Genetics and Society asks, “At what point do we start thinking of each other as humans and subhumans…Or humans and transhumans? And some wonder if there isn’t something sad about the incessant focus on avoidance of death in a Universe where “Life is a mystery and death is part of life.” It’s reminiscent of the first stage in Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ well-known “Five Stages of Grief“: denial.

However, all this may soon be beside the point. Indeed near 2015, when the next Maslow Window is expected to open, these issues will recede from our purview, because if the last 200 years are any guide, between about 2015 and 2025 we’ll be … simply … ebullient.

And for a brief few moments, like the transhumanists of today and the Maslow Window residents of the last 200 years, we’ll believe that almost anything is possible.

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Sep 07 2009

Private Funding for the Settlement of Mars Has Begun

Some folks hope to jumpstart human expansion into the cosmos by privately funding bases on other worlds. One serious approach is by Dr. Charles Polk who recently founded The Martian Trust (J. British Interplanetary Soc., Vol. 62, No. 5, pp. 187-197, May, 2009) with the sole intent of financing a self-sustaining outpost on Mars.

The Martian Trust, a new INGO founded by Charles Polk, bills itself as “The Virtual Society Building A Real World.” Click marsoutpost3.jpg.

Polk has a PhD in economics from Caltech and is a former aerospace engineer who worked on Space Shuttle main engines. Frustration with the funding processes of public space programs led to his interest in economics. According to Polk,

The Martian Trust introduces a key principle to space exploration: An endeavor is best accomplished when it is conducted directly between people who can and want to buy it and people who can and want to sell it. I believe that there are tens of millions of people who will want to imagine, design, and finance, a Mars outpost through the processes of The Martian Trust. These people, these millions of patrons, with a hugh trust fund under their direction, will command the interest of industries capable of selling them a Mars outpost.

In case you’re new to this blog, The Martian Trust is a superb example of what we call “early ebullience.” Early because Polk’s visionary concept precedes the 2015 Maslow Window — the next major pulse of ebullient human expansion into the cosmos — by about 6 years, and ebullience because it marvelously symbolises the fundamental force — energized and focused human curiosity — driving near-term space colonization. Inspirational endeavors like The Martian Trust are exactly what we would expect to see as we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, an ebullient 1960s-style decade with a Camelot-like zeitgeist.

Currently, space-themed media including movies, TV programs, novels, and games, reach hundreds of millions of consumers but have no direct connection — neither the consumers nor the creators — with a real space program. Polk intends to change this. His international non-governmental organization (INGO), will focus on the Mars outpost goal, “The precise meaning of this goal and how to attain it are left to those who hold stakes in the INGO. Stakes are allotted based on the revenue supplied to a trust fund, which may come from two sources: donations and media businesses.” Polk is basically adopting and expanding the media revenue model of The National Geographic Society.

Even if The Martian Trust cannot ultimately generate the tens of billions of USD needed for an initial Martian outpost, it still might play an important role by financing one or more key systems (e.g., habitation modules) in a much larger international, governmental Mars initiative. This is what Otto Steinbronn and I were envisioning in the INTELSAT-style organization that we called InterMoon (or InterMars, depending on the destination); see P. 291, Figure 3 in “Interspace…”; Space Policy, Nov., 1992.

In winter of 2008, Dr. Polk formed a non-profit corporation in Washington state to initiate the development of The Martian Trust and validate its business model. The Trust’s motto is “The Virtual Society building a Real World.” To avoid any suspicions that The Martian Trust was formed to promote any particular aerospace industry or any specific country’s economic aspirations, Polk chose to base the INGO in New Zealand. Formal establishment of The Martian Trust in New Zealand awaits the concurrence of “high net-worth space exploration and science fiction enthusiasts” who will form the INGO’s cornerstone of patrons.

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Jul 05 2009

Buzz Aldrin — A Man For All Maslow Windows!

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 buzz.jpg.

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.

Instant Martians

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.
Near-Term Issues

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!

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May 25 2009

Kurzweil's Singularity and the Human Future in Space

The New York Times (5/24/09, J. Markoff) highlights the fun idea that developments in artificial intelligence may someday produce a Skynet-like system (as in Terminator Salvation); i.e., “a military R&D project that gained self-awareness and concluded that humans were an irritant…”

Technologist Ray Kurzweil believes The Singularity is near. Click kurzweil.jpg.

This idea dates back to the ebullient Apollo Maslow Window in a 1961 short story by Arthur C. Clarke. First called “The Singularity” in 1993 by Vernor Vinge, it referred to a future time when humans would be overwhelmed by the acceleration of technological progress. Extrapolating from Moore’s Law, AI pioneer Ray Kurzweil predicted in 2005 that technological progress would accelerate to the point when machines had “not only surpassed human intelligence but took over the process of technological invention, with unpredictable consequences.”

And he said it would occur in 2045.

This is one reason I don’t forecast beyond 2030! But all kidding aside, it’s relevant to the favorite question of many of my friends: Besides WW III or a planet-sterilizing comet impact, what would it take to throw off the long wave of the last 200+ years and invalidate the 2015 Maslow Window concept?

My usual response is that it would apparently require something worse than the Civil War, WW I, WW II, the Cold War, the Great Victorian Depression of 1873, The Great Depression of the 1930s, and numerous financial panics and major recessions (including the current one) of the last 200 years. Because amazingly, the long wave didn’t blink during any of those. However, having computers take over the process of technological invention — and probably eventually everything else — would certainly be something new!

Kurzweil, currently 61, envisions uploading the contents of a human’s brain into a computing environment — providing a type of immortality — within his lifetime. At the 2006 World Future Society meeting in Toronto where I happened to catch him, Kurzweil also suggested creating a Manhattan-style project to develop this capability. He had an enormous crowd and we all caught the symbolism when his computer malfunctioned during the presentation and nobody could fix it. Nevertheless, Kurzweil’s a genuine celebrity in the technology and futures communities.

But not everyone is buying the show. For example, William Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, believes bad news is more likely than a Kurzweilian utopia with ultra-computers attending to our every need, “I wasn’t saying we would be supplanted by something, I think a catastrophe is more likely.”

And expanding on the fact that Moore’s Law is not a law of physics, merely an industrial pattern, physicist and management consultant Theodore Modis asserts that Kurzweil’s approach is not really scientific. “Kurzweil and the singularitarians are indulging in some sort of para-science, which differs from real science in matters of methodology and rigor. They tend to overlook rigorous scientific practices such as focusing on natural laws, giving precise definitions, verifying the data meticulously, and estimating the uncertainties.”

Modis questions Kurzweil’s key forecasts, including whether The Singularity will ever occur, because Kurzweil’s exponentials are actually “S” curves. For example, regarding supercomputing power, “assuming that the exponential trend will continue until 2045 (which I personally doubt) we find that computer power will reach 6×10**23 Flops (floating-point operations per second) at ‘singularity time’. But … until computer power reaches a final ceiling, there must be further growth of less than two orders of magnitude. This translates to an ultimate computer power of less than 10**25 Flops, which is in flagrant contradiction with Kurzweil’s forecast of 10**50 and beyond!”

Modis is passionate about his anti-Singularity beliefs. Although I first read about the 56 year energy cycle in his 1992 book and have been in contact with him since my 1996 Space Policy article, he more recently gently complained about Figure 1 in Cordell (2006), because it could be misinterpreted to support The Singularity.

Neither Modis nor I actually finished Kurzweil’s book. Modis admits that “Around Page 150 I got fed up and stopped … as science fiction goes, even realistic one like Kurzweil’s, I prefer more literary prose with plot, romance, and less of this science.”

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Apr 10 2009

Space Daily, Gila Bend, and the Next Space Age

Space Daily recently (4/7/09) published an intriguing editorial on the next Space Age that was inspired by the recent 25th National Space Symposium of the same theme. It’s hard to resist focusing on a few key Space Age-related issues here, because this weblog was founded to provide a long-range perspective on the human future in space.

I’m more than suitably inspired for this task having just checked in to none other than the Space Age Lodge in Gila Bend — basically across the street from the Barry Goldwater Air Force Range in the southwest desert of Arizona — as I spend a few days visiting friends and space sites in AZ and NM.

The Space Age Lodge in Gila Bend is a genuine icon of the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window that tantalizingly points to the next Space Age. Click spaceage.jpg.

More than just a fun, out-of-the-way place sporting pictures of the Shuttle in every room and the Space Age Restaurant, the Space Age Lodge is a genuine 1960s icon. The Lodge was initially built in 1964 — at the apex of the Apollo Maslow Window — by Al Stovall, who not only had his own copper mine and his own plastic factory, he was also a major supplier of manganese to the U.S. military during WW II. After Sputnik in 1957, Mr. Stovall became very interested in NASA and eventually displayed his large collection of personally autographed photos of nearly every astronaut of the 1960s. After getting my masters from UCLA, I stumbled onto this place enroute to starting a PhD program at the University of Arizona under Gerard Kuiper. When I saw all the autographed astronaut photos on the lobby walls I thought I’d been out in the sun too long!

Unfortunately you can’t see them anymore. When Al passed away in 1973 (apparently shortly after my visit) his autographed photos were returned to family. But the spirit of Al Stovall and the First Space Age are still captured here by the current owners.

Space Daily recognizes the close connection of technology, finance, and the first Space Age. “It seems that such historic periods (the first Space Age) end as a result of two converging events: the “new” technology of the time reaches a mature, established, stable state; and new, societal-changing technologies become widely adapted…(As) the space industry was showing its age…The public seemed to lose interest, government enthusiasm seemed to wane and the industry began consolidating.”

Macroeconomic patterns and historical trends of the last 200 years show that the 1960s Space Age was similar to earlier major pulses of Great non-space Explorations and Macro-Engineering Projects that have clustered together every 55 to 60 years. This can be seen in 200 Years and is described in Cordell (2006) and throughout this weblog. These spectacular decade-long “Maslow Windows” are fundamentally driven by major, twice-per-century economic booms, when widespread affluence-induced ebullience thrusts many in society to elevated states in Maslow’s heirarchy. For a few fleeting moments, the unprecedented exploration and technology projects seem irresistible, in the style of Keynesian “animal spirits.”

Space Daily expresses concern about our current financial crisis and recession and asks the question, “Will there be another Space Age?”

They seem unaware that — over the last 200 years — financial panics and major recessions are a common feature of the decade just preceeding every Maslow Window except one (the post-WWII Apollo Maslow Window). Space Daily concludes that “only after the new global economy has matured and stabilized will a new ‘Integrated Space Age’ be realized.”

They’re correct. And every indicator suggests this process will culminate with the opening of the next Maslow Window near 2015.

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Mar 31 2009

World Future Society Forecasts for the Next Maslow Window

The World Future Society recently published technology forecasts for 2010 through 2030 (The Futurist, March-April, 2009). Since this interval is essentially the expected 2015 Maslow Window — where exceptional affluence-induced ebullience thrusts many to elevated levels in Maslow’s heirarchy, making major technology and exploration initiatives seem momentarily very attractive — it’s of interest to examine their projections.

Will Virgin Galactic send the first paying customer into suborbital space (70 miles) on/before 31 Dec 2010? The prediction market Intrade says 25% yes, while Cetron’s panel says 2012 is more like it. Click spaceshipone.jpg.

The first article, by well-known futurist Marvin Cetron (Forecasting International Ltd.), describes a timeline first developed by British Telecommunications in 1991. Cetron has updated this effort using 6 consultants, including Dennis Bushnell of NASA, William Halal of George Washington University, and just to make it more mysterious, a Department of Defense technology expert “who chose to remain anonymous.” I heard Professor Halal’s well-attended technology talk at the World Future Society’s annual conference a couple of years ago in Toronto, and was impressed. He authors the second article and describes the TechCast Project as essentially a continuous, online Delphi poll of 100 high-tech executives, scientists, engineers etc. who are provided with data and analyses and then supply their best judgment about most likely timeframe for 70 technologies.

Cetron’s timeline is divided into 5-year intervals, a dozen disciplines (artificial intelligence through wearable and personal technology) and includes a few “Wild Cards.”

The first interval — 2010 to 2014 — is the run-up to the 2015 Maslow Window, and thus is likely to be a very stimulating time. The expected level of unusual excitement is suggested by events of about one long wave ago (i.e., in the late 1950s); e.g., Sputnik, the International Geophysical Year, and the formation of NASA. Cetron’s timeline lists the first suborbital space tours — a fairly safe prediction — for 2012. The Wild Card is “Zero point energy engineered/commercialized; all other energy sources become obsolete.” Because it isn’t clear that such uses are theoretically possible, this is a fun Wild Card. Halal’s timeline also shows space tourism in the same timeframe along with “climate control.” It’s very unlikely that a full-blown Angel-style albedo geoengineering scenario could materialize that early (by 2015), so it must refer to something smaller.

Cetron’s forecasts for 2015-2019 include a artificial heart, quantum computer (Halal lists it near 2023), and 25% of TV celebrities that are syntheticI thought they already were? :) The Space category lists “Space tugs take satellites into high orbits (2015).” By analogy with the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window, this is likely to be a time of system and technology development (e.g., like Mercury and Gemini programs), including zero-g medical countermeasures at ISS, for upcoming space missions. This may include pioneering space missions such as the first human interplanetary mission to a near-Earth asteroid — a potential stepping-stone to Mars.

The 2015 Maslow Window should be at its peak between 2020 and 2025+ however Cetron’s timeline lists nothing space-y between 2020 and 2024, but for 2025-2029 he suggests a 350 guest space hotel (2025). Wild Cards include a bio/nano experiment that goes haywire on a regional or global scale, and something that hints at the discovery of extraterrestrials: “Discovery of artifacts that force reconsidering significant aspects of common understanding of human history.”

All Cetron’s big space stuff is at or beyond 2040, including a Moonbase “the size of a small village”, and the first manned Mars mission. Based on the last 200 years, this timing is highly unlikely because the next Maslow Window should open near 2015 and remain open only until the mid-2020s, unless its prematurely closed Apollo/Vietnam-style by a major military conflict expected sometime during the 2020s. Unless we establish a permanent beachhead in space at the Moon or beyond by 2025, it’s likely that post-2025 space adventures will be like those since 1973 — no human missions beyond Earth Orbit — because the next Maslow Window opens near 2071. Halal shows a significant Moon base near 2029, which is more consistent with macroeconomic and historical trends of the last 200 years.

One final point: Cetron explains that adoption of a technology depends on it being “technically feasible, economically feasible, and both socially and politically acceptable.” He then uses the space program as an example and unfortunately propagates a common misconception. “The space-related events…assume that putting human beings into space will remain a priority, but that is not guaranteed…(because) future administrations might downgrade human spaceflight…In that case, the events on our timeline…and the dates will need significant adjustment.”

In fact, patterns in long-term trends in the economy, technology, and society — over the last 200 years — indicate that Great Explorations (like Apollo) and MEPs (e.g., Panama Canal) are fundamentally driven by long waves in the economy. For example, during the 1960s Maslow Window, President Kennedy was easily able to initiate the Apollo program that culminated in humans on the Moon, but collapsed rapidly (and predictably) after 1969. On the other hand, the best efforts of President Reagan couldn’t make the space station materialize in the decade after he proposed it — a decade almost the economic opposite of the great boom of the 1960s, that included the Crash of 1987 (Black Monday).

The rule of the last 200 years appears to be: Great leaders help, but the economy rules.
Which suggests “the new 1960s” should begin in only 5 – 7 years.

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