Apr 11 2011

JFK, “The Kennedys” and the Next Space President

Just finished watching the last episode of The Kennedys on REELZ Channel. It’s an 8-part miniseries that focuses mainly on political and military events related to John F. Kennedy’s presidency, and JFK’s and Robert’s relationships with their father and families.

President John F. Kennedy (right, in 1963 at Cape Canaveral, FL) is the ebullient model for a 21st century “space president” — in 2012 or 2016 — who will lead the U.S. and the world into the large-scale utilization and colonization of space.
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I liked the miniseries.

Although it had little directly to do with space — e.g., there is a fleeting image of an Atlas missile lifting off during the credits (!) — the historical insights provided into related events (e.g., Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis) and the Kennedy’s personal challenges are compelling, although not particularly revealing if you know their family history.

The authors of “Camelot” — the fondly remembered zeitgeist of the 1960s — the Kennedy’s have been called America’s “Royal Family” as well as the “Beatles of the political arena”. And although JFK’s presidency lasted only 1000 days, his legacy has influenced generations.

Here at 21stCenturyWaves.com we’re huge admirers of JFK for his visionary leadership of the Apollo program during the 1960s Space Age. In the context of human exploration, JFK is truly the mid-20th century equivalent of Thomas Jefferson (for Lewis and Clark), and in terms of technology, he’s nothing less than the Theodore Roosevelt (for the Panama Canal) of his generation.

But the question is: Who will be the new JFK — the 21st century “Space President” who will lead global expansion into the cosmos? Long wave timing suggests this individual will be elected either in 2012 or 2016 so he or she should be visible now.

In late 2008, because of her close family association with JFK and his legacy, contributing editor Carol Lane and I suggested Caroline Kennedy might be perfect. Her political timing would have worked too, but she decided not to run for Hillary’s Senate seat.

Earlier in 2008, managing editor Rachel Nishimura and I speculated that — due to his charisma and youth — Barack Obama might be the next JFK-style Space President. But because of the economy and Obama’s space policy, that seems increasingly unlikely — although it still is possible.

Over the last 200+ years, one thing becomes clear,

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.

History shows that someone who strongly “models ebullience” and “manifests prosperity” will soon emerge on the political scene. For example, take Donald Trump; his business success and financial resources are reminiscent of JFK’s father (e.g., both are billionaires in 2011 dollars), and Trump’s charisma and media presence are obvious.

However unlike JFK in 1960, Trump has no political or military experience. Whether or not Trump can achieve political support for 2012, it’s likely that someone with his ebullient characteristics will lead the U.S. and the world into the next Space Age.

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Oct 24 2010

State of the Wave: Obama on Space — The New Eisenhower or JFK?

In his extremely widely-read blog, Stanford’s Daniel Pipes, head of the Middle East Forum, scoffs at NASA Administrator Bolden’s recent assertion that NASA is pursuing “a new beginning of the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world.”

First, it is inordinately patronizing for Americans to make Muslims “feel good” about their medieval contributions to science. This will lead to more resentment than gratitude.
Second, Muslims at present do lag in the sciences and the way to fix this is not condescension from NASA but some deep Muslim introspection …
Third, polls indicate that Obama’s effort to win Muslim public opinion has been a failure, with his popularity in majority-Muslim countries hardly better than George W. Bush’s …
Finally, it’s a perversion of American scientific investment to distort a space agency into a feel-good tool of soft diplomacy

After the firestorm following Bolden’s interview, the White House backed away from his initial claim that improving relations with Muslim countries is NASA’s “foremost responsibility.”

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Which space pioneer president best characterizes Obama’s space vision?
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However, you still have to wonder how there can be so much — even momentary — uncertainty in high places about the fundamental purpose or vision of NASA. But it does provide an opportunity, after 2 years of President Obama, to compare how U.S. presidents have viewed NASA’s role in the world, and what it might mean for our future in space.

Sputnik: One Small Ball vs. Technological Imperialism
Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969) was Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe, including the D-Day invasion during World War II, a 5-star General of the Army, and was in his second term as U.S. president in 1957 when the Soviets changed the world by unexpectedly launching Sputnik.

Despite his extraordinary national security credentials and successful presidency, Eisenhower took considerable heat for Sputnik, “the shock of the century.” In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, …The Heavens and the Earth (1985) Walter McDougall explains that Eisenhower publicly downplayed Sputnik’s “extraordinary symbolism” by calling it merely “one small ball” in orbit. But others saw it as world-altering, including Life magazine which coined the Cold War phrase “technological imperialism,”

The public response to Sputnik was “earsplitting” and unequalled since Pearl Harbor. And because Sputnik apparently confirmed the existence of a Soviet ICBM, Lyndon B. Johnson and his Senate colleagues explored Sputnik’s fearful implications in public hearings. In Sputnik — The Shock of the Century (2001) Paul Dickson describes the American collective mood in 1957 as “deep anxiety, often bordering on hysteria.”

Despite the fact that the press believed Sputnik meant Soviet military superiority, Eisenhower knew otherwise, and,

found it hard to understand the national disarray and fear. He was startled that the Awerican people were so psychologically vulnerable …

(Eisenhower) was also blind to the symbolic power of a new technology.

According to NASA Historian Roger Launius, the public view of Eisenhower at the time was: “A smiling incompetent . . . a ‘do-nothing,’ golf-playing president mismanaging events. . . .”

JFK, Camelot, and the Race to Space
John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) was narrowly elected president of the U.S. in 1960 partly due to anxiety about a “missile gap” with the Soviets that persisted because of lingering public concerns over Sputnik.

As NASA gained momentum, JFK’s primary space-related task was to formulate an American response to the momentous Soviet launch of the first human into space on April 12, 1961.

Kennedy’s science advisors quickly demonstrated their lack of vision:

… a crash program aimed at placing a man into orbit at the earliest possible time cannot be justified solele on scientific or technical grounds.

The Wiesner Report also cautioned JFK that Project Mercury might associate him “with a possible failure or even the death of an astronaut.”

However, the Space Science Board — chaired by Lloyd Berkner — of the National Academy of Sciences saved the day by stimulating JFK’s visionary side.

Man’s exploration of the Moon and planets is potentially the greatest inspirational venture of this century and one in which the whole world can share; inherent here are great and fundamental philosophical and spiritual values which find a response in man’s questing spirit and his intellectual self-realization.

According to McDougall (1985), “Here was language to stoke the visionary, intellectual President!”

After Yuri Gargarin orbited the Earth on April 12, JFK was determined to win the Space Race.

If somebody can just tell me how to catch up … There’s nothing more important … If we can get to the Moon before the Russians, we should

VP Lyndon Johnson explained the national prestige angle, “In the eyes of the world, first in space means first, period; second in space is second in everything.” McDougall speculates that in the end, the tipping point for JFK may have been the “spinal chill attending the thought of leaving the Moon to the Soviets.”

Is Obama the New JFK?
Unlike Eisenhower and JFK, we do not yet have insiders’ accounts describing Obama’s approach to space policy and his concept for NASA. But we do have public reactions of many of his supporters and the details of his policy.

For example, former Democratic senator and 1st American in orbit, John Glenn, has highlighted the key national prestige and functional challenges of not being able to reach the International Space Station.

The originally planned gap of two or three years of our having no U.S. manned launch capability will realistically be closer to eight or ten years — or more … U.S. astronauts will…train for final launch preparation on Russian spacecraft … launches of U.S. astronauts into space will be viewed in classrooms and homes in America only through the courtesy of Russian TV.

Another Obama supporter and prominent space policy expert, John Logsdon (George Washington Univ), criticized Obama for “blowing off the Moon as a valuable destination, and setting an ambiguous target for a heavy lift vehicle,” at a time when China and others seem to be targeting the Moon. Bipartisan support for similar positions in Congress is reflected in the NASA Authorization bill recently signed by Obama.

Although some have criticized JFK for not providing a long-term roadmap to the stars, it’s clear that JFK’s Cold War space vision was successful in its national prestige, technology, and education goals; it truly demonstrated that the U.S. was #1.

However in the view of many, President Obama’s original space policy is not visionary because it omits essential elements — e.g., a heavy lift launch vehicle — at a critical time. Plus Obama’s Mars plans are poorly defined compared to JFK’s Apollo vision.

Therefore, at the present time, especially regarding the vision and specifics of his civilian space policy, Obama is not the new JFK.

Is Obama the New Eisenhower?
Rather surprisingly, Eisenhower and Obama appear to be ideological brothers, or at least cousins, in their attutudes toward the development of civilian space policy.

Eisenhower believed in limited government and ironically warned about the “military-industrial complex.” However, the new, post-Sputnik space program (McDougall, 1985) was

a technocratic accomplishment, involving the integration of new science and engineering under the aegis of the state … (and) it suggested new dependence on a clique of experts, whom the people’s representatives had no choice but to trust. All told, Sputnik threatened to undercut Eisenhower’s efforts to usher in the missile age without succumbing to centralized mobilization and planning.

At least in the arena of NASA — regardless of how ill-advised and/or impractical given current geopolitical and technological realities — President Obama seemed to be on the same page as Eisenhower with his nod to private versus government development of a new man-rated launch vehicle.

The second parallel with Eisenhower is Obama’s uncertainty about the symbolism (and vision) of NASA. Eisenhower did not initially appreciate the American public’s excitement over this new technology; e.g., McDougall (1985) tells of how Eisenhower “dozed off” during an early meeting on the future of NASA (P. 309).

Obama’s public comment — “Been there, done that…” — in the presence of 2nd man on the Moon Buzz Adrin, regarding his decision to cancel America’s Moon program, and his (previously mentioned) fuzzy plans for Mars, suggest an Eisenhower-style lack of focus.

But in Obama’s defense, it’s been 40 years since the last Moon landing and so it’s easy to underestimate their momentous global impact. And Obama took office during a major economic crisis and a continuing war on terror that distract from manned space.

It wasn’t until I read Pipes’ critique (see top of post) of his use of NASA to buttress the self-image of Muslim nations, that I realized Obama’s lack of clarity about the symbolism and potential future vision of NASA.

Therefore, at the current time, especially regarding his ideological and symbolic approach to civilian space policy, Obama is the new Eisenhower.

The Good News for American Space Policy
It is not obvious why Obama has chosen an Eisenhower-style approach to space policy instead of the more visionary JFK style — but the U.S. Congress has begun to nudge him in that bi-partisan direction.

Forbes magazine (D’Souza, 9/27/10) has explicitly suggested Obama’s space policy is influenced by his “anticolonial” roots. However, the New York Times Magazine (P. Baker, 10/12/10) and former Bush Secretary of State Condi Rice (Washington Post, G. Kessler, 10/15/10) assure us that Obama’s presidential experience over the last 2 years has propelled him in a positive direction.

In any case, if the Eisenhower analogy from one long wave ago holds, it’s possible — as we approach the new international Space Age — that Obama will embrace the next quantum leap toward U.S. and global success in space and on Earth …

Conventional wisdom portrays Eisenhower as skeptical and tight-fisted regarding space, in contrast to his enthusiastic successors. This is part of the picture, to be sure … but it obscures the fact that Eisenhower also secured NASA’s place as a growing technocratic enterprise. Ike founded the civilian agency, nurtured it, gave it the major missions and the tools it needed, and linked it to national prestige. Once the critical judgment had been made that the United States should promote its space program as open, peaceful, and scientific … the future of NASA was assured,

(McDougall, 1985).

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Oct 09 2010

Michael Barone Comments on 1894 Political Scenario of 21stCenturyWaves.com

This week Gallup.com released poll results that suggest voter trends in the direction of economic/political scenarios that have been previously identified by 21stCenturyWaves.com as potentially highly relevant to our future.

Does this obscure 19th century U.S. President hold the secret to our future trajectory?
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In particular, Gallup’s results suggest that our continuing political realignment may have similar dynamics to the election of 1894 that was heavily influenced by the financial Panic of 1893, and culminated in the transformative Peary/Panama/T. Roosevelt Maslow Window of 1901 – 13.

Gallup’s generic ballot for Congress among registered voters reveals an extraordinary “double-digit advantage under two separate turnout scenarios” for Republicans. Among likely voters in their “higher turnout” model, the Republican candidate is preferred over the Democrat by 53% to 40%. Among likely voters in their “lower turnout” model — more likely in mindterm elections like 2010 — the Republican wins 56% to 38%.

This amazing margin is unprecedented for Republicans in the history of Gallup surveys (since 1942).

Michael Barone (WashingtonExaminer.com, 10/4/10), principal author of The Almanac of American Politics, indicates Gallup’s stiking poll numbers,

suggest huge gains for Republicans and a Republican House majority the likes of which we have not seen since the election cycles of 1946 or even 1928 … The Gallup high turnout and low turnout numbers suggest it looks like 1894, when Republicans gained more than 100 seats in a House of approximately 350 seats.

Two years ago (10/20/08) I wrote that the financial Panic of 2008 has an analog in 1893.

21stCenturyWaves.com has also characterized a class of panics that predates Maslow Windows by about a decade … Ironically, about a month ago I was in the process of writing a new post on the Panic of 1893 and its similarities to today — and trying to develop the courage to forecast a similar crisis today (!) — when the credit meltdown occurred. The Panic of 1893 caused estimated unemployment over 10% for 5+ years. It lasted 18 months but was followed by another recession that lasted until 1897. The combination of GDP declines of several % coupled with population growth meant that GDP per capita didn’t recover to 1892 levels until 1899.

Last year (8/29/09) I suggested there were two economic/political scenarios of particular interest:

Scenario 1: The 1960s John F. Kennedy (JFK) Replay … In which the economic and geopolitical trends of 1945 – 1960 reappear about one long wave later — between 2000 and 2015 — including the end of a world war, a great economic boom, and the election of a charismatic JFK-style Democratic president, that trigger a Super Apollo Maslow Window (2015 – 2025) featuring a Camelot-like zeitgeist.
Or…
Scenario 2: The 1900s Teddy Roosevelt (TR) Encore … In which the economic and geopolitical trends of 1888 – 1903 reappear about two long waves later — between 2000 and 2015 — including a financial panic followed by a major recession, and the election of a charismatic TR-style Republican president, that trigger a Super Apollo Maslow Window (2015 – 2025) featuring a Panama Fever-style zeitgeist.

Until recently, I have seriously considered only the “JFK Replay” as the nominal scenario for the 2015 Maslow Window, but recent economic and political events have convinced me to also consider the “TR Encore.”

I concur with Barone about the potentially monumental implications of recent Gallup polling data, and believe it reinforces my tentative conclusions of December, 2009:

The bottomline is that the appearance of the Panic of 2008 was historically monumental. It signaled that our future trajectory will be more like that of the early 20th century Peary/Panama Maslow Window and less like the 1950s.

(See: The Economics of Ebullience Points to a Sparkling New Global Space Age)

The 1894 Election Model adds weight to current trends supporting a continuing political realignment fundamentally motivated by the drive for prosperity more than any particular candidate.

Because of President Grover Cleveland’s (pictured above) inability to deal with the effects of the Panic of 1893, McKinley won the presidency in 1896 and presided over the return to prosperity. In 1901 McKinley’s successor, President Theodore Roosevelt led the U.S. into perhaps its most ebullient Maslow Decade in history …

Like its 1893 counterpart, the Panic of 2008 triggered a political realignment with the election of President Obama and Democratic supermajorities in Congress. Given current economic trends, it’s likely that Republicans will experience significant Congressional gains in November, and may continue the political realignment — but this time in their favor …

Although current history is not necessarily hostage to an 1890s-style replay, one thing seems likely: the drive for prosperity in the form of a major economic boom commencing by 2015. Over the last 200+ years, this stage in the long business cycle (the “long wave”) consistently features a major economic boom that drives unprecedented, ebullient exploration and technology programs immersed in a Camelot-like zeitgeist.

(See; A Major Economic Boom by 2015? … The Lessons of Cleveland, Roosevelt, and Obama)

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Oct 02 2010

Gliese 581g and “100%” Ebullience about Nearby Space Aliens

The recent discovery of Gliese 581g — a potentially Earth-like planet only 20 light years away from us — has become a growing cultural phenomenon. Using the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, Steven Vogt of UC Santa Cruz and his collaborators estimate it’s mass at about 3 – 4 times Earth and it’s distance from its dim, nondescript red dwarf star at 0.15 AU (an AU is one Earth-Sun distance, 93 million miles).

Sooner than you think, humans may send their robotic emissaries — or go themselves — to this very close, Earth-like world!
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Although its mass and distance from its star are currently all we “know” about this fascinating world, Dr. Vogt was carried away by the moment and asserted that the chances it has life are “100%” ! Of course he meant simple life forms — not sophisticated creatures with big brains. But with that one quote Vogt joined the elite ranks of the “early ebullients” — those modeling the coming, consuming excitement of the new, 1960s-style international space age near 2015. In a few years, almost everyone — including you and me — will momentarily feel the Camelot-like excitement.

21stCenturyWaves.com has previously noted that society’s interest in and attitude toward extraterrestrial life seem to fluctuate with the long, 56-year economic wave — the same force that appears to fundamentally drive great human explorations and macro engineering projects all the way back to Lewis and Clark. For example, during the Great Depression, Americans resonated with the notion of a Martian invasion in Orson Wells production of “War of the Worlds.” However, in 1894 — during the decade just before the ebullient Peary/Panama/T. Rosevelt Maslow Window — Percival Lowell founded his observatory in Arizona to study Mars, and later captivated the world with his claim of intelligent Martians. (See Kepler, Carl Sagan, and the Guzman Prize — Our Century-Long Search for Space Aliens.)

Media interest in Vogt’s emotional statement is consistent with society’s approach to the 2015 Maslow Window — a golden age of prosperity, exploration, and technology — when Earth-like planets, extraterrestrial life, and human expansion into the cosmos are expected to generate global excitement at or beyond the level of the 1960s Moon race.

Using the only two approximate data points we have about Gliese 581g (its mass and star distance), a little physics, and a few reasonable assumptions, let’s take a peek at what may await us on this fascinating “Earth-like” planet only 20 light years away.

How Cool is It?
Assuming an Earth-like atmosphere (albedo of 0.3) the average surface temperature (effective T) of Planet g will be -45 deg C (compared to -19 C for Earth); in effect, Planet g partially compensates for a dim star (1.3 % solar luminosity) by cuddling up to it. An Earth-like greenhouse effect would raise its average surface T to -12 deg C; still below freezing. However Planet g, due to its large mass, is likely to have a thicker atmosphere than Earth and a stronger greenhouse effect.

Because Planet g is only 1/3 of Mercury’s solar distance from its star, it’s assumed the planet is tidally locked like our Moon. Having one side always facing its star would create a warm/cold hemispheric dichotomy. Life forms might survive at low-to-mid latitudes in the twilight zone between the two.

Does Planet g Have a Warm Heart?
Another factor that can affect the surface environment is heat flow from the planet’s interior. Assuming an Earth-like composition — which may be incorrect — we can estimate it. Planetary heat content (from radioactives and heat of formation) is proportional to planet volume (i.e., to its radius (R) cubed), and heat leakage is proportional to planet’s surface area (or R squared); so the heat flow q is proportional to R. Since R goes as the cube root of planet mass, so does q.

Assuming an Earth-like interior, our estimate for Planet g’s heat flow q is 1.5 times Earth’s. This puts it around 0.09 W/m2. For comparison, global estimates of q on other worlds are: Moon = 0.02; and Io, the most volcanically active body, is 2.5. This suggests Planet g will have about 5x the Moon’s heat flow but only about 1/3 that of Io. Given Planet g’s thin lithosphere (see below), this could translate into super-Earth levels of active global volcanism for Planet g. “Geothermal” power should be readily available to the “Gliesans.”

How Does Its Atmosphere Work?
Gliese 581g (i.e., Planet g) will probably have a thicker atmosphere than Earth with a stronger greenhouse effect, but the question is: How will its circulation work? One way to see if it’s Earthlike is to compare the energy received from its star to its internal heat flow (we again assume Earth-like parameters). For Planet g this ratio is about 1.15 that of Earth.

Solar-to-internal energy ratios vary widely across the solar system. For example, Earth’s ratio is almost 4000, indicating an atmosphere driven completely by the Sun, while Jupiter’s is 0.37, characteristic of an outer planet with a large gravitationally-derived heat flow. Despite its dim star, Planet g’s atmosphere will look much more like Earth than Jupiter.

Do Its Continents Drift?
Earth’s cold, rigid surface layer is divided into large mobile plates about 100 km thick that account for most of its quakes and volcanism. Plate Tectonics is also a requirement for planetary habitability because it recycles (though subduction) important elements (e.g., carbon) through the biosphere and maintains Earth’s atmospheric pressure at high levels over billions of years.

Assuming again an Earth-like composition and thermal definitions for its lithosphere, we can estimate Planet g’s lithospheric thickness. Because heat flow is proportional to planet radius, lithospheric thickness is inversely proportional to the cube root of planet mass. So Planet g’s lithosphere is about 2/3 as thick as Earth’s.

A significantly thinner lithosphere — with less inertia and reduced frictional resistance at its base — than Earth implies it should be easier to move Planet g’s plates around. Plate tectonics is almost a sure thing, and the habitation condition should be met, assuming Planet g has water.

Can They Come Here?
Because Gliese 581 is a small star, it did not inflict upon Planet g the catastrophic heat death that awaits Earth in about 800 million years in response to the larger Sun’s increasing luminosity (~10% increase per billion years). Thus, the long-term energy frugality of Gliese 581 (Planet g’s parent star) and Planet g’s snug position near it, suggest that life could have developed and survived many billions of years in response to its generally Earth-like conditions (that I’ve hinted at above), if there is significant water.

The other intriguing aspect of Planet g is its age: estimated at 7 to 11 billion years. On Earth, humans required about 5 billion years to appear, so time was not a limiting factor for Planet g — although tidally locked spin might have precluded the appearance of intelligent beings. This might explain why they have not yet replied to Earth’s radio and TV broadcasts after hearing them for decades!

On the other hand, any intelligent Gliesans would have detected the young Earth eons ago and noted its convenient mass and location in the Goldilocks Habitation Zone (much as Vogt just did with Planet g). And on the scale of our Galaxy, 20 light years is very close. From there it’s not necessary to warp space with Star Trek-like interstellar drives. The early Gliesans could have opted for slow, generation-style star ships for the pleasant, century-plus journey to Earth.

If intelligent Gliesans ever existed, they are already here
Could that be why Dr. Vogt is “100%” sure? :)

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Mar 23 2010

“The Greatest International Space Project of All Time”

The European Space Agency’s online newsletter today notes that:

The International Space Station has won two prizes as the greatest international space project of all time. Aviation Week’s Laureate Award and the Collier Trophy are two of the most prestigious awards in the aerospace realm.

It’s simply the greatest of all time.
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On 17 March, Aviation Week magazine announced the winners of the 53rd Annual Laureate Awards, which recognise the extraordinary achievements of individuals and teams in aerospace, aviation and defence.

Aviation Week has honoured the International Space Station (ISS) programme managers: Pierre Jean, Canadian Space Agency; Bernardo Patti, ESA; Yoshiyuki Hasegawa, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency; Alexey Krasnov, Roscosmos; and Michael Suffredini, NASA.

The award is for “completing the project in 2009 with the addition of the last major modules (European-built Node-3 and Cupola) and the expansion of the crew to six. The ISS is arguably the signature engineering achievement of the last 60 years.

The last 60 years encompass the Apollo Moon program. If we limit it to international space projects I would agree, but if it refers to all space projects I’d still hold out for the Saturn V infrastructure, that delivered astronauts to the Moon in 1969, as the greatest. But forgive my quibbling: ISS is an extraordinary engineering achievement and points the way toward the unprecedented global space spectaculars expected during the 2015 Maslow Window.

The ISS has been also recognised by the National Aeronautic Association with the Robert J. Collier Trophy “for the design, development, and assembly of the world’s largest spacecraft, an orbiting laboratory that promises new discoveries for mankind and sets new standards for international cooperation in space.

By working together, partner agencies demonstrated that the station is as much an achievement in foreign relations as it is in aerospace engineering.

ISS’ importance as an engineering “miracle” is only equaled as a symbol of unparalleled international cooperation in space. It heralds a stunningly expansive and prosperous human future that could feature coordinated, global, human settlement of the solar system. (See: “A United, Global Effort for Long-Term Human Space Exploration?” — Why Not?)

Despite our justified superlatives about ISS’ extraordinary past and shining future, one question still lingers: Why has ISS — “the greatest international space project of all time” — not caught on with the American public … like Apollo did?

There has been no Apollo-style “Camelot” excitement associated with it. And history buffs know there has been no “Panama fever” as there was for the Canal, no “pole mania” like that for the intrepid discoverers of the north and south poles, nor anything like the mid-19th century “Manifest Destiny” feeling for the U.S.. (In fact, the U.S. House of Representatives came within one vote of canceling Space Station Freedom in 1993.)

So why no widespread American excitement for a program that truly deserves it?

This question involves an intriguing case study in the history of major technology projects and geopolitics. But in brief, ISS — plus two other spectacular MEPs, the Panama Canal and Apollo — illuminate the power of the long economic wave to enable — or to inhibit — great explorations and macro-engineering projects over the last 200 years.

Why did the Great Leaders de Lesseps and Reagan Both Fail?
By the time he began plans for the Panama Canal, Ferdinand de Lesseps’ credentials as a great leader were already secure. He had created the “technological jewel” of the 19th century: The Suez Canal. He brought the same extraordinary ability to obtain and marshal resources, focus technology on an engineering challenge, and provide inspirational MEP leadership with him to Panama. It should have worked. But it didn’t. (See: 10 Lessons the Panama Canal Teaches Us About the Human Future in Space.)

Likewise, President Ronald Reagan had it all. One of the most charismatic leaders in U.S. history, in 1984 he recognized a manned Earth orbit space station as “the next logical step” into space, and his judgment continues to be validated by the success of its descendant: the International Space Station. But not even Reagan could make Space Station Freedom materialize within a decade of his proposal. And surprisingly there is no mention of it in his official presidential library in Simi Valley, CA. Why didn’t it work for the president credited with winning the Cold War and who, while in Berlin in 1987, successfully issued the challenge, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” (See: The Shocking Truth About the Father of the Space Station.)

Why did the Great Leaders Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy Both Succeed?
In 1907, perhaps the most ebullient president in U.S. history — Theodore Roosevelt — decided that construction of the Panama Canal was essential for the U.S. to become a true global power. It was completed in 1914. (In the same period TR also supported Adm. Peary’s discovery of the north pole, and became the first and only president ever to personally support both his era’s Great Exploration and its primary Macro-Engineering Project; by JFK’s time Apollo had, for the first time, unified the Great Exploration and MEP into one superproject: the Apollo program.)

Likewise, in 1962 President John F. Kennedy publicly announced that …

We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win …

And only 7 years later Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed at Tranquility Base.

What Was the Difference Between Success and Failure?
Given the famous leaders involved, it is unlikely that inadequate leadership or determination led to failure. In reality, neither de Lesseps nor Reagan actually failed; I have suggested previously that they were just somewhat ahead of their time. They initiated major plans and activities for MEPs during a downward portion of the long wave — a counter-ebullient time historically known to be antithetical to spectacular macro-projects. (See: The Economics of Ebullience Points to a Sparkling New Global Space Age)

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 in 1984, 31 years before the 2015 Maslow Window and 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 Long Depression or Reagan’s Station from economic weakness indicated by the Crash of 1987 — but both projects should have been DOA. And they were.

On the other hand, JFK’s Apollo program began during the greatest economic boom in history (up to that time) and TR’s Panama Canal likewise benefited from the stratospheric economic rebound from the Panic of 1893 and the 1890s great recession (a situation with parallels to today). Both projects were sensational successes, and due to perfect long wave timing and great leadership, they should have been.

However, the ISS recent 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!

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 …

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 American and global public appreciation and excitement about ISS will greatly increase.

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Jan 31 2010

Does Obama’s New Space Policy Indicate He is JFK, Richard Nixon, or (god forbid) Grover Cleveland?

This is an elaboration of my recent post: “State of the Wave: 10 Space Trends for 2010,” which appeared before Obama’s state of the union address. Reports that NASA’s Moon program will be discontinued raise questions about U.S. leadership in space. And much of the current chatter in blogs and news reports ignores long-term trends in the economy, geopolitics, and politics — that have governed large-scale technology and exploration projects for the last 200+ years — and thus presents a somewhat confused picture.

When will an American astronaut see this view — Earthrise from lunar orbit — again? Click

Florida Today reports today (1/30/10) that the adminstration will kill the Constellation program designed to send astronauts to the Moon by 2020, but still provide funds for development of a new Saturn V class launch vehicle, favored by the Augustine committee. According to Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida,

My concern is that if all that $6 billion goes just to commercial rockets, then that’s going to push the development of (a new NASA heavy-lift) rocket well into the next decade, and that just means we get behind China and Russia. I think they will announce on Monday (a research-and-development) program to develop the new (heavy-lift) rocket. I just hope that it is not a puny R-and-D development that will push us off well into the next decade before we have the new rocket.

Pushing the heavy lifter “well into the next decade” would not only help China and Russia get ahead in space, it would also push our luck with Maslow Window timing; i.e., the 2015 Window should extend to 2025 but is subject to wildcards. For example, imagine what would have happened if the Vietnam War had intensified a year or two earlier than 1968. We might have lost all of Apollo instead of just the last 3 missions (Apollo 18, 19, and 20).

NASA will reveal the details of its proposed budget Monday.

Is President Obama really “worse” than Richard Nixon?

On January 27, former NASA boss Mike Griffin asserted that President Nixon’s termination of the Apollo Moon program was “one of the most significant, yet strategically bankrupt, decisions in human history.” But that President Obama’s anticipated ending of human spaceflight beyond low Earth orbit is “even worse.” Despite the tens of thousands of scientists, engineers, and technicians who lost their jobs in 1972 due to Nixon, at least he “left us with the Space Shuttle,” According to Griffin, Obama’s action would leave “NASA and the nation with no program, no plan, and no commitment to any human spaceflight program beyond that of today.”

Griffin believes that the nearly complete International Space Station will be held …

… hostage to the hope that presently nonexistent commercial spaceflight capability can be brought into being in a timely way. The president has chosen to recommend that the nation abandon its leadership on the space frontier.

While it’s tempting to assign Obama an even lower place in the space history hierarchy than Nixon, it’s not entirely justified and may be premature. We need to consider the long-term economic and political context. For example, Obama was elected during the Panic of 2008 and has had to contend with the current great recession. This anti-ebullient time plus Obama’s growing political difficulties make it difficult for him to support visionary space programs. And history shows this is not the time anyway. When prosperity and affluence-induced ebullience return, the next Maslow Window will appear to open almost automatically.

Is Obama the next John F. Kennedy?

Here at 21stCenturyWaves.com, we’ve been asking this question since before the election, and still believe it’s possible but is not without speedbumps. For example, in his National Review Online (1/29/20) column — “Obama is No JFK” — Jeffrey H. Anderson states that,

at a time when the president claims his focus is on jobs, scrapping these (Moon-related) programs — on which we’ve already spent nearly $10 billion — would cut public spending in one area that actually creates jobs.

You know those great pictures of Earth from outer space … No (astronaut) has seen that view since the Apollo program ended 38 years ago … Now, unless Congress rejects the president’s recommendations, the next people to see that view will likely be the Chinese.

Whether it’s tax cuts or defense spending; or whether it’s the courage, ambition, and sense of wonder that combine to lead great souls to great feats of exploration and discovery; one can surely say this much about Barack Obama: Mr. President, you’re no Jack Kennedy.

Again, these comments cry out for context. President Kennedy was fortunate to lead the nation during the greatest economic boom up to then. Plus the surprise launch of Sputnik (1957) by the Soviets mobilized the country into founding NASA (1958), revitalizing support for education, and providing a slam dunk in Congress for anything JFK wanted in space. Obama and the nation are experiencing a 180 from JFK’s 1960s-style Camelot. But a world-altering Sputnik-like event — especially within the next few years — cannot be ruled out.

Could Obama become another Grover Cleveland?

I include the Cleveland link above for all of us history-challenged Americans (and others) who may not have read the 24th (and 22nd, by the way) U.S. president’s biography lately. To make a long story short, Cleveland was basically a principled guy who got caught up in the vicissitudes of the financial Panic of 1893 and the 1890s great recession. His economic policies were ineffective, the people lost faith in him, and he was replaced by William McKinley 4 years later.

The point is that the Panic of 1893 and the 1890s great recession have real parallels with the Panic of 2008 and our current financial difficulties. In fact, our current economic trajectory seems to have more in common with the 1890s than with the (post-World War II boom) 1950s just prior to the Apollo Maslow Window.

If Obama cannot reverse his record 20 point approval rating collapse in 2010, he could become the next Grover Cleveland. Polls reveal the public’s growing concern with unemployment, government spending, and deficits, and show the economic challenges facing the president. The public wants to see light at the end of the financial tunnel; i.e., signs that the current recession will soon begin its transformation into the next major economic boom.

All this is consistent with the long-awaited 2015 Maslow Window being a golden age of prosperity, exploration, and technology, as they all have been over the last 200+ years.

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Sep 24 2009

How President Obama is Creating the New Space Age

Fear not. The Augustine Commission and Congress notwithstanding, President Obama is setting the stage for the next Space Age. And below I examine 2 specific, well-constrained scenarios, and their dynamics, showing how this is likely to occur.

Norman Augustine, former Lockheed Martin CEO, states we need $ 3 billion more per year to have a viable Moon program. Click augustine.jpg.

It is true that chair Norman Augustine — who’s becoming known as “the 3 billion dollar man” — insists, “The current program that’s being pursued is not executable,” because a return to the Moon requires $ 3 B more annually. It’s also true that in response to an Arizona Congressman (who’s married to an astronaut) who accused Augustine of presenting “a set of alternatives that look almost like cartoons,” Augustine retorted, “I respect your feelings, but I must question your facts.”

But this is all just the usual short-term political stuff.

In reality — as the last 200+ years have shown — extraordinary pulses of activity in exploration and engineering are enabled by reliable, long-term business cycles. And all indicators suggest we’re sneaking up on the edge of another Golden Age of Prosperity, Exploration, and Technology(GAPET).

Typically, during the twice-per-century upswings of the long economic wave and within a decade after a major financial panic (such as the Panic of 2008) and its major recession, we emerge into an ebullient, transformative decade known as a Maslow Window. Perhaps the most ebullient one followed the Panic of 1893 and was led by Theodore Roosevelt: the Peary/Panama Maslow Window from 1903 to 1913. But before that the mid-19th century Dr. Livingstone/Suez Maslow Window produced the “technological jewel of the 19th century,” the Suez Canal, and the famous Lewis and Clark Maslow Window opened the Great Northwest to the world in 1805.

Our most recent Maslow Window — the stunning 1960s Apollo Moon decade — was unique in the last 200+ years in that it wasn’t immediately preceded by a financial panic or great recession. But the approaching Maslow Window, expected to open near 2015, resumed the much more “normal” sequence of the last 200+ years when the Panic of 2008 heralded its impending arrival.

So one key lesson of the last 200 years is: The Panic of 2008 supports our expectation that the next Maslow Window — the next Golden Age of Prosperity, Exploration, and Technology — will open near 2015.

And President Obama is playing a key role in triggering GAPET, although there is understandably a lot of confusion about that, especially among those unaware of the long-term forces that govern the ebullient, large-scale human affairs of Maslow Windows.

For example, shortly after the Panic of 2008, Reagan economist Arthur (“Laffer Curve”) Laffer complained that President George W. Bush “will be remembered like Herbert Hoover…(and that) the age of prosperity is over,” (WSJ, 10/27/08). And others — including Obama — have compared Obama to Franklin D. Roosevelt who was president during the Great Depression. Surprisingly, Keynesian economists George Akerloff (a Nobel-winner) and Robert Shiller don’t think FDR (or Hoover) went far enough:

“Confidence — and the economy itself — was not restored until World War II completely changed the dominant story of people’s lives, transforming the economy.”

In reality, 21stCenturyWaves.com has identified the Great Depression as an example of panic/recessions that occur 16-18 years after a Maslow Window (another is the Great Victorian Depression of 1873); they tend to be very long and severe as the long wave descends. Conversely, the Panic of 2008 is typical of upswings in the long wave that precede, by less than a decade, the transformative GAPET of Maslow Windows. While still an economic crisis characterized by major suffering, the Panic of 2008 had only a small chance (e.g., WSJ, 9/1/09; Allan Meltzer) of ever evolving into a true 1930s-style Depression (e.g., 25% unemployment).

Given the high likelihood of our next Maslow Window materializing near 2015, the key question is: How will Obama create the exceptional prosperity that is the hallmark of such Camelot-like times?

There are basically 2 options:

OPTION I: Obama becomes a 2-term President: He becomes the new John F. Kennedy without the Vietnam-style baggage of LBJ.
Historical/Economic Model: The 1960s Apollo Maslow Window.

Three ways Obama could trigger prosperity are:

a) The recession will end naturally and prosperity will follow.
Post-War recessions have averaged 11.3 months in length (with the longest 16 months) and the current one is 22 months old. Most economists think the economy hit bottom recently and is currently recovering.

b) Obama will “reset” his presidency resulting in prosperity.
Ted Van Dyk, a long-time Democrat and formerly Vice President Hubert Humphery’s assistant in the LBJ Whitehouse, advises Obama to cut back his proposals and expectations (WSJ, 7/17/09):

“You made promises about jobs that would be ‘created and saved’ by the stimulus package. Those promises have not held up. You continue to engage in hyperbole by claiming that your health-care and energy plans will save tax dollars. Congressional Budget Office analysis indicates otherwise.”

c) The Keynesians are right and major government spending and deficits result in prosperity.
For example, according to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the idea of slowing major stimulus spending would be an “error of historical proportions,” (WSJ, 9/22/09; B. Stephens). And George Akerloff and Robert Shiller (WSJ, 4/24/09) believe that,

An understanding of animal spirits — the human psychology and culture at the heart of economic activity — confirms the need for restoring the role of regulators as guiding hands in a healthy, productive free-enterprise system. History — including recent history — shows that without regulation, animal spirits will drive economic activity to extremes.

Importantly, an especially intense version of animal spirits (called “ebullience” here) is apparently responsible for the extraordinary exploration and engineering activities during Maslow Windows.

Bottom Line for Option I:
It appears that combinations of b and c are unlikely, but various combinations of a and b or a and c could occur.

In either case, Obama becomes the new JFK. He continues the brilliant, transformative lagacy of Theodore Roosevelt and the Panama Canal, that began with Thomas Jefferson and the Lewis and Clark expedition.

OPTION II: Obama becomes a 1-term president: He becomes the new Grover Cleveland (and possibly LBJ), and leads to a pro-prosperity Republican presidency.
Historical/Economic Model: The Peary/Panama Maslow Window (1903-13).

The New York Times (9/6/09; Richard Stevenson) observed that,

Nearly eight months after the inauguration, the economy … has stabilized sufficiently that the nation is no longer gripped by the sense of urgency that allowed Mr. Obama, almost without challenge, to carry out an audacious act of industrial engineering: reshaping the automobile industry from the Oval Office in a matter of weeks … On health care, he is getting no such philosophical pass … The most relevant political framework instead appears to be a more problematic one inherited from his predecesser: a general loss of faith in government.

On August 21, the Wall Street Journal (8/25/09; William McGurn) reported that,

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said his boss was “quite comforrtable” with the idea that sticking to his agenda may well mean “he only lives in this house” for one term.

Indeed, if unemployment remains high into 2012, reelection will be a challenge for Obama.

Three things that could hinder Obama’s reelection are:

a) The Stimulus has not worked.
The Wall Street Journal (9/17/09; Cogan,Taylor,Wieland) reports that,

The data show government transfers and rebates have not increased consumption at all … and that the resilience of the private sector following the fall 2008 panic — not the fiscal stimulus program — deserves the lion’s share of the credit for the impressive growth improvement from the first to the second quarter.

And as unempoyment heads toward 10%, Obama’s promise that rapid passage of the stimulus package would keep unemployment below 8% has not been realized.

b) Obama’s economic policy may be fundamentally flawed.

Published economic research by the current head of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors — Christina Romer — raises doubts about Obama’s policy of major government spending to end the recession. The Wall Street Journal (8/21/09; Alan Reynolds) quotes Professor Romer’s 1999 study (J. Econ. Perspect.) that between the pre-WW I era and the era of big government (post-WW II), “recessions have become only slightly less severe…and recessions have not become noticeably shorter,” in fact post-WW II recessions are one month longer. WSJ concludes that, based on economic history since 1887, “bigger government appears to produce only bigger and longer recessions.”

If this is true, Obama’s large stimulus/bailout packages and large federal budgets will not stimulate the economy in his first term.

According to William Gale of Brookings,

The budget outlook at every horizon is troubling: the fiscal-year 2009 budget is enormous; the ten-year projection is clearly unsustainable; and the long-term outlook is dire and increasingly urgent.

Add to this White House projections of a 10-year record federal deficit of $ 9 T, and by next decade’s end the national debt will be 75% of GDP, and it’s easy to see why Obama’s job approval ratings have settled into the low 50s.

c) Afghanistan turns into Vietnam.

The New York Times (8/23/09; Peter Baker) has focused on the dangers a protracted conflict in Afghanistan could have on Obama, “The LBJ model — a president who aspired to reshape America at home while fighting a losing war abroad — is one that haunts Mr. Obama’s White House as it seeks to salvage Afghanistan while enacting an expansive domestic program.”

And despite considerable personal popularity around the world, “All that good will so far has translated into limited tangible plicy benefits for Mr. Obama … foreign leaders have not gone out of their way to give him what he has sought,” (NYT, 9/20/09; Peter Baker)

An interesting bottomline emerges:

Re: Prospects for the New Space Age Near 2015:
Based on patterns in macroeconomic data and historical trends over the last 200 years, all realistic roads lead to a 2015 Maslow Window featuring a Golden Age of Prosperity, Exploration, and Technology, although wildcards are possible.

Re: Mr. Obama’s Prospects:
Despite the fact that Mr. Obama is currently setting the stage for a robust, transformative new Space Age within the next 3-5 years, his presidential prospects remain uncertain.

Obama’s long wave timing and election circumstances (i.e., panic/recession) have more parallels with the 1893-1913 Peary/Panama Maslow Window — in which a 1-term Democrat (Grover Cleveland) was replaced by a pro-prosperity Republican — than with the 1949-1969 Apollo Maslow Window of John F. Kennedy. And Obama’s continuing challenges with high unemployment, record deficits, huge budgets, and Afghanistan, pose real dangers for him.

As the New York Times noted and as evidenced by Obama’s descending poll numbers, many Americans are again expressing skepticism about big government and the economy. Obama will have to create prosperity — the cornerstone of the 2015 Maslow Window — and given Obama’s popularity and flexibility, he’s quite capable of doing it.

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Jul 22 2009

The Right Stuff, Celebrities, and Sarkar's Social Cycles

The media continues to reverberate today with profound thoughts about Apollo 11′s 40th anniversary. For example, The Wall Street Journal is struck by how different things are now versus the 1960s.

The First Man had and still has “the right stuff.” Click neil1.jpg.

It took eight years from the time John Kennedy declared we would go to the Moon to the day an American landed on it, 40 years ago this week. It was also eight years ago this September that terrorists struck the World Trade Center, the site of which continues to be a hole in the ground and a national disgrace. (Wall Street Journal, 7/21/09)

Messy New York politics aside, and using their version of, “If they can send a man to the Moon, why can’t they…”, the Journal wonders,

How much harder can it be to fill a hole in the ground with buildings of any kind than to master the ground-breaking science and mechanics of space travel over the same number of years?

We’ve long resisted the notion of American decline … But it’s hard not to see in the contrast between the Moon program and … Ground Zero a warning about America’s national will.

The issue is largely one of timing and program type. Over the last 200 years, there are brief, exceptional intervals — called Maslow Windows — when the public is momentarily very supportive of great explorations and large technology projects. Maslow Windows are ebullient, transformative times generally separated by about 56 years, that are fundamentally driven by major economic booms during upswings in the long wave. The last one was in the 1960s during Apollo. Despite our current global recession, which is like other major contractions that have preceded nearly all other Maslow Windows of the last 200 years, our next ebullient, camelot-style interval is expected between 2015 and 2025. Not surprisingly, timing and economic conditions have not aided Ground Zero.

Program type is also important. Apollo was a Great Exploration that for the first time took humans to another world. Apollo was also a $ 150 B macro-engineering project (MEP) that captured the imagination of this world; no one who ever saw (or felt!) a Saturn V launch ever forgot it. Although there had been Great Explorations (e.g., Lewis and Clark) and MEPs (e.g., Panama Canal) before, this was the first time they were ever unified in one grand project. Ground Zero is associated with a surprise terrorist attack on the U.S. in which 3000 people died. Given Ground Zero’s timing and history, it seems that Apollo is not a fair comparison.

On the next page (WSJ, 7/21/09), Bret Stephens compares “the right stuff” of the astronauts to our current celebrity culture and sees great disparity.

I detest anti-Americanism but I’ll concede this: It’s hard to watch American celebrity culture at work and not feel revolted … We make a fetish of uninteresting, detestable, loud or unaccomplished people: Paris Hilton, Princess Di, Keith Olberman, Michael Jackson.

By contrast, the 1960s Apollo astronauts were modest, private, patriotic, etc. For example, Neil Armstrong — the first man on the Moon — “never fails to mention the 400,000 people who worked to get him there,” and Gene Cernan, Commander of Apollo 17 the last lunar mission, marvels that, “One day you’re just Gene Cernan, young naval aviator, whatever…And the next day you’re an American hero. Literally. And you have done nothing.”

Stephens wonders if America makes men like Cernan and Armstrong anymore. And of course America still does — in the military, fire-fighters, police and others who often risk their lives so that ours can go on relatively unthreatened.

It reminds me again of Sarkar’s social cycles that I first read about in a book by SMU economist Ravi Batra. Sarkar believed there are 4 types of people and social classes: 1) Adventurer/Warriors, who are strong physically and mentally and willing to take risks, 2) Intellectuals, who are interested in ideas, 3) Acquisitors, who have a nose for money and enjoy accumulating it, and 4) Laborers, who lack the skills of the first 3 groups and who, while essential to society, are sometimes exploited by them.

At any time in history, society as-a-whole takes on the characteristics of one of these 4 groups. You can tell which group is ascendant by the types of people that are most celebrated. For example, the 1960s were a brief throwback to Adventure/Warrior times because Apollo astronauts were globally admired for their courage and explorations. But over most of the 20th century, according to Batra, society has been dominated by the Acquisitor mindset, as evidenced by the types of celebrities mentioned by Stephens above.

In Cordell (1996), I speculated that a major episode of social change might soon result in a sociopolitical climate favoring grand explorations.

Although seemingly farfetched, this is exactly what economist Ravi Batra expects based on Indian scholar P.R. Sarkar’s law of social cycles. Batra sees our current social malaise as leading to a social revolution in which wealth ‘acquisitors’ will be replaced by ‘adventurer/warriors’ as the dominant group in society. The adventurer/warrior spirit is what led the USA to send people to the Moon and could be expected to focus on the endless space frontier again. Based on the timing of Sarkar’s cycles over the last 2000 years, this revolution could occur sometime between now and 2010.”

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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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May 31 2009

10 Spiritual Connections of the Human Exploration of Space

As we celebrate the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first astronomical use of the telescope, we’re also reminded of his serious troubles with the Vatican regarding the theological implications of his observations.

Given the international focus on Galileo’s example, plus the fact that 94% of Americans believe in God or a Higher Power — see Gallup, 5/8/08 — and that such powerful symbols and belief systems operate on at least the subconscious level to influence our perceptions of physical reality —

It’s of particular interest now — in the spirit of Galileo — to consider 10 spiritual connections of the human exploration of space.

One of the most important photographs ever taken — Apollo 8′s Earth-rise from lunar orbit — continues to subconsciously encourage the spirit of human space exploration. Click apollo08_earthrise.jpg.

10. Galileo and the Spirit of Science: This is a special week in the often-turbulent 400 year history of Galileo-Vatican relations: The Niels Stensen Foundation, a Jesuit-run cultural center in Florence, Italy has assembled world-class experts this week (May 26-30, 2009) to re-examine the historical, philosophical, and theological aspects of the Galileo affair.

“For the first time after 400 years, members of the Vatican Observatory, the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Sciences Academy and many other Institutions, that were historically involved in the Galileo affair, are among the experts invited… (to show) how ‘recent scientific and historical research’ might alleviate the ‘tension and conflict’ still clouding the relationship between the church and science.”

Four hundred years ago Galileo actually set us on our course to space exploration and colonization via his telescopic observations of the Moon, Sun, and planets, and his famous experiments with falling bodies that were spectacularly verified in the vacuum of the Moon’s surface during Apollo 15 (see Video).

In particular, Galileo became the “Father of Modern Science” through his spirit of honest intellectual inquiry, and especially because of his insistence on the primacy of observation in the scientific process. He risked his life for these principles –courageously defying powerful authority figures in favor of observations and experimentation. As we approach the 2015 Maslow Window and contemplate human expansion into the cosmos and related science issues of global importance, we would do well to emulate Galileo’s example.

9. The Overview Effect: Frank White’s profound 1987 book has become the unofficial philosophy of human space exploration.

White believes that as we move into space we are creating “a series of new civilizations that are the next logical steps in the evolution of human society and human consciousness.” And in addition to our own expansion, we are “performing a vital function for the universe as a whole.”

All astronauts are profoundly affected by their trips into space but their destination also has a large impact, in fact Gene Cernan (Apollo 17) thinks there are two different space programs: Earth orbit and beyond. In Earth orbit, astronauts feel small compared to the stunningly beautiful Earth and are impressed by the lack of visible political boundaries and the interconnectedness of Earth’s systems. According to White, “The lunar astronaut sees the Earth as small and feels the awesome grandeur of the entire universe.” Michael Collins (Apollo 11) felt that “100,000 miles out” is a perspective that world leaders should experience. Gene Cernan (Apollo 17) had a religious experience while standing on the Moon; what he saw was “too much logic, too much purpose — it was just too beautiful to have happened by accident…”

White believes that the lunar astronaut “begins to sense that an underlying purpose may lie behind it all.” Comparing the symbolism of the famous Earth-rise picture taken from Moon orbit on Apollo 8 (December 1968) to the cross, White suggests that “To millions of Christians all over the planet, the cross is a sign of unity in spite of deep divisions of race, language, and political beliefs. Because symbols work at a subconscious level…it makes sense that this new symbol (lunar Earth-rise) might be having a quiet, though dramatic effect too.”

8. The Noetic Sciences of Apollo 14′s Edgar Mitchell: MIT Doctor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and former U.S. Navy test pilot, Mitchell was the lunar module pilot on the Apollo 14 mission to Fra Mauro along with Alan Shepard, the first American in space.

Famous for his interests in consciousness and paranormal phenomena, Mitchell conducted private ESP experiments with friends on Earth while returning from the Moon.

Mitchell also had a religious experience while returning from the Moon, “The presence of divinity became almost palpable, and I knew that life in the universe was not just an accident based on random processes…The knowledge came to me directly.”

In 1973, he co-founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences (Petaluma, CA) to generate interest and conduct research into extended human capacities (e.g., creativity, meditation), integral health and healing (e.g., mind-body medicine, placebo effects), and emerging worldviews (e.g., spiritual awareness, science of wisdom).

Mitchell’s synthesis of science and spirituality in the Institute of Noetic Sciences provides an impressive example of how personal experiences in space can powerfully expand consciousness. This trend should accelerate as we approach the 2015 Maslow Window and more space travelers — government as well as private — experience the cosmos first-hand.

7. New Earths and the Gaia Hypothesis: Planet Earth is the most complex, awe-inspiring system known in the Universe today. From its mysterious magnetic field – core connection, to its earthquake- and volcano-riddled drifting continents and oceans and its chaotic atmospheric and climate processes, as well as its finely-tuned cosmic connections (e.g. Sun, Moon, Jupiter), not to mention its stunning biosphere and the presence of the highest form of life known in the entire Universe: humans the Earth really stands out in the cosmos!

Because of Earth’s proximity, complexity, habitability, durability, and cyclic regularity, the Earth itself has always inspired wonder and even worship, and for some this continues today.

During the ebullient 1960s Maslow Window, a British scientist — James Lovelock –working with NASA on techniques to detect life on Mars, proposed the Gaia Hypothesis, named after the Greek goddess of the Earth. Lovelock sketched Gaia as “a complex entity involving the Earth’s biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil; the totality constituting a feedback or cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet.” This controversial idea has been criticized by a variety of scientists including Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins. For example, the “Strong Gaia” form of the model — where living systems make the environment more stable, for the purpose of enabling the flourishing of all life – has been criticized as being untestable and therefore unscientific. This speculative form of Gaia is adopted by some as a spiritual doctrine.

NASA’s interest in the Earth has been to study geological, geophysical, atmospheric, and space processes and to try to understand how they interact to produce Earth’s complex environment, including its changes (e.g., climate studies). More recently NASA has also focused on the discovery of planets orbiting nearby stars, with special interest in finding Earth-like worlds. The PlanetQuest site at JPL indicates that presently we know of 347 exosolar planets orbiting 293 stars, with a total of 0 known Earth-like planets; Kepler was recently launched to search for new Earths.

An even more robust scientific mission — the Terrestrial Planet Finder concept — is currently under study. In 2001, the National Research Council explained the motivation for and the high priority of finding Earth-like planets: “The discovery of life on another planet is potentially one of the most important scientific advances of this century, let alone this decade, and it would have enormous philosophical implications.” As we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, the detection and exploration of Earth-like planets and the search for extraterrestrial life — the two fundamental drivers of human expansion into the cosmos — will become even more riveting as raw human exploration passions, in the spirit of Apollo, begin to engulf the global public.

6. Astronauts as the Prophets of Space: According to comparative sociologist Fred L. Polak (The Image of the Future, 1961), writing during the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window, the Jewish prophets are the “Founding Fathers of Utopia” and bring renewed faith. They can foresee the future and respond to the challenge of the times.

Likewise, astronauts serve as uniquely credible messengers from space to the people. According to White, “Astronauts fit into the mythical subconscious archetypes of the gods and heroes of old…who perform feats of daring no one else is able or willing to do.” Because space is a unique, holistic experience, it cannot be totally expressed by words alone. Thus only astronauts can really communicate the space “truth” to others. Their implicit promise is of a utopian civilization among the stars.

5. Space as the Promised Land: In Genesis, God promises to give Canaan (The Promised Land) to the descendants of Abraham. As long as the Israelites keep the Covenant they can remain in peace and security.

According to former NASA historian Roger Launius (2005), the Apollo program has similar elements, including “articles of faith and a theology of salvation that allowed humanity to reach beyond Earth and populate the cosmos … The promise of a utopian Zion on a new world, coupled with immortality for the species resonates through every fiber of the space exploration community.”

Shortly after I joined General Dynamics in San Diego, Bill Strobl — who worked on EMPIRE in the early 1960s with Krafft Ehricke for NASA in Huntsville, and in the 1980s directed the GD Advanced Launch System (ALS) program — assured me that Wernher von Braun and the German rocket scientists fully intended to “open the planetary worlds to mankind,” and that even their routine mutual interactions consistently reflected that lofty purpose.

4. Raiders of the Lost Ark: According to biblical accounts, the Ark of the Covenant was a sacred container built at God’s direction to hold two tablets with the 10 Commandments (the Covenant). The Jews, and later the Gentiles, are promised the blessings of God as long as they honor the Covenant. The Ark’s is a powerful tool, as was demonstrated during the parting of the Jordan River and during the battle of Jericho.

The Space “covenant” is the promise of spectacular discovery and adventure in space, including the specific, powerful benefits flowing from new science and technology and the expectation of space colonization itself. In space exploration we control our own fate, although if we ignore space we cease to receive many of its key benefits. While space and God are certainly not synonymous, numerous biblical references to the sky or nonterrestrial topics (e.g., the “Kingdom of Heaven“; “My kingdom is not of this world.”) have created at least subconscious connections in many minds.

The Ark of the Covenant was the focus of the monumentally popular 1981 movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with Harrison Ford. This is an example of how knowledge of the Covenant and other prominent biblical themes is not limited to scholars or church members, but is now an integral aspect of popular culture. Thus it is clear why subconscious (and conscious) links between biblical concepts and space are sociologically powerful.

3. Messianic Expectations: Both Christians and Jews expect their Messiah to appear at some unpredictable time in the future and to establish his Kingdom on Earth. For example, traditional Judaism expects the Messiah’s activities on Earth to include an end to wickedness, sin and heresy, and a reward to the righteous.

Perhaps the most obvious space parallel is contact with intelligent extraterrestrial beings. ETs that visit Earth will be much more technologically advanced than we are, and their technologies will seem like magic. Most people believe they exist and that it’s only a matter of time until they arrive (or return) and dramatically change the course of human history.

ETs have been envisioned in a variety of ways. Astronomer Carl Sagan was particularly enthusiastic about the spectacular benefits that ET visits might bring, especially in the technology and science arenas; e.g., see his novel and movie “Contact.” On the other hand, UFO abduction accounts as recounted by Jacobs and others suggest a darker side; this view has reached popular culture through movies like “Fire in the Sky” (1993). “The Mothman Prophesies” (2002) and “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (2008) — a movie and sequel apparently influenced by the long wave — also portray ETs as threatening.

Much more popular was Spielberg’s “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial“; released in 1982, it became the most successful movie ever up to that time. Although this ET didn’t share much about technology, he did become “the subject of analogies for Jesus.”

Indeed, as we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, when Moonbases, international competition in space, and the possibility of alien life, begin to take center stage again, the public may insist that all information about UFOs be revealed by government sources. As the 2015 economic boom elevates the public to higher Maslow hierarchy levels, the desire to explore and know the truth increases.

2. The Apocalyptic Writings: Throughout the Old and New Testaments, predictions are made of extreme disasters on Earth. For example, in Isaiah it is forecast that the Earth will be reduced to a desert (13:9); “What will you do…when from far off, destruction comes (10:3).

Revelation alludes to stunning celestial and terrestrial effects: “The stars of the sky fell onto the Earth…the sky disappeared like a scroll rolling up… (6:13); plus “There was a violent earthquake…the Sun went black…the Moon turned red as blood (6: 12-17).

From a 21st Century perspective, a few astrophysical effects suggest themselves. For example, former Livermore nuclear physicist Dr. John Hardy (1993) suggests that a large cosmic dust cloud colliding with the Solar System (including the Earth) and blocking sunlight could produce the solar and lunar effects. “Falling stars” suggest the cloud has a supply of meteors, and the large earthquake implies “a large asteroid. A massive system is required, if the crust of the Earth is to be disturbed.”

It’s interesting that last year scientists reported archeological evidence that the impact of a half mile-wide asteroid caused the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, as recorded in Genesis 19.

As we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, public attention is again — as it was one long wave ago in the 1950s just before Sputnik was launched and NASA was born — being attracted plans for large-scale human operations in space, including how to mitigate a potential atomic weapon-style disaster associated with an impact of a football field-size asteroid or comet. Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart has formed the B612 Foundation and is working with the United Nations and individual countries to draw international attention to the space impact threat as well as to begin discussions on how to globally coordinate planetary defense.

1. Ray Bradbury and the Eucharist: Celebrated novelist Ray Bradbury is explicit about space as a religious experience, “Too many of us have lost the passion and emotion of the remarkable things we’ve done in space. Let us not tear up the future, but rather again heed the creative metaphors that render space travel a religious experience…”

According to Launius (2005), Bradbury regards a space launch as a personally transformative experience. “Like the Eucharist, the ritual of the launch offers a recommitment to the endeavor and a symbolic cleansing of the communicant’s soul. The experience … is both thrilling and sanctifying.”

Equally importantly, Launius (2005) reminds us that “Apollo’s history has also been depicted as a missed opportunity for the next step in human evolution.” Indeed, Apollo can be thought of as an analog for Bradbury’s concept of the personally transformative space launch, where Apollo represents the transformative “launch” of humanity into space — which has faltered since then.

It’s intriguing that macroeconomic data and historical trends — over the last 200 years — point to the decade between 2015 and 2025 as the resurrection of the 1960s. Indeed, there is every reason to expect that the long-awaited 2015 Maslow Window will feature unprecedented space and technology spectaculars with a Camelot-like zeitgeist.

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