Jan 07 2011

NASA Comments on Phobos and “Space Sustainability”

This interesting Comment by Dave Huntsman of NASA is in reference to my Space News (9/6/10) commentary on “Phobos, Key to the Cosmos? Just Ask Russia, China”.

Dave Huntsman has 35 years with NASA, including 10 years as a Senior Executive, and is with the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA HQ in Washington, D.C.

Dave Huntsman
2011/01/07 at 7:00 pm

Bruce, just re-read your article as I’m being forced to clean out my office and am re-reading Space News’ before throwing them out. Good writeup.

Within the agency we have a small but active group who tries to come up with non-standard ways of doing missions in a way that adds to space sustainability; to that end we’ve formed an Emerging Commercial Space Team with a couple of working groups, including a Beyond LEO/Lunar/NEO working group. I mention this in passing since your past work studying Phobos/NEO (I put them in the same category)-related propellant resource issues is something we tend to be interested in as well. We try to look at things with an eye towards making things economically sustainable, so that we can continue to go into space – to stay. In that, I agree that Phobos et al is much more on any type of critical path towards space sustainability than the surface of Mars is (not that going to Mars has never been far from my mind, either).

My Reply follows:
Hi Dave,
Thanks for your comment.

Coincidentally, today I had lunch in Orange County with Fred Singer who led our Phobos/Deimos Workshop at the Case for Mars III Conference in 1987.

When I joined General Dynamics in the 1980s, I got very excited about the Mars system in terms of its potential for economic sustainability. My initial idea was to retrieve water from Phobos/Deimos to the Earth-Moon system for use in NASA and/or DoD Earth orbit missions, or even on the Moon (before we knew it had some water). Even that ambitious scenario looked good, and we were funded by the GD Corporation (in addition to the San Diego Space Division).

I think the success or failure of the Phobos-Grunt mission will be a near-term fork in the road for human spacelight beyond LEO. If Russia and China can pull it off, I think they will consider sending humans to Phobos as a key step in Mars colonization. Although Buzz Aldrin — a big Phobos fan — told me last summer that he’s not as convinced as I am about this, I think it’s likely Russia and China might be tempted to join with NASA (and others) in this great exploration after 2015.

Best regards,

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Nov 17 2010

Over the Moondust and Through the Rille is NOT the Way to Phobos

I highly recommend Buzz Aldrin’s recent, compelling book Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon (2009). After describing their monumental Moon landing in 1969, Buzz highlights the challenges (depression, alcohol) he faced upon return to Earth, and how he overcame them. Of particular interest is his re-emergence as a major force in NASA space planning in recent times.

Buzz Aldrin’s United Space Vision features Phobos as the key to Mars system colonization by 2025.
(by C. Wm. House)

The “best scientific mind in space”
That’s what Life magazine once called Buzz, and he proved it again in the 1980s when he re-emerged as one of America’s foremost space visionaries. He initially focused on developing his concept for “cyclers” that travel in repetitive, trolley-like orbits between the Earth and Moon.

In 1982 Buzz attended meetings at the California Space Institute in La Jolla (then led by UCSD chemist Jim Arnold) as well as at General Dynamics in San Diego. Although I joined GD a couple of years later, I assume Buzz’s initial GD adventures involved Ed Bock, who had led a pivotal, 1979 study for NASA on lunar resources for construction in space.

Can Your Lunar Cycler Go to Mars?
A couple of years later Buzz visited legendary, former NASA Administrator Tom Paine in Santa Monica, who counseled him that the Moon …

… will never motivate the American people again. We need something bigger, something beyond the Moon.”

That was of course Mars. And by June, 1985 the Aldrin Mars Cycler was born.

I met Buzz about this time during one of his Friday trips from SAIC down to GD in San Diego. He’d chat with us about how to use cyclers to get to Mars. The stimulating morning meetings were usually followed by even more stimulating lunches at a local Kearny Mesa restaurant.

In July, 1987 the Case for Mars III Conference in Boulder featured Buzz, Tom Paine (the conference general chair), Cornell’s Carl Sagan, and over 400 other scientists and engineers who explored the intriguing potential of going to Mars “together” with the Soviets. CFM III was my second Case for Mars conference and I was involved in the Phobos/Deimos Workshop (chaired by Fred Singer).

We Need a “comprehensive vision, a master plan” for Space
By the 1990s Buzz began advocating an “integrated”, “evolutionary” plan for the human exploration and settlement of space. Although his powerful 2009 book does not mention Phobos, the larger moon of Mars, his current website features a human outpost on Phobos and the use of Mars cyclers as the centerpiece of his long-term strategy for the exploration and colonization of Mars.

Recently I had the pleasure of lunch with Buzz in Westwood, not far from UCLA where I had been a graduate student. He explained his current plans for a “think tank” on space futures as well as his new Phobos/Mars initiative.

The Smart, Safe Road to Mars Goes Through Phobos
Buzz’ exciting “United Space Vision” (USV) is a “comprehensive step-by-step plan for America’s future in space, for mankind’s permanent footprint on Mars.” It features establishment of a manned outpost on Phobos as the key step toward early Mars colonization for many of the same reasons I identified in my recent Space News commentary.

According to Buzz,

To reach Mars, we should use comets, asteroids and Mars’s moon Phobos as intermediate destinations … For these long-duration missions, we need an entirely new spacecraft that I call the Exploration Module, or XM … the XM would contain the radiation shields, artificial gravity and food-production and recycling facilities necessary for a spaceflight of up to three years. Once launched, it would remain in space. The XM would carry attached landers designed for Phobos or Mars and an Orion capsule for astronauts returning to Earth.

Although the Moon is deemphasized in his plan, Buzz envisions missions to comet Wirtanen in 2018, to asteroid Apophis in 2021, and to comet Hartley 3 in 2023 — all prior to the first manned mission to Phobos in 2025. Because the 2015 Maslow Window is likely to close by 2025 or before, I suggested to Buzz that it would be prudent to accelerate the schedule. For example, postponing one (or both) of the comet missions would enhance Mars program viability. On the other hand, Apophis would provide some practice for the very low-g, manned operations that would be required near Phobos.

Are Maslow Windows Fatal?
Although the momumental first manned lunar landing was still 3 years in the future, by 1966 — because of Vietnam — the Apollo Moon program’s days were already numbered. Is it possible to survive closure of a Maslow Window?

This will require: 1) recognition of the Maslow Window challenge, 2) a manned outpost in deep space (i.e., beyond Earth orbit), and 3) program continuity as far beyond 2025 as possible.

One of the important strengths of Buzz’ USV is that it possesses all these attributes, including impressive program milestones culminating in humans actually on the Mars surface itself by 2035. This is the type of bold program that can survive the historically likely crash — in the early-to-mid- 2020s — of the 2015 Maslow Window.

With apologies to Lydia Maria Child (see post title above) — Happy Thanksgiving!

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Apr 19 2010

Obama’s New Space Policy and the Spirit of Apollo

The response to Obama’s new space policy from the Apollo program folks and the Texas Congressional delegation has been quite negative; e.g., from Neil Armstrong (Apollo 11), James Lovell (Apollo 13), and Eugene Cernan (Apollo 17), Obama’s decision to “cancel the Constellation program, its Ares 1 and Ares V rockets, and the Orion spacecraft, is devastating.”

On the other hand, Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11) and the space commercialization industry were more positive; e.g., Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and SpaceX, suggested it was realistic:

I think what this new policy recognizes is that NASA isn’t going to get some huge increase in its budget, as occurred in the Apollo era. So if we are to make great progress and sort of make the next giant leaps for mankind, then it has to be done in an affordable manner, and the only way to do that is by harnessing the power of free enterprise, as we use in all other modes of transport.

Can President Obama take us to Mars? Click .

And it’s possible they’re both right, but on different timescales. For example, at least in the short term, before an American replacement for the Shuttle is created, it may be “devastating” in a variety of ways, but in the longer term — when private launchers can safely deliver U.S. astronauts to the ISS and beyond — it may be financially and strategically profitable.

But rather than speculate further by focusing mainly on short-term thinking, Obama’s new space policy is an excellent opportunity to use the unique approach of 21stCenturyWaves.com, to see how the next 10-15 years could fit into the economic, technology, and geopolitical context of the last 200 years of great explorations and macro-engineering projects.

To illuminate Obama’s policy let’s ask a few questions.

I. Did Obama make an Apollo-style promise last week like that of John F. Kennedy in May, 1961?
JFK indicated that the U.S. would send a man to the Moon and return him safely “before this decade is out.”
According to U.S. News & World Report (1969), although initial cost estimates for Apollo were as high as $ 40 B — about twice the eventual cost — “Congress raised hardly any questions … (despite) disturbing domestic problems … Initial funds were appropriated swiftly to send Project Apollo on its way.”

Although President Obama has recommended that we go to Mars someday, in his policy speech he made no specific program recommendation or rationale, gave no firm timeline, and has not asked for a budget that could support a Mars initiative.

So Obama did not make a Kennedy-like commitment. But part of the reason is that Obama does not live in the economic and political world that JFK inhabited. Kennedy took office in 1961 as the greatest economic boom in history was gaining momentum, while Obama was elected during the Panic of 2008 and has governed during a “great recession.” The history of major exploration and technology programs over the last 200 years — since Lewis and Clark — shows clearly that Apollo-type projects do not flourish except during ebullient economic booms. Plus, Obama’s job approval rating (Gallup.com) fell from its high of 69 on 1/22/09 to 45 on 4/11/10, while JFK enjoyed his highest approval rating (83, on 3/8/62) while beginning his 2nd year; JFK’s lowest was 56 (9/12/63). Therefore, although Obama has a large majority in Congress, he does not currently possess the approval across the U.S. nor the political capital that JFK did.

II. Was the Constellation Moon Program canceled by Obama due to weak program goals?
Paul Spudis, an experienced planetary scientist and an astute leader of the return-to-the-Moon forces, remarked recently (4/16/10) that,

… one startling part of the speech was that we are abandoning the Moon as a goal …

But stop for a moment to consider exactly what President Obama said. Lunar return critics give many reasons to NOT go to the Moon: they think that it’s scientifically uninteresting, it doesn’t contain what we need, it will turn into a money sink (preventing voyages to many other destinations in space – perhaps number one on their list), that there are more pressing needs here on Earth, and I’m sure others that I haven’t yet heard. But this new space policy rationale is unique and carries with it different and significant implications for our nation’s exploration of space.

We have now added a new requirement for U.S. space missions – we must go to a place never before visited by humans.

According to Spudis, the real reason for returning to the Moon by 2020 was to begin the colonization of space by using lunar and other resources. In Spudis’ words, “the Vision for Space Exploration was strategic direction outlining a sustainable lunar return, whereby we would bootstrap our way ‘beyond’ by learning how to use the resources of the Moon and other bodies.”

Although it could have been just personalities or party politics, I began to suspect that the Moon wasn’t in our future when Mike Griffin wasn’t invited back. This was consistent with my initial impression that Obama would need to focus on repairing the economy and protecting national security, rather than charting grand visions in space. There was initially the well-advertised hope by Obama et al. that the $ 800+ B Stimulus Package would rapidly pave the way back to prosperity, and maybe that was the reason Obama didn’t favor the Moon … yet. But a year later, some of his major supporters in the economics community including Robert Shiller, “Don’t bet the farm on the housing recovery” (NY Times, 4/11/10), and Robert Reich, “The jobs picture still looks bleak” (WSJ, 4/12/10), are publicly hinting that problems will linger for a long time — as is the Federal Reserve (NY Times, 3/16/10) who left its benchmark interest rate near zero, and indicated it would likely stay there for “an extended period.”

So the real reason Constellation and the Moon were canceled by Obama is probably because he perceives no reason to continue it. In counter-ebullient times like now, the American public doesn’t have a burning desire to colonize the Moon or to pay for it. And Obama’s lack of success — so far — in creating a V-shaped, job-filled recovery indicates this situation will continue for “an extended period.”

However, Obama may be unaware that all ebullient economic booms (i.e., Maslow Windows) over the last 200+ years — except the post-WW II 1960s boom — were immediately preceded by a financial panic/great recession pair. And in fact, the Panic of 2008 signaled that we were within about 6 years of the new international Space Age.

III. Which is most important to Obama: Humans to Mars, prosperity, or the Superstar Effect?
Boris Spassky, a chess grandmaster, once said of playing Bobby Fischer — perhaps the greatest chess superstar of all time — that “When you play Bobby, it is not a question of whether you win or lose. It is a question of whether you survive.” Against Fischer even grandmasters often experienced “Fischer-fear” including “flu-like symptoms, migranes, and spiking blood pressure,” (WSJ, J. Lehrer, 4/3/10). The negative aspects of the Superstar Effect are observed in many competitive endeavors, including golf with Tiger Woods, among new associates at law firms, and probably even internationally with the United States space program.

Removing NASA from the launch business, as Obama proposes, will force the U.S. to have more respect for its space partners, and dislodge it, at least temporarily, from its long-held position as the world’s Space Superstar. For many reasons, I’ve long been in favor of promoting major international participation in human settlement of the solar system. And in 1992, with Otto Steinbronn of General Dynamics, proposed “Interspace,” an ESA-style global space organization that would feature equality among its key members (e.g., Europe, Russia, U.S., Japan, China). Movement in this direction would be a positive outcome of a temporary reduction of the Space Superstar Effect.

Obama apparently moved the manned exploration of Mars into the mid-2030s not because of the need to develop advanced propulsion systems (they are not essential, and could be developed sooner), but because there is no public demand for Mars now. And yet the Red Planet remains the next profoundly alluring space goal for humankind. Although leaving much to be desired as a comprehensive space strategy, Obama’s Mars policy is an astute psychological move consistent with the last 200+ years of great human explorations. The sequence of great explorations since Lewis and Clark has been guided by 2 criteria: 1) physical accessibility, and 2) mysterious newness; the sequence is: American Northwest (Lewis & Clark), Equatorial Africa (Dr. Livingstone), N and S poles (Peary and Amundsen), and the Moon (Apollo). In each case, physical accessibility became increasingly challenging (especially with the Moon!), and each target was enticingly new. Although we haven’t really begun to explore, develop, or colonize the Moon yet, Obama’s advisors may have sensed that humans to Mars definitely resonates with the American psyche. As Spudis emphasizes above, the Moon seems “been there, done that” to Obama, while Mars is NEW.

However, there is a problem with Obama’s suggestion of manned Mars in the mid-2030s. Great human explorations and MEPs — including space exploration — do not work like that. The extraordinary ebullience required for these projects is usually only momentary because of economic and military events. An unfortunate example was cancellation of the last 3 Apollo Moon missions due to Vietnam in the late 1960s.

Indeed, the lesson of the last 200 years is that the new Space Age is likely to begin near 2015 and extend through 2025, but not into the 2030s. Our best hope would be a robust, international Mars plan specifically focused on circumventing unfavorable long wave influences through the 2020s. The history of the International Space Station offers some hope in this regard.

And finally: Prosperity. Without it, no one will want to go to Mars (although they could). Over the last 200 years, the spectacular, rhythmic, twice-per-century Maslow Windows — including the 1960s — are always times of exceptional prosperity and widespread affluence. Regardless of financial realities, it’s the feeling of ebullience (what Keynes called “animal spirits”) that fundamentally drives public acceptance of great explorations and MEPs.

The real political question for Obama is: Can he put America back on the road to prosperity — the hallmark of all Maslow Windows — before he loses more political support? International economic and geopolitical forces will converge in the next 3 – 5 years and demand success. Although Obama’s political fate is still largely in his own hands, the economic and political parallels with the 1890s are intriguing.

For more perspective, please see: How President Obama is Creating the New Space Age.

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Aug 07 2009

State of the Wave — Public Support For Space is Robust

Recent opinion polls suggest the American public’s support for the space program is remarkably resilient, especially considering the current global recession.

Gallup shows that public support for space has increased since 1979. Click gallup1.doc.

Just prior to Apollo 11’s 40th anniversary (July 10-12) Gallup found that 58% of respondents believe “the space program has brought enough benefits to justify its costs,” while only 28% did not. This number has increased since the late 1970s when, 10 years after the first Moon landing, only 41% agreed with Gallup’s statement; it was 47% in 1994 and increased to 55% in 1999.

This positive progression is what we’d expect as we approach the excitement of the 2015 Maslow Window, but it is especially impressive given that we’re apparently at the bottom of the worst global contraction since the Great Depression.

Dan Cano, a consultant and former political appointee in NASA, recently summarized the attitudes of many toward space costs (Space News 8/3/09),

While I fully appreciate that the international space station is a technological marvel and necessary steppingstone to learn how to live and work in space for longer trips to Mars than the Moon, it is not necessary and sufficient by itself. We need to be going somewhere. And when I hear that our nation cannot afford such journeys, I have to ask: Why can our government afford so many other things? Look at how little is spent in space exploration today compared to 40 years ago, and compare that investment and what the achievement meant to our nation and the world, even 40 years later.

Gallup also found that the fading memories of some Baby Boomers are not quite as fired up as the imaginations of those too young to have witnessed the Moon landing themselves. While 63% of those 18-49 think the space program’s costs are justified, only 53% of those 50 and over concur. Here we are beginning to see the support of 80 million Millennials (born 1980 to 1995) — who love technology and progress — for space.

Gallup’s July summary is revealing.

Americans remain broadly supportive of space exploration and government funding of it. In fact, Americans are somewhat more likely to believe the benefits of the space program justify its costs at the 40th anniversary of the moon landing than they were at the 10th, 25th, and 30th anniversaries.

Although support for keeping NASA funding at its present level or increasing it is lower now than it has been in the past, the fact that 6 in 10 Americans hold this view in the midst of a recession suggests the public is firmly committed to the space program.

This is particularly interesting in light of the Rasmussen 7/21/09 poll about a U.S. manned mission to Mars, in response to a proposal by Buzz Aldrin, where only 51% opposed it. It’s likely as we approach the 2015 Maslow Window and our current economic dstress subsides, that support for manned Mars will soar.

Today I received a comment from Chris in North Carolina that is characteristic of those somewhat unsure about our space program. I appreciate his sending it and wanted to share his comment and my response.

From Chris in North Carolina:

I think, if we can come through the problems we have now (like our over-reliance on fossil fuels), then we’ll have a chance of making meaningful progress in space sometime in the next century or so. It definitely won’t be 2020.

There’s only one thing we can say “definitely” about the future: It definitely cannot be predicted with certainty!

That’s why I use a technique based on 200+ years of global economic, technology, and political trends. When you see patterns popping up repeatedly over 2+ centuries you have to be impressed. The media and most commentators have us so saturated with ultra-short term thinking that it’s hard for most to identify with a long-term perspective — that’s one reason 21stCenturyWaves.com was created.

But I think you’ve got it a little backwards, we aren’t waiting to solve all our problems on Earth before we go into space; that’s like waiting until we get well before we go to the doctor!

In reality, we’re going into space to help solve our problems on Earth !! A very important point. Energy is a perfect example of how this will work.

It’s 2009. By 2025 — within 16 years or so of right now, based on the Maslow Windows on the past 200 years — we should have international bases on the Moon, solar power satellites near Earth, and maybe the first folks on Mars. But asserting this is like time-traveling back to 1953 and walking up to someone and saying, “Do you realize that in 16 years or so the first men will land on the Moon?” But of course it happened! And it’s getting ready to happen again for the same economic and psychological reasons it did before.

That’s why this website exists: To show how how these brief, but magnificent Maslow Windows originate and how they enable unprecedented exploration and technology programs that transform the world. And that it’s starting again, right now. Even our current global recession is a typical part of this picture; please check my archived posts on this topic.

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Jul 20 2009

Tom Wolfe's "Giant Leap to Nowhere"

Today Tom Wolfe (New York Times, 7/19/09) added his name to the growing list of commentators who are frustrated and puzzled by the Apollo Moon program’s abrupt end almost 40 years ago, and even more so by the fact that no human has traveled beyond Earth orbit since 1972!

Tom Wolfe asks today if we’ve lost the “right stuff.” Click mercury7.jpg.

1972 was a LONG time ago. If you’re over 40 years old, think about where you were then and what you were doing. (Those under 40 are excused from this exercise.)

Most of my reply to Wolfe’s op-ed has already been published at “The Secret of Why Apollo Was a ‘Giant Step, Full Stop’” so I won’t repeat it here. But because Wolfe did write The Right Stuff (1979), the celebrated story of the Mercury 7 astronauts (made into a movie in 1983), his take is interesting.

Although it was a small step for Neil and a giant leap for mankind, the first Moon landing was “a real knee in the groin for NASA,” according to Wolfe.

The American space program, the greatest, grandest, most Promethean — O.K. if I use “godlike”? — quest in the history of the world died in infancy … the moment the foot of Apollo 11’s Commander Armstrong touched the surface of the Moon.

How did this uber downer happen?

Maybe because he’s a writer, Wolfe thinks “the answer is obvious. NASA had neglected to recruit a corps of philosophers.” By the mid-1970s the only philosopher who could explain the real importance of Apollo was the developer of the Saturn V, Wernher von Braun, who was dying of cancer. But according to Wolfe, Von Braun’s “heavy German accent” and former WW II nazi connections limited his use.

In fact, based on the last 200 years of Great Explorations and MEPs, the moral of the story appears to be: “Great leaders help, but the economy rules“. It is very unlikely Von Braun himself or even an army of Von Brauns could have changed the course of 1970s macroeconomic history or the related decay of Apollo ebullience that began as early as 1966. As they have for every Maslow Window of the last 200 years, these fundamental factors initially enabled and eventually terminated the Apollo program and have kept humanity trapped in Earth orbit since 1972.

Wolfe alludes to the short-lived effect of ebullience without using the term, “Everybody, including Congress, was caught up in the adrenal rush of it all. But then, on the morning after” they began to wonder about it’s real meaning. This effect is graphically portrayed in the riveting 1960s political history, The Liberal Hour.

According to Wolfe, the answer is Mars. “For 40 years, everybody at NASA has known that the only logical next step is a manned Mars mission…” However, current plans — the U.S. returning to the Moon by 2020 — ignore historical trends of the last 200 years which point to closure of our next Maslow Window by 2025 or before, leaving little time for Mars. Unless we change the plan, such as Buzz Aldrin has proposed lately, our next shot at Mars may be delayed until 2070.

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Jul 17 2009

The Secret of Why Apollo Was a "Giant Step, Full Stop"

It’s understandable that there’s concern now about why Apollo didn’t continue. Indeed, 40 years ago humans first landed on the Moon. But after five more reps, it — i.e., human spaceflight beyond Earth orbit — was all over. What happened?

According to Miles O’Brien, “We did something truly great, but then walked away from it.” Click ap11.jpg.

Thomas Mallon, in his New York Times (7/12/09) review of two new books on Apollo, displays a frustrated reaction to the lack of post-Apollo action. For example, “Walter Cronkite’s prediction, that after Apollo 11 ‘everything else that has happened in our time is going to be an asterisk,’ wound up playing out backward…Apollo is the footnote, an oddball offshot…”

Miles O’Brien (Space News, 1/22/09) agrees, “Truth is, we have done nothing to equal (much less top) the accomplishments of Apollo. And even worse, we haven’t tried. We did someting truly great, but then walked away from it.”

Mallon suggests maybe too much science was the problem. “With less geology and more ontology, they might have kept the public fired up for further space exploration.” And Commander of the first Apollo mission to circle the Moon (Apollo 8), Frank Borman, concurs, “Whether we found a rock there or not was of no importance.” Neither Mallon nor Borman are scientists so they are forgiven, but isn’t the origin of the Moon and early history of Earth one exciting reason for Apollo? Is it that easy, too much science did it to Apollo?

O’Brien rejects everyone’s favorite excuse for not going to Mars! For those who want to spend the money on Earth fixing our problems here first, he has some advice, “If you don’t want to mention the cost of the wars, if you would rather not get into Wall Street or Detroit bailouts, or if you don’t want to tell them the money we spend on the space program is about the same as our annual expenditure on coffee — why not mention India?…Calcutta can afford it — and Cleveland can’t?” He’s absolutely right…it’s clearly not about our ability to pay.

O’Brien laments that, “I have heard people say the accomplishments of Apollo cannot be replicated — that the historical dominoes lined up perfectly for all the events to fall into place with such precision and success…’It won’t happen again,’ they say wistfully,” (italics mine).

In the early 1990s I began wondering about exploration. Not just space, but all human exploration, particularly the type that fired up the planet’s population. Surprisingly, these “Great Explorations” — like Lewis & Clark and the early 20th century polar expeditions — are not random or flukes. Over the last 200+ years, they are typically separated by 55 to 60 years (see 200 Years; Cordell, 1996). The same is true of spectacular macro-engineering projects (MEPs) like the Panama Canal and the Apollo space infrastructure.

The “dominoes” do seem to be lined up somehow, and if you extrapolate forward from Apollo 11, it’s easy to calculate that the next pulse of Great Explorations/MEPs should culminate near 2025. But why the pattern?

Marveling about Apollo during the 1960s, O’Brien concludes that, “Those were audacious times — hard to imagine it all happening today…” (italics mine). In his pursuit of The Secret, O’Brien is starting to get warm…

About this time I stumbled across one of the more obscure, but fascinating books you’ve never heard of by economist Hugh Stewart (1989), Recollecting the Future: A View of Business, Technology, and Innovation in the next 30 Years, in which he describes the well-documented 56 year energy cycle and how it relates to society. Stewart’s energy cycle is correlated with long business cycles like the Kondratieff Wave discovered in the 1920s; e.g., peaks in the energy cycle are preceded by major economic booms.

By this time, I’d begun to think of 56 years — the typical time between Great Exploration/MEP pulses — as a magic number, and when I realized that 1969 — the year the Apollo program culminated — was an energy peak, I suspected the pulses might be fundamentally driven by long waves in the economy (see Cordell, 2006).

So what do O’Brien’s “audacious times” have to do with The Secret of why Apollo died? The greatest economic boom of its time produced a generally ebullient feeling in society, known as Camelot; if you can’t remember the 1960s, you’ve never experienced this. Momentarily liberated from typical money issues, many individuals responded to their ebullience by ascending Maslow’s hierarchy where their expanded worldviews made Great Explorations seem not only intriguing, but almost irresistible. “Ebullience” and “audacious times” are similar to the “animal spirits” that drive business cycles according to economist John Maynard Keynes of the 1930s.

In actuality, these “Maslow Windows” do not collapse directly because of an economic downturn; they are terminated by the decay of ebullience. This supports O’Brien’s previous point about our being able to afford space almost anytime we want to. In this model, it’s not lack of money that precludes us from going to Mars right now, it’s our lack of ebullience — over the last 200 years, exclusively the hallmark of a Maslow Window.

History of the last 200+ years also shows that financial panics and major recessions (like the current one) are a typical feature of the decade just before the opening of a Maslow Window. An interesting analog for now is the Panic of 1893 and 1890s major recession that were closely followed by one of the most ebullient decades in U.S. history: the Peary/Panama Maslow Window (1903-1913).

Mallon marvels that “the speed with which the Apollo program was realized is unimaginable to anyone young enough only to have seen the manned space program shuttle only through its later elephantine circles.” President Kennedy had to complete the Apollo program “before this decade is out” because the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window started closing by 1966. This will also be a challenge for the unprecedented Great Explorations and MEPs that will materialize between 2015 and 2025 — our next Maslow Window.

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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!

3 responses so far

May 18 2009

10 Lessons the Panama Canal Teaches Us About the Human Future in Space

The monumental Panama Canal was — prior to Apollo — the greatest Macro-Engineering Project (MEP) of the last 200 years. The Canal brought people together by splitting the continent, and in terms of cost, management, technology, and global significance, it has strong parallels with Apollo and the International Space Station (ISS), and offers us insight into our spectacular future.

The secrets of the Panama Canal reverberate through the last 100 years and — together with Apollo and the International Space Station — illuminate future Macro-Engineering Projects in space. Click panama.jpg.

Here are 10 Lessons the Panama Canal teaches us about the human future in space.

10. “The creation of a water passage across Panama was one of the supreme human achievements of all time,” according to ultra-historian David McCullough (1977), “…the culmination of a heroic dream of over four hundred years…It is a work of civilization.”

In Cordell (2006) I adopted the definition of an MEP from Eugene Ferguson (1916-2004), who was a well-known professor of engineering, a founding member and former president (1977-78) of the Society for the History of Technology, and a da Vinci Medalist (SHoT’s highest honor) in 1977. According to Ferguson, MEPs are: 1) at the state-of-the-art of technology for their time; 2) extremely expensive and usually large in size; and 3) sometimes practical in purpose, but often they are aimed at satisfying intangible needs of a spiritual or psychological nature and are highly inspiring.

This is a demanding definition that excludes many extraordinary projects like trans-continental railroads or large highway systems because, while expensive and significant, they do not stretch technology.

The Canal’s grandeur versus Apollo’s and ISS’ off-world technology, are tantalizingly suggestive of the unprecedented MEPs and great explorations that await us in the 2015 Maslow Window, as humanity’s expansion into the cosmos accelerates.

9. “The fifty miles between the oceans were among the hardest ever won by human effort and ingenuity,” (McCullough, 1977). The enormous sacrifice in human life — called a “great war” by President Theodore Roosevelt — was in excess of 27,000, including an estimated 22,000 during the French period (1881-1889) and 5,600 deaths during the American period between 1904-1914.

The threat of tropical diseases, land slides, railroad accidents, and premature dynamite explosions contributed to the extraordinary psychological stress for the workers. And while yellow fever crippled the French effort to build the Canal, the successful medical research of Drs. Carlos Finlay and Walter Reed aided the American project tremendously.

The modern and future world is indebted beyond words to the people who risked (and often lost) their lives working on the construction of the Panama Canal. They provide a profound inspiration to those currently engaged in the human expansion into the cosmos.

8. As of the early 20th century, the Panama Canal had the highest price tag of any construction project in U.S. history; indeed, it was the largest commitment ever of resources in peacetime for any nation. It cost the U.S. about $ 375 M — $ 8.3 B in 2008 dollars — over 10 years (i.e., the Peary/Panama Maslow Window). The Canal consumed only 0.10% of U.S. GDP during that time.

Although the Panama Canal was for transportation while Apollo was the first combined MEP and Great Exploration, and it was off-world, it’s still interesting to compare their costs. In today’s dollars Apollo cost close to $ 150 B, so Apollo was almost 20x as expensive as the Canal. However, a more meaningful comparison is as fraction of GDP. During the years of their programs, Apollo averaged about 0.25% of GDP compared to 0.10% for the Canal.

Comparison of Panama and Apollo suggest that MEPs during the 2015 Maslow Window will dwarf Apollo. For example,

A. INCREASING PUBLIC INTEREST IN MEPS: If this trend of an increase in GDP fraction allocated to MEPs continues (i.e., increase by 2-3x over Apollo), then coming MEPs would dwarf Apollo by corresponding factors. (This would imply that public support for MEPs in 2015+ would have increased over Apollo by as much as it did between Panama and Apollo.)

B. BOOMING ECONOMIC GROWTH: Given the projected growth based on the last 200 years of macroeconomic data — i.e., by 2025, increase of GDP by 7x over 1969; as of 2008, GNP has increased 3.1x over 1969 –, it is reasonable to expect MEPs in the 2015 Maslow Window to dwarf Apollo by corresponding factors. (PLEASE NOTE: As they have over the last 200+ years, rhythmic twice-per-century major economic booms trigger the Maslow Window ebullience effects on society, which fundamentally drive public support for MEPs and Great Explorations.)

Socio-economic insights from the Panama/Apollo MEP experiences and macroeconomic data from the last 200 years, suggest near-future MEPs
(e.g., including planetary bases, space solar power sats, interplanetary transportation systems) during the 2015 Maslow Window will significantly dwarf Apollo by factors of from 7x to 20x — i.e., in the $ 1 T to $ 3 T ballpark (current USD).

7. Both the Panama Canal and Apollo Moon program were fundamentally about designing, constructing, and using major transportation systems in hostile environments, and their management and technology challenges have impressive parallels and lessons for the future.

The Panama Canal’s design and technology challenges centered around the location and type of canal, and construction operations. No one had ever built an enormous structure in a tropical environment that included mysterious, lethal diseases (e.g., yellow fever) and other natural hazards (e.g., climate, snakes). This led to large loss of life and contributed to eventual failure during the French period (see 9 above). However, by November, 1905 yellow fever had been eradicated in the Canal Zone by the Americans.

In the early 1880s, the French under de Lesseps decided to construct a sea-level canal based on their successful experience at Suez — the technological jewel of the 19th century. Although the American chief engineer, John Stevens, initially agreed with the French, soon after his arrival in Panama he insisted on a system of locks (e.g., Parker, 2007).

McCullough (1977) speculates that if de Lesseps had changed his plan from sea-level to locks in 1886, the French might have succeeded — and this invites an intriguing parallel with Apollo. Although locks increased the Canal’s complexity and risk, they also reduced its cost and accelerated its schedule. This is similar to NASA’s decision to use rendezvous in lunar orbit to deliver astronauts to the Moon; this likewise increased (operational) complexity and risk, but obviated the need to develop an even bigger, more expensive launch vehicle than the Saturn V (i.e., Nova).

During the American period management challenges included supervising 34,000 construction workers and dealing with the continual threats to their lives (e.g., from accidents), as well as the unparalleled engineering, financial, political, and schedule issues of construction. The Panama Canal construction was motivated and begun by President T. Roosevelt, who made the first trip of any sitting U.S. President outside the U.S., a trip to the Canal. However, President William Howard Taft provided the most active, hands-on participation over the longest period (4 years as president) for the Canal, and President Woodrow Wilson officiated at its opening in 1914. Nevertheless, Theodore Roosevelt is considered “the real builder” of the Panama Canal.

The Apollo Program’s design and technology challenges centered around space transportation and operations, and crew systems. They included: 1) delivering Max Faget’s Mercury capsule to Earth orbit using modified ICBMs (e.g. Atlas for John Glenn in 1962) and returning it using heat shields, 2) testing Buzz Aldrin’s orbital rendezvous techniques in Earth orbit in preparation for John Houbolt’s Lunar Orbit Rendezvous mission mode, and 3) using Wernher von Braun’s monumental Saturn V launch vehicle to send astronauts and hardware to the Moon.

During Apollo, NASA hired 400,000 people from about 20,000 companies and universities. NASA management was subject to two major influences that did not exist for Panama leaders: 1) the urgency of an actual race to the Moon with another superpower, and 2) the immediacy of live television news broadcasts that emphasized the national prestige and symbolic elements of Apollo. The Apollo Moon program was announced by President Kennedy in 1961 and is most closely associated with him. However, Apollo developed substantially under President Johnson, and the lunar landings (1969-72) were accomplished during President Nixon’s administration.

Even being situated within the major economic boom of a Maslow Window and having great leadership is no substitute for the required technologies, systems, and engineering designs. This preparation for the 2015 Maslow Window is currently ongoing by ISS, private entrepreneurs, national laboratories, and elsewhere. It’s highly likely that the management challenges of the 2015 Maslow Window will include close interaction with international partners in all phases of future MEPs.

6. Like Apollo, the Panama Canal vastly elevated American national prestige and was a direct result of international politics and conflicts.

In 1897, the U.S. acquired Hawaii as a US territory, and later as a result of the Spanish-American War, Spain sold the Philippines to the U.S.. Since the Philippines had previously declared their independence from Spain, these events emphasized the growing need for both a Pacific naval presence as well as an Atlantic one for the U.S. (Rohatyn, 2009).

“Remember the Maine, to hell with Spain!”, an Alamo-like cry in response to the deaths of 266 US sailors while anchored in Havana Harbor, helped ignite the Spanish-American War. To replace the Maine, another battleship (USS Oregon) stationed on the Pacific coast rushed 14,700 miles around South America to Cuba — while Teddy Roosevelt, leader of the famous “Rough Riders”, vectored toward Cuban battle himself. Since the Oregon arrived at Cuba two months after war began, it didn’t require much abstract thinking for TR to recognize the Panama Canal’s potential strategic advantages.

Likewise, one long wave later, new President John F. Kennedy found himself embroiled in Cuban adventures early in the Apollo Maslow Window. The first was the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba (4/17/61), followed shortly by JFK’s inspirational May 17, 1961 speech announcing our goal to “land a man on the Moon, before this decade is out…” Even more threatening was the Cuban Missile Crisis of October, 1962 which almost triggered W.W. III. Both served to increase Soviet-U.S. tensions and intensify the competition and global political significance of the Space Race.

Many large, medium, and small space powers sense the international prestige associated with human space exploration of the Moon and planets, and intend to leverage the lessons of America’s history in this pursuit. New Maslow Windows have historically been times of increased international tensions and conflicts (e.g., the 1960s Cold War, the Spanish-American War), and it is likely such conflicts will arise again as we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, possibly in connection with space. For example, Cuba has been a focal point during the last two Maslow Windows, and Stratfor suggests it may be again.

5. “To a visitor from Mars it must have seemed that the Western world in 1914 was on the brink of Utopia,” according to historians J. Harrison and R. Sullivan (1966). This pre-WW I zeitgeist was responsible for the Panama Canal, the North and South Pole expeditions, the Titanic, the ascent of President Theodore Roosevelt, and the ebullience of “Panama Fever” and “Pole mania.”

Historical accounts suggest that Teddy “Speak softly but carry a big stick!” Roosevelt may well have been the most ebullient U.S. President in the history of the country, and that the Peary/Panama Maslow Window may have been the most ebullient period in U.S. history.

In addition to his Canal initiative, T.R. was a major supporter of Adm. Robert Peary’s ebullient expeditions to the North Pole. Indeed, Roosevelt has the distinction of being the first and only President to have played major roles in both the major MEP and Great Exploration of his Maslow Window; by the 1960s, the MEP and GE had become integrated into a single project: President Kennedy’s Apollo program.

TR became the 26th President of the U.S. in 1901 while still 42 — currently the youngest person, including John F. Kennedy, to hold the presidency — and left the office in 1909, about five years before the Panama Canal opened, yet he is still known as the one who built the Canal.

The story of TR and the Panama Canal show the power of the long wave in history and for the future. Like JFK, TR appeared at the perfect time — as his Maslow Window was opening — when his ebullient personality and great leadership qualities could most benefit the U.S. and the world. According to Roosevelt himself, what was crucial for the Canal was that “somebody (namely himself) was prepared to act with decision,” (Parker, 2007). However, the last 200 years teach us that, Great leaders help, but the economy rules!

4. The Great Victorian Depression began with the collapse of the Vienna Stock Market on May 9, 1873 (the Panic of 1873) and rapidly spread to America. Also known as “The Long Depression” it continued until the late 1890s, and is considered by some to be worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s. It is in this financial context that the French under de Lesseps began work on the Panama Canal in 1881. By 1889 de Lesseps called it quits, their effort a victim of disease, inadequate technology, poor canal design, and not surprisingly, lack of money.

In 1873 the New York Stock Market closed for 10 days attempting to achieve stability, while almost 1/4 of all railroads went belly-up, businesses failed, unemployment reached an estimated 14% (in 1876), and credit crashed.

The power of the long wave is demonstrated by the MEP-related experiences of Kennedy, Roosevelt, and De Lesseps. Kennedy and Roosevelt initiated their MEPs during major economic booms in the decades prior to their long wave peaks (their Maslow Windows) and were successful. De Lesseps initiated his during a descending portion of the long wave and failed. Since TR succeeded in his Panama Canal effort while de Lesseps failed in the same endeavor, is it possible that we are seeing the effects of markedly superior leadership rather than the power of the long wave? For example, could TR have successfully initiated the Canal in 1935? Or could JFK have launched Apollo in 1985 and been successful? In fact, history illuminated this question in the 1980s (see next point).

3. The Panama Canal and the International Space Station are intriguing examples of MEPs that began at unfavorable times during the long wave and were soon discontinued, only to re-emerge later and achieve success. The goal here is to achieve insight into the relative importance of long wave timing versus great leadership, and any other factors that may be important.

For example, President Ronald Reagan first proposed Space Station Freedom in 1984 with an estimated cost of $ 8 B. As congressional support for SSF dwindled, the end of the Cold War led to SSF being included in the International Space Station plan in 1993 with an estimated cost of $ 17.4 B. ISS orbital assembly started in 1998 and will be completed in 2010 for an estimated $ 100 B, including development, assembly, and operations.

Although both the Canal and ISS went through 8-9 year initial phases that did not achieve success, both later re-emerged under “new management” and were successful. Let’s consider the long wave timing of the “initial” phases of the Canal and ISS.

The initial Panama Canal phase was run by de Lesseps and began (in 1881) 22 years before the opening of the Peary/Panama Maslow Window in 1903, and only 4 years before the LW trough in 1885. Likewise, the initial ISS Phase was proposed by President Reagan and began (in 1984) 31 years before the 2015 Maslow Window, a full 13 years before the LW trough in 1997.

Based on long wave considerations, it’s hard to say which project should have suffered most — de Lesseps’ Canal from the Victorian Depression or Reagan’s Station from economic weakness indicated by the Crash of 1987 — but both projects should have been DOA. And they were.

But a historically interesting question was also answered. Not even President Reagan — usually considered to be at least comparable in leadership and charisma to JFK and even TR — could make his MEP materialize in the decade after he proposed it, during a downward portion of the long wave. This suggests that any leadership and/or strategic deficiencies de Lesseps may have exhibited were not the deciding factor in his lack of success — because Reagan’s Station experience suggests that the long wave trumps great leadership.

The “final” phases of both projects are also interesting, because both were successful. I have already noted that, due to perfect long wave timing and his great leadership, TR’s Canal project should have been — and was — a success. However, the ISS final phase began under President Bill Clinton (in 1993) 22 years before the 2015 Maslow Window and 4 years before the long wave trough — the identical long wave circumstances of de Lesseps’ initial Canal project; the one that failed! (Is this a coincidence??)

With identical long wave circumstances, why did de Lesseps’ Canal project fail and the Clinton/Bush II Station succeed?

Globalization? The broad, robust international cooperation flavor of ISS is consistent with the post-WW II, and especially post-Cold War, trends toward increased globalization in technology and science. The space station has picked up momentum ever since it became international.

Although it has not yet had the global psychological impact of either Apollo or the Canal, ISS is regarded by its participants as an “international marvel.” And well it should be: It’s second only to Apollo as the most expensive human project in modern history, it was made by 16 countries (almost “everybody” but China), there are 1 million pounds of hardware in orbit, and over 100 elements and modules were assembled in space.

In short, ISS is both an extraordinary engineering and foreign policy accomplishment that is historically comparable to both the Saturn V and the Panama Canal.

And yet despite its success, ISS is anomalous because it hasn’t yet generated “Panama Fever” or Apollo-style ebullience! ISS has apparently been able to temporarily survive low public ebullience, by surfing on the accelerating wave of “globalization.”

As we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, it’s very likely that public appreciation and excitement about ISS will greatly increase.

2. In some ways, the Canal was the ultimate MEP of the last 200 years. Like the Apollo program (see point 6), it was an engineering marvel that required the coordination of huge numbers of people. In terms of ROI, the economic benefits of the Canal for seafaring commerce and strategic uses have been very significant over the last two long waves.

However, to increase the Canal’s capacity and deal with future competition — which now includes the Suez Canal — the Third Set of Locks Project was approved by Panamanians in a 2006 vote by an ebullient majority of 76.8%.

This Panama Canal expansion project will cost $ 5.25 B — about 75% of the original Canal cost — and will receive $ 2.5 B in international funding. Construction will generate thousands of jobs for Panamanians and should be complete by 2014, just in time for the 2015 Maslow Window. Major risks to the plan include finances and whether the traffic model of the business plan is realistic.

Panama recently elected a new president who’s committed to the Canal Expansion Project and continuing economic growth during the world recession. U.S.-educated, conservative Ricardo Martinelli — owner of Panama’s largest supermarket chain — was elected in a landslide with 61% of the vote. President-elect Martinelli’s landslide election is new evidence that “early ebullience” in Panama is continuing to accelerate as we approach the 2015 Maslow Window.

1. The Panama Canal is an immensely important MEP of the early 20th Century Maslow Window that — by itself and in comparison to Apollo and the International Space Station — continues to inform us of the relative importance of the long wave, great leadership, and globalization to the probable success of potential MEPs and Great Explorations during the next 20 years.

The Lessons include:

A. If an MEP starts during a Maslow Window (with wide-spread ebullience) and features a great leader, it will succeed. Examples include the Panama Canal with Teddy Roosevelt, and Apollo with John F. Kennedy.

B. If an MEP starts during the down going portion of the long wave (during a time of counter-ebullience), even with a great leader, it will probably fail. Examples include de Lesseps Panama Canal project, and Reagan’s Space Station.

A reasonable rule of thumb is: “Great leaders help, but the economy rules.”

However, If the conditions of Point B exist, but globalization is a significant factor, the program may survive and eventually even prosper as it approaches the next Maslow Window. The only example is ISS starting in 1993 under President Clinton.

By our definition, ISS is not yet officially an MEP because, although it is recognized by its participants as an “international marvel,” opinion polls indicate the U.S. public has embraced ISS only minimally.

This gives us empirically-based hope that — despite the evidence of the last 200 years — post-Maslow downturns in the long wave will not inevitably terminate spectacular Maslow Windows. And more specifically, that globalization has a significant role to play in mitigating counter-ebullient portions of the long wave for future multi-decade or multi-century space initiatives.

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Aug 13 2008

Russian Invasion and the Shuttle 5-Yr Gap

Until a few days ago the plan was to hitchhike a ride on a Russian Soyuz after the Shuttle is retired in 2010 and before its replacement is ready in 2015, when American astronauts need access to the International Space Station (ISS) .

Now we’re not so sure.

According to U.S. Senator Bill Nelson from Florida, who spent 6 days in 1986 orbiting the Earth in the Shuttle Columbia (STS- 61C), “There will be consequences not just for Russia but for the U.S. too. That’s a $ 100 billion investment up there that we won’t have access to.”

The problem is a 2000 law that prohibits U.S. purchases of Russian technology — including Soyuz spacecraft — as long as Russia is exporting nuclear technology to Iran. The planned Congressional waiver would have enabled NASA to use the Soyuz to transport astronauts to the space station after 2010.

Now, the word from Washington is the waiver is DOA and there’s no back-up plan for ISS. This turn of events is particularly interesting considering Buzz Aldrin’s and other’s recent comments about the lack of plans for a commercial vehicle to reach ISS and opinion polls that revealed a relative lack of public concern.

Unfortunately, an increase in tensions potentially with Russia and/or other nations is expected based on the last 200 years of international conflicts. Despite our desire to avoid it, some see a return already to a Cold War mentality; for example, Russia’s recent attack of Georgia has similarities to the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary. That was rapidly followed by the surprise launch of Sputnik which triggered the first race to space.

Hopefully this time we can avoid most of the violence and engage cooperatively in our global 21st Century thrust into space, as we approach the spectacular 2015 Maslow Window.

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Jul 09 2008

U.S. Losing "Dominance" in Space?

The Washington Post reports this morning (Marc Kaufman, 7/9/08) in a front page article that the U.S. has a plethora of competitors in space and that it’s losing global “dominance” in this arena. Joseph Fuller, Jr., president of Futron Corporation, concludes that, “Systemic and competitive forces threaten U.S. space leadership.”

Many countries have access to space themselves, choose their own astronauts, run their own robotic planetary programs, and some even have plans for bases on the Moon — the new status symbol of growing space powers.

According to the Post, this growing global competence in space is exacerbated by the 2003 Columbia disaster and the widespread perception that NASA is underfunded relative to its goals. Plus the real killer is the 5-year Shuttle gap when the U.S. won’t be able to launch its own astronauts to the space station; however, polls show that the potential seriousness of this has not yet reached the American people, although Buzz Aldrin has publicly drawn attention to it recently.

As an American space enthusiast, it gives me no pleasure to report such information, but frankly, it’s following closely the pattern of Great Explorations and MEPs over the last 200 years, and is especially reminiscent of the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window.

One very possible forecast that has appeared on this site is an international replay of the 1957 Sputnik shock, because America’s complacency and errors are making the U.S. vulnerable to growing space programs around the world. Based on the timing of the 1950s, the next international race to space might be triggered near 2013, but the way things are evolving, it might come even sooner.

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