Dramatic change has swept the space world since January 2010, when “State of the Wave — 10 Space Trends for 2010” first appeared.
Nevertheless, current directions in space and related areas are well within the envelope of those idenified last year for the decade from 2010 to 2020. But 2011 will be a “Year of Transition.”
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches a new era in space from Cape Canaveral on December 8.
Here are 10 space trends for 2011:
10. 2011 is a Key “Year of Transition” as We Accelerate Toward the New Space Age.
Major events of 2010 will ripple though the next 12 months and beyond. These include the Shuttle retirement in 2011, a political realignment that began with Obama and continued in 2010, the beginning of upward momentum in the economy, and major shifts in the international space world.
This is what we should expect as we approach another 1960s-style transformative decade — the 2015 Maslow Window.
In 2011 — based on macroeconomic data and global trends over the last 200+ years — we’ll accelerate our transition from a multi-decade period of low international self-organization toward an ebullient, fractal “critical state” in the world economic system where almost anything is possible.
Previous Maslow Windows have featured quantum leaps in human exploration (e.g., Lewis and Clark) and technology and management (e.g., Apollo Moon program; the Panama Canal); and they are usually terminated by a major war (e.g., World War I).
This year we can expect the stage to be set for the return to prosperity, continuing political realignments, major educational reform, simmering geopolitical conflicts, and a new vision of the future for NASA and the international space community.
9. The Cancellation of Constellation Puts the Focus on Commercial Space
Last February Obama took heat for planning the cancellation of Constellation, including dumping the Moon and postponing until 2015 a decision on a new heavy lift launch vehicle for deep space manned missions.
Retirement of the Shuttle this year required NASA to buy several trips to the International Space Station — for ~$ 60 million per shot — on the Russian Soyuz between 2013 and 2014. The last of 3 remaining Shuttle missions is STS-135 planned for June or later. Contrary to Obama’s plan, the NASA Authorization Act requires the agency to begin work on the heavy lift launcher in 2011.
By far the most innovative element of Obama’s plan was to let private companies eventually assume responsibility for moving cargo and astronauts to and from ISS. However last March, A. Thomas Young — and virtually all the 1960s NASA family — insisted that Obama’s plan created “a risk too high.”
Despite these concerns, SpaceX’s successful launch, orbit insertion and maneuvers, atmospheric entry, and recovery of the Dragon cargo carrier on December 8 demonstrate that commercial taxi service to ISS may eventually be in the cards.
8. The Economy Shows the Way Space Really Works
Over the last 200+ years, each ebullient cluster of great explorations (e.g., Lewis and Clark) and macro engineering projects (MEPs: e.g., the Panama Canal) was triggered by a major economic boom like the 1960s Kennedy Boom; and another is expected by 2015.
Why hasn’t anyone been back to the Moon in 40 years?
Indeed the lack of a Kennedy-style boom explains why no one has been to the Moon in 40 years. See: “State of the Wave: Why No One’s Been to the Moon in 40 years — How Soon We’ll Go Again.”
Our current economic trajectory continues to look more like the 1893 to 1913 Panama Maslow Window (featuring the Panic of 1893) rather than the 1949 to 1969 Apollo Maslow Window (with no financial panic) — although both the Peary and Apollo Maslow Windows were exceptionally ebullient and eventful.
The New York Times (1/2/11) gets it:
The question for 2011 is whether growth will ever translate into broad prosperity … Yet growth is not expected to be strong enough to make a real dent in unemployment.
According to 55 economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal (12/13/10), the probablity of a double-dip recession in 2011 has dropped to 15%, due to extension of the Bush tax cuts. However, growth for 2011 is only 3% and unemployment drops to 9% by December with job growth of only 100,000 per month.
Three years after the Panic of 1893 — about where we are now in January, 2011 relative to the Panic of 2008 — the second contraction of the 1890s Great double-dip Recession occurred. This may mean we’re either luckier or smarter than folks one century ago.
Or it may mean we’re not out of the woods yet. For example, Vernon Smith, the
2002 economics Nobel winner, and Steven Gjerstad’s empirical study (WSJ, 9/10/10) of all 14 postwar recessions and the Great Depression shows that…
the economy doesn’t recover until housing recovers.
And home prices are deflating; Case-Shiller home prices declined 1.3% month-over-month in October, and all 20 cities showed a sequential decline.
Given this and other unsettling economic news, it’s interesting that CBO director Douglas Elmendorf estimates that unemployment will not fall to around 5 percent until 2014, while Bernanke suggests (1/7/11) that “it could still take four to five years for unemployment to drop to … around 6 percent.” These government projections suggest that growth toward a 2015 boom — the historical trigger of the next Space Age — is realistic.
It’s important to realize that no Maslow Window of the last 200+ years has ever been delayed or significantly diminished in any observable way by a finncial panic or great recession in the decade prior to the Maslow Window.
7. The Wave Election of 2010 Supports Maslow Window Forecasts
When the Republicans won the House in November, it: 1) stalled Obama’s domestic agenda, and called into question his political future, and 2) showed our political trajectory — like our economic trajectory — has major parallels with the Cleveland/T. Roosevelt period (1893-1913), which resulted in one of the most ebullient decades in U.S. history.
Immediately after the November wave election, veteran election forecaster Larry Sabato (University of Virginia) rather surprisingly called the 2012 election against Obama.
There’s only one logical conclusion to be drawn: President Barack Obama is down for the count, will have an early lame duck presidency, and will be out of the White House in two years.
The political parallels between the elections of 1894 and 2010 are remarkable; see “Historic, Wave Election Supports 21stCenturyWaves.com Forecasts.” And indeed the polls show that voters were focused on smaller government, lower taxes, and bringing the national debt under control.
Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, recently underlined the challenge,
Debt is the most significant threat to national security.
In their recent study of 21 countries with major deficits over 37 years, three economists (Wall Street Journal, 12/29/10) concluded that,
the typical successful fiscal consolidation consisted, on average, of 85% spending cuts … (and) tax increases play little role in successful efforts to balance budgets …
These sound like economic directions the Republicans are poised to exploit during 2011. However, Obama is very recently perceived by the public as moving toward the center. Given the fact that Gallup reports that only 19% of Americans like the direction of the country, it’s likely that whoever can move the U.S. in the direction of prosperity — and, like the 1890s, trigger the next major boom — will win.
6. Potential Conflicts in Iran and North Korea Threaten Peace, Prosperity, and the new Space Age
Long-term indicators and current global trends suggest that we are within 5 years of perhaps the most transformative decade of the 21st century — when almost anything can happen. Typically at these times over the last 200+ years, conflicts, or even wars, can ignite or appear potentially devastating (e.g., the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962); see “Near-Term Wars Threaten the New Space Age”.
Unfortunately current tensions in Iran and North Korea are perfect examples, not to mention 97,000 Americans still in Afghanistan.
The Los Angeles Times (D. McManus; 1/16/11) reports that Israel is convinced that Iran is “at least 4 years away from deploying a nuclear weapon, maybe more.” Recent intelligence signals “a dimished prospect for a military strike in the near term, whether by Israel or the U.S.,” (Wall Street Journal, 1/8/11)
The Wall Street Journal recently asked if Afghanistan will become a “forgotten war” like Korea, which ended in 1953 — about 6 years prior to the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window. The Korea conflict has recently threatened to reignite but has been dialed back apparently by China’s influence.
Contrary to several analysts last year, I recently concluded that it is unlikely — for strategic, political, and historical reasons — that Obama will attack Iran. And, although we should be mindful of avoiding another “disastrous 2007 Natonal Intelligence Estimate on Tehran’s weapons program,” as well as “Why we’re always fooled by North Korea,” current trends and historical patterns over the last 200+ years suggest that these potential flashpoints will not expand into wars during 2011 or even within the next decade.
It’s important to keep in mind that no Maslow Window of the last 200+ years has ever been delayed or significantly diminished in any observable way by a war or conflict just prior to or early in the Maslow Window.
5. ETs Surge toward Center Stage
When times are good, people like to have fun. And, over the last 100+ years, one way they’ve done it is to enjoy and encourage scientific speculations about life in space and distant Earthlike worlds.
See: Kepler, Carl Sagan, and the Guzman Prize: Our Century-Long Search for Space Aliens
A radio beam from the Kelvans (Kelinda and Rojan) in the Andromeda Galaxy could theoretically have been detected by Project Cyclops (circa 1971).
© 1968 Paramount Pictures
For example, in 1894 (one year after the Panic of 1893) Percival Lowell founded his observatory in Arizona to study Mars. Years later Lowell became convinced that the canals were a macro engineering project built by intelligent Martians to irrigate the Red Planet. His public loved it and in 1907 — during the spectacular Peary/Panama/T. Roosevelt Maslow Window — the Wall Street Journal actually announced “…the proof by astronomical observations…that conscious, intelligent life exists upon the planet Mars.”
Unfortunately, by 1938 (during the Great Depression) the formerly peaceful, canal-building Martians had become dangerous invaders of Earth according to Orson Welles and his crowd. A similar transition in our vision of ETs was seen during the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window with Frank Drake’s ebullient SETI searches for radio signals from high-tech civilizations, followed by the ultra-ebullient ~ $ 10 B (nearly 1/2 the cost of Apollo!!) Project Cyclops. It failed to gain public support during the counter-ebullient 1970s.
As we ascend toward another crescendo in human achievement — the 2015 Maslow Window — something similar is happening again. UFOs are being seen in China and around the world, potentially habitable planets are being discovered around nearby stars, and even the Vatican and the Royal Society are openly planning to properly greet intelligent interstellar visitors. One of the most important NASA missions ever flown — the Kepler spacecraft — will accelerate this ebullient trend in 2011.
4. The U.S. is Headed for Another “Sputnik Moment” in Education
Fifty-three years ago the surprise Soviet launch of “one small ball” became the “shock of the century” and instantly transformed U.S. education.
It’s hard to imagine how distraught Americans were about Sputnik in 1957, but as I wrote 2 1/2 years ago in Math and Science Education Perspectives,
Only 10 days after Sputnik the New York Times identified U.S. education as the problem, because Soviet science students were better motivated and given more prestige. Scholastic Magazine chimed in by announcing a “classroom Cold War” with the Soviets. Indeed, within a few months a Gallup poll reported that 70% of respondents believed that U.S. high school students should become more educationally competitive with their Soviet counterparts!
It’s a key forecast of 21stCenturyWaves.com, that major elements of this Sputnik-related history are likely to repeat.
As we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, legitimate public concerns about the state of education will skyrocket because of anxiety over America’s ability to compete with the rest of the world in space and technology. And it’s already begun.
According to Chester Finn (WSJ, 12/8/10) of Stanford’s Hoover Institution, China has delivered
another wake-up call to those who think American schools are globally competitive … On math, reading, and science tests given to 15-year-olds in 65 countries last year, Shanghai’s teenagers topped every other jurisdiction in all three subjects.
And the U.S. was just muddling in the middle of the pack.
This is consistent with last year’s report (9/23/10) by the National Academy of Sciences.
The nation’s education system has shown little sign of improvement, particularly in math and science … 78 percent of U.S. high school graduates in 2008 did not meet readiness benchmark levels for one or more entry-level college courses in mathematics, science, reading, and English. And the World Economic Forum ranks the U.S. 48th in the quality of its math and science education.
Given their economic, demographic, and political challenges, it’s good that China is rising educationally. It’ll motivate the U.S. and others to consider real education reform, expecially in math and science, in 2011 and beyond. Plus China has become essential — as both a collaborator and competitor — to human expansion into the cosmos; see “10 Reasons Why China is Good for Space“
3. BRICs+ Demonstrate International Momentum toward the New Space Age
BRICs and other space powers continue their surge into the cosmos.
In one of the most impressive firsts since the original Space Age, Japan confirmed last June that its amazing, 7-year Hayabusa probe mission actually returned samples from asteroid Itokawa. Although Japan’s ambitious Venus probe Akatsuki failed to achieve orbit last month, JAXA has plans to try again in 5 years when it swings by Venus.
The amazing asteroid Itokawa has twice the porosity of a handful of sand.
In 2009 former Harvard professor Richard Pipes wrote that, “Russia is obsessed with being recognized as a ‘Great Power’…” This is partly due to their victory over Germany in World War II and “the success in sending the first human in space.”
So Russia — like the rest of the world — sees being a great space power as a key part of being an important global power. And they see the approaching new Space Age as an important time to demonstrate again their impressive capabilities in several areas, including manned space (e.g., transportation to ISS), new infrastructure (e.g., the new Vostochny Cosmodrome), and future planning (e.g., asteroid deflection missions).
This has never been clearer than last month (Aviation Week, 12/30/10) when a Russian Proton rocket carrying three Glonass navigation satellites failed, resulting in 2 executives being fired by Russian President Medvedev, including the deputy head of Roscosmos; Anatoly Perminov, head of the Russian space agency, received an official reprimand.
China has become a major global player in the worlds of defense and space, and is prominently featured throughout this report. For example, in 2010 China had more successful space launches — 15 — than ever before. And for the first time, it matched the annual launch rate of the United States.
One of China’s launches last October was the Chang’e 2 Moon probe which was successfully inserted into lunar orbit from where it will map the lunar surface. It’s China’s second successful lunar mission in three years.
Last year China dropped hints that its long-term space plans include sophisticated Earth orbital operations including a heavy lift launch vehicle and assembly of a 30 ton space station. These are currently targeted for the early 2020s timeframe — i.e., quite late in the 2015 Maslow Window.
2. President Obama is Creating the New Space Age
Whatever the new Space Age will become, President Obama is creating it now. Although at this point, he may have substantially delegated the direction of NASA planning to John Holdren (science czar) and Charles Bolden (NASA Administrator), Obama continues to create the new Space Age by his policies and actions especially in the economic and technology arenas.
See: “How President Obama is Creating the New Space Age.”
Obama has wisely directed the U.S. away from a race to the Moon by 2020 — a competition the U.S. already won over 40 years ago. However, his most important, long-term contribution to space may be his stimulation of the commercial launch sector by offering them the job of Earth-to-LEO taxi service.
But even more important is the issue of prosperity. About twice per century we enter an ebullient pulse of major economic growth — a “critical state” — known as a Maslow Window. In addition to enabling great explorations and MEPs, the widespread ebullience has transformative effects across society, as in the 1960s. But the 1960s were only the most recent example.
History shows that as we approach a Maslow Window (such as the one expected in 2015), the leader who can best manifest prosperity and model ebullience wins. In the early 1800s it was Jefferson, in the mid-1840s it was James Polk (of all people), in the early 20th century it was Theodore Roosevelt, and in the 1960s John F. Kennedy. It appears that long-term economic circumstances do more to determine our leaders than the reverse.
The Wall Street Journal (1/22/11) predicts Obama will “push new spending,” while the Los Angeles Times (1/23/11) headlines Obama’s “shift to the center…for 2012.” These appear contradictory, and the question remains: Can Obama produce the 1960s-stye prosperity required for wide-spread ebullience that will trigger the transformative 2015 Maslow Window and the new international Space Age?
1. A New Vision of the Human Future in Space?
NASA seems frustrated.
While liberated by Obama from a new Moon race they won over 40 years ago, NASA currently has no real vision for the future. This makes it difficult to synthesize new strategic goals, space infrastructures, and rockets that will be meaningful and attract public support.
This uncertain mode is reminiscent of where we were 20+ years ago when NASA was internally debating the Moon and Mars.
Homer Hickam reflects many in the U.S. and elsewhere when he asked recently, “How About A Moon Base?” (Wall Street Journal, 12/14/10). The Moon has the traditional virtues of closeness and resource-richness, and it has been envisioned as a potential transportation center. It might also be able to support space-based solar power satellites that could make clean, cheap electricity abundant anywhere on Earth.
I looked again recently at the Moon option, and — despite its huge potential as a future commercial and tourist center, plus a scientific bonanza — I find myself agreeing with the 1984 comment of the great, former NASA Administrator Tom Paine that
The Moon will never motivate the American prople again.
He meant that the Moon will be important, but it will never drive human exploration again.
See: “Is the Moon a “Golden Oldie” or a “One Hit Wonder”?”
That leaves Mars.
And NASA has been thinking about Mars a lot lately; just check out their marvelous, 1000-page volume on Colonizing the Red Planet, edited by Joel S. Levine. One particularly interesting option is the one-way human Mars mission advocated by Paul Davies and Dirk Schulze-Makuch. It speeds up the timeline and is cheaper.
Russian and Chinese interest in Mars continues to grow. For example, Lev Zelyony’s (Russian Space Research Institute) intriguing comments in 2008 included,
We lost the race to the Moon. But we have something of a head start in this race as we have the most experience in long-duration, manned spaceflight.
It’s possible that their joint Phobos-Grunt mission could blossom into a Russia-China Mars colonization initiative.
Two key indicators to watch in 2011 are plans for an international Moon base and a successful Russian/Chinese Phobos-Grunt mission. They’re important because they point in different directions.