Feb 12 2011

The Cold War-style Arms Race in Asia and the New Space Age

As the U.S. downsizes its defense budget, many countries — from the Arabian Sea to the Pacific ocean — feel the need to respond to China’s surging economy and its expanding high-tech military.

According to today’s Wall Street Journal (2/12/11),

Together these efforts amount to a simultaneous buildup of advanced weaponry in the Asian-Pacific region on a scale and at a speed not seen since the Cold War arms race between America and the Soviet Union.

The Cold War arms race led directly to the first Space Race. Here John Glenn ascends to orbit in 1962 on a modified Atlas missile.
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The U.S.-Soviet Cold War arms race got into high gear in ~1950 when the USSR obtained the atomic bomb. U.S. developments included the H-bomb, intercontinetal bombers under the Strategic Air Command, and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) for delivery of nuclear warheads.

The 1960s Space Race was a direct outgrowth of the Cold War arms race. Early modified ICBMs were used to launch satellites and even humans into space; for example, the first American (John Glenn) was launched into orbit in 1962 on a General Dynamics Atlas missile.

According to William E. Burrows (1999) ,

The cold war would become the great engine, the supreme catalyst, that sent rockets and their cargoes far above Earth and worlds away.

The current Asia-Pacific arms race is reminiscent of the 1950s Cold War U.S.-Soviet arms race that triggered the first Space Race to the Moon. The fact that it’s occurring now among China and other vibrant asian economies — one long business cycle after the original Space Race — suggests the stage is being set for a new Space Age by 2015. By then the U.S. economy should also be booming.

The current asian arms race is a serious development. An Australian report notes that the “scale, pattern, and speed…” of the Chinese military buildup is “dead serious stuff” not experienced since WW II.

It is potentially the most demanding security situation faced since the Second World War … (and) is altering security in the Western Pacific.

In its “New Military Strategy” report released last Tuesday, the Pentagon sees connections between China’s growing military and its aspirations in space and elsewhere,

We remain concerned about the extent and strategic intent of China’s military modernization, and its assertiveness in space, cyberspace, in the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and the South China Sea.

Although China’s impressive military buildup has triggered the current Cold War-style arms race in asia, it does not necessarily imply that we are headed for a 1960′s-style Space Race. Indeed, China’s near-term economic challenges and the possibility of liberal political reforms may lead instead to a Grand Alliance for Space.

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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,
Bruce

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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.
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(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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Oct 30 2010

The Allure of Moving to Mars Points to the New Space age

When I was with General Dynamics, Space Systems Division in San Diego studying manned Mars missions for NASA — e.g., see “The Challenge of Mars” — I often thought about the option of becoming a permanent Mars resident, and knew it would appeal to many people.

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Where would you rather live: the Ocean World or the Red Planet? Mars is growing in popularity.
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Professors Dirk Schulze-Makuch (Washington State Univ) and Paul Davies (Arizona State Univ) have recently advocated one-way manned Mars missions on cost and political grounds as a way to jumpstart the colonization of Mars (Journal of Cosmology, Oct-Nov, 2010). This is an admirable goal, but before I get into the details of their vision, I want to explore its real significance.

Mars Colonization Ascends into Pop Culture
I first became aware of their article through the Chronicle of Higher Education (10/22/10; D. Troop), which was a big surprise. The Chronicle is more likely to feature trends in education than the latest thinking in astronautics, which confirmed my suspicion that Mars colonization is again becoming a hot topic, just like it was one long wave ago in the 1960s; in fact it is becoming part of popular culture.

A New International Space Age by 2015
This, of course, is what we would expect as we approach another 1960s-style transformative decade — the 2015 Maslow Window. It is one of several key indicators that point to a new international Space Age igniting by 2015, including: 1) the financial Panic of 2008 and its great recession, 2) a great economic boom by 2015 and political realignments, 3) macroeconomic trends over the last 200 years, 4) expanding interest in extraterrestrials, new Earth-like planets, and UFOs, 5) birth of the space tourist industry, 6) surging international plans for lunar science and development and interest in human Mars exploration, and many others.

In the next 3 to 5 years — based on macroeconomic data and global trends over the last 200+ years — we will rapidly transtition from a multi-decade period of low self organized criticality (SOC) to an ebullient, fractal (high SOC) international environment (i.e., a Maslow Window) where almost anything is possible. Previous Maslow Windows have featured quantum leaps in human exploration (e.g., Lewis and Clark) and technology and management (e.g., Apollo Moon program), and are usually terminated by a major war (e.g., World War I).

True Space Colonization, Not Suicide Missions
One-way Mars missions — not to be confused with suicide missions — could be viewed as a subconscious longing to escape the current financial, environmental, geopolitical and other stresses of Earth. But they are much more than that as the authors show by emphasizing familiar themes of survival of the human race (from asteroid as well as Earth-based threats) and the human spirit to expand and explore the unknown. “A permanent human presence on Mars would open the way to comparative planetology on a scale unimagined by any former generation.”

Although the initial colonists would have estimated life spans on Mars of only about 20 years, in several decades (after numerous followon missions), the total Mars colony population might reach 150 and form a viable gene pool. The authors compare the risks of initial Mars colonists to “the first white settlers of the North American continent who left Europe with little expectation of return.”

Near-Term Mars Strategy Bypasses the Moon
Schulze-Makuch and Davies are focused on Mars colonization, not the buildup of near-Earth space infrastructure. A Moon base is not required, although a “split-mission” strategy is employed to build up necessities on Mars (e.g. energy sources, agriculture tool kits, rovers) prior to the arrival of the colonists.

No advanced propulsion is needed and the moons of Mars — Phobos and Deimos — are not involved, although the cost, safety, and scientific advantages of an early Phobos outpost for Mars colonization have been recognized for over 20 years.

Mars Colonizaton Requires a New Culture
Perhaps their most interesting insight is that a human colony on Mars

would require not only major international cooperation, but a return to the exploration spirit and risk-taking ethos of the great period of Earth exploration, from Columbus to Amundsen, but which has nowadays been replaced with a culture of safety and political correctness.

In addition to Amundsen, they could have also mentioned the exploration spirit of Lewis and Clark, Dr. Livingstone, and the Apollo crews — that captured international admiration during the extraordinary Maslow Windows of the last 200 years.

It takes a Maslow Window to colonize Mars. And Schulze-Makuch and Davies will get their wish sooner than they think … starting by 2015.

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Mar 27 2010

Phobos — The Key to the Cosmos? Just Ask Russia and China!

If you haven’t gotten excited about Phobos recently, you should! Europe’s Mars Express will approach within a mere 3000 km of Phobos a few hundred times during the next two years.

Mars Express will measure Phobos’ mineral composition, probe its subsurface with a radar/altimeter, and study its plasma environment. Plus high resolution images will provide the first global map of the potato-shaped moon.

In a recent spectacular Mars Express image, Phobos reminds us that the top 3 attributes of any real estate are 1) location, 2) location, and 3) location.
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It’s treasured proximity to Mars and its asteroid-like, milli-g surface combine to make Phobos a unique world. In fact, for those who aspire to exploration beyond the Earth-Moon system, Phobos is the “key to the cosmos”! This is because — every two years — a launch window makes Phobos easier to reach (energy-wise) than the surface of our own Moon.

In my recent decade-forecast post (DecaState of the Wave — 10 Space Trends for the Decade 2010-2020), I suggested that Russia and China might surprise the world during the 2015 Maslow Window by jointly establishing a manned outpost on Phobos, as a safe, inexpensive, and smart first step toward their colonization of Mars.

This idea is supported by the impressive space activities and capabilities of Russia and China and would be a logical outgrowth of their planned joint robotic mission to Phobos. The Phobos-Grunt mission is to be launched in late 2011 or 2012 and would collect samples from Phobos and return them to Earth for analysis; i.e., the first-ever attempt at a sample return from the Mars system. (See: China & Russia Take the Smart Road to Mars)

Russia and China appear to be on a path similar to one sketched by those of us at the first Phobos/Deimos Mission Workshop (chaired by S. Fred Singer) during The Case For Mars III conference in 1987 (see Cordell (1989) AAS 87-277, pp. 601). Our first recommendation was:

An unmanned sample return mission to Phobos/Deimos should be studied and executed before the end of the 1990s. A sample return is essential to both our scientific understanding of Ph/D and our plans for in-situ propellant production on these moons …

Is Phobos Hydrated?

Space- and ground-based spectra suggest that the surface layer of Phobos is not hydrated. However, this regolith may not be entirely native to Phobos; e.g., UK planetary scientist John Murray suggests some of it may have originated from major impacts on Mars itself.

Thermal data by Mars Global Surveyor has shown that Phobos’ surface layer is a fine powder about 1 meter thick that sits on material believed to resemble carbonaceous chondrites. However, Mars Express has established Phobos’ density as 1.887 gm/cm3 (water is 1) which indicates a body with significant porosity, and possibly even large caverns. Thus significant water ice and hydrated silicates could be stored in Phobos’ interior.

Fraser Fanale’s (University of Hawaii) 1990 model of the interior of Phobos — which included orbital and rotational effects, thermal history, and diffusion — showed that if water ice was ever present inside Phobos, most of it should still be there. Fanale predicts that ice may be found at high latitudes from 20 to 60 meters depth, and that it should outgas — mainly at low latitudes from less than 1 km depth — at about 3 gm/sec. In 1990 the Soviet spacecraft Phobos 2 detected a comet-like interaction of Phobos with the solar wind, and estimates of observed Phobos outgassing were consistent with Fanale’s model, although the spacecraft died before they could be confirmed.

Mars Express will help greatly and Phobos-Grunt, the joint Russia-China sample return mission, will be essential before humans can make Phobos into a space service station.

How Much Would A Phobos Outpost Cost?

In the late 1980s at General Dynamics, Space Systems I led an internally-funded study of a propellant facility on Phobos. The unpublished study was presented to several NASA centers by me in 1989 (it was a good idea but suffered from horrible long-wave timing in 1989!). Our team used realistic groundrules and assumptions for technologies, vehicles, trajectories, and operations, as well as General Dynamics cost models, for several scenarios that we developed. Although the focus was on a Phobos propellant facility, our results provide insights into the challenges associated with a possible, near-term manned Phobos/Mars initiative by Russia and China. We estimated that the cost of a Phobos propellant outpost was between $ 10 and 15 B (1989 USD); that’s about $ 17 B – 25 B in 2009 USD.

Is a Manned Phobos Outpost Near 2020 Feasible for Russia and China?

According to The Space Report (2009), in 2008 Russia and China (estimated) spent $ 1.54 B and $ 1.7 B on space respectively, (all in 2009 USD); as a fraction of GDP that’s 0.067% and 0.021% respectively. These are relatively modest GDP commitments when compared to 0.2% GDP for the U.S. averaged over the entire 1960s Apollo Moon program.

Just as an illustration, let’s take $ 20 B (2009 USD) as the cost for Phobos base. It would only take about 6 years for Russia and China — using only their current space budgets — to pay for the program. Two effects make it even easier: 1) both economies are capable of significant growth (China now at 8+ %; Russia at 7% during the decade prior to 2008) so the %GDP could drop with time, and 2) a major Phobos/Mars initiative would create much excitement (i.e., ebullience) and make increased %GDP factors (characteristic of past Maslow Windows) very likely.

So a joint manned Phobos base appears to be financially feasible for Russia and China during the 2015 Maslow Window.

Without going into details here, keep in mind that Russia has a wealth of historical experience with long-term micro-g effects on humans from their own space station days and currently on ISS, and, of course, after Shuttle retirement Russia will be launching American astronauts to ISS. Rather interestingly, Russia is about to start a 520-day Earth-based simulation for human test subjects of a manned mission to Mars. And China not only has its own manned Earth-orbit space program, but also has one of the largest and fastest growing economies in the world. Plus China will complete its fourth space center which is also its first low-latitude (19 deg) launch facility, by 2015 …

… near the expected opening date of the long-awaited 2015 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!

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Jun 14 2009

It's the "Ebullience," Not Just the Economy…!

Thanks to Aron Sora of Trenton, NJ at Habitation Intention for responding to my previous post with this question:

Is it an either or thing? Will having a deep sea program prevent the development of a space program or visa versa. Are there enough resources during a Maslow window to support both?

In the 2015 Maslow Window — based on the last 200 years — I’m sure it will be both, but the emphasis will most likely be on space development and colonization; I think that’s the lesson of the 1960s.

I’ve been asked before by 21stCenturyWaves.com readers why we don’t focus on Antarctica or the Ocean Floor as our next Great Exploration — after all they are closer! I’m sure we’ll continue to internationally develop these areas, but one big hint for your question is that President Kennedy chose to send us to the Moon. That was, and still is the most exciting (especially for the general public) direction with the greatest potential for human expansion. You may be aware that in 1992, Marshall Savage started his proposed colonization of the Galaxy with Ocean Colonies on Earth.

What strikes me about Project Mohole is that Dr. Munk and his collaborators really felt a competition between their Earth Science and the Race to Space! You can still hear that sentiment today when some scientists complain about the cost of establishing bases on the Moon. Unfortunately, Mohole was an early casualty of the inevitable collapse of 1960s Maslow Window ebullience, triggered by the Vietnam War and political issues with Mohole’s prime contractor Brown & Root.

Coincidentally, in the late 1980s when I was assembling an international team for our studies of manned lunar and Mars missions at General Dynamics, we chose Brown & Root as our base infrastructure experts. They were great people to work with. My Houston trips were always fun because after meetings with our friends at Johnson Space Center, I’d usually stop by Brown & Root’s Houston headquarters and then visit Larry Bell’s Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture at the University of Houston; enjoyed working with them!

Based on macroeconomic data and historical trends of the last 200 years (including the 1960s!), it’s apparent that declining financial or other resources do not directly terminate Great Explorations and MEPs. It’s the decay of widespread ebullience — the force that initially makes Great Explorations and MEPs seem irresistible to the general public through their ascent to higher levels in Maslow’s Hierarchy — that eventually causes their “surprise” demise.

Ebullience — the hallmark of a Maslow Window — is a very intense, widespread form of Keynesian “animal spirits” and is a rare phenomenon. In the last 200 years it has appeared only during the rhythmic, twice-per-century major economic booms that trigger Maslow Windows.

Indeed, recent international events show the U.S. and other countries are financially capable of investing a few hundred billion USD in a decade of large-scale space colonization at almost any time they choose to do so — based on $ multi-B expenditures on recent wars and “stimulus” packages. But widespread ebullience is caused only by a major economic boom — not the reverse — presumably because these are stimulating times when a majority of citizens sense they are actually getting ahead.

Keep in mind that Maslow Windows are times of societal ebullience when it’s felt that almost anything is possible. If you can’t personally remember the 1960s or haven’t read about it, you may not understand how exceptional it really was. To get the feel for the ebullience of the 1960s, I suggest you scan my post on “The Liberal Hour.

By the way, I suspect that the Peary/Panama Maslow Window (~1903 to 1913) featuring Teddy Roosevelt, may have been the most ebullient decade in the entire history of the U.S. The world had just survived the Crash of 1893 and the associated deep recession (ending 1899), and the U.S. was getting used to being a major economic power. And they really felt they could do virtually anything.

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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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May 11 2009

Getting Star Trek Right!

Today’s New York Times (Dave Itzkoff, 5/10/09) waxes philosophical about Star Trek in general and how it relates to the world (and the new movie). Itzkoff gets some of it right but his lack of a long-term perspective is, as usual, the mother of misconceptions. (Happy Mother’s Day, BTW!)

When Spock’s father Mark Lenard heard my personal Star Trek story, he had a decidedly non-Vulcan reaction! Click sarek1.jpg.

Incidentally, when it comes to Star Trek I have obsessive credentials!! After the original TV series went off I decided it would be fun to have my own collection of Star Trek videos. This was long before they were available on VHS so I had to rendezvous with my TV/VCR each Saturday afternoon (when Star Trek came on in San Diego) and edit the commercials as I taped. It took almost two years but I finally got them all!

By this time I had joined General Dynamics, Convair (later Space Systems) and invited all the engineers and scientists to our Star Trek Party where we had the whole collection on display using 3 television/VCR combinations around the house that ran continuous Star Trek episodes all afternoon and evening! It sounds dumb but everybody loved it.

I eventually got to tell this gi-normous story to one of the Star Trek cast members when Spock’s father Mark Lenard (1924-1996) came down to the Reuben Fleet Science Center in 1988 to do narrations on a planetarium show (“Mars!”) I was helping Dennis Mammana with. Mark initially acted like he’d heard them all, but eventually became reasonably wide-eyed about my story of the 2-year video pursuit of Star Trek! At least he gave me an autographed picture…!

Itzkoff in The Times gets it right about the original Star Trek being “the futuristic fulfillment of John F. Kennedy’s inspirational oratory, in which his New Frontier became ‘the final frontier’.”

Of course, Star Trek was part of the affluence-induced ebullience of the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window led by its iconic Camelot-style President, John F. Kennedy. “The budget surpluses and budding space program of the early 1960s gave rise, in the 23rd century, to the utopian United Federation of Planets.” (I still have my UFP T-shirt!)

Actually, I’ve always identified strongly with the Star Trek vision of galactic exploration. In the 1980s I enjoyed attending Star Trek conventions in the LA and San Diego areas but was embarrassed to admit it to my professional colleagues. Unlike most of the fans, it wasn’t the stars of the show that turned me on, it was the wonderful, giddy fantasy of having complete access to the Solar System and being a participant in the interstellar colonization wave!

This weekend, a cable TV show with Leonard Nimoy and several Star Trek cast members, focused on Gene Roddenberry’s enduring “vision” of Star Trek. But the vision itself didn’t begin with Roddenberry; e.g., extraterrestrials were featured in many 1950s movies including “The Day the Earth Stood Still“, and many of the elements of Star Trek appeared first in “Forbidden Planet” and other movies. What Roddenberry did was bring this vision to television on a weekly basis! Many thought it couldn’t succeed, but it’s still gaining momentum 40 years later!

Itzkoff quotes Professor H. Bruce Franklin of Rutgers who suggests that “we’re starting the era of the 1960s in 1967,” presumably in reference to Iraq and Afghanistan and the parallels he sees to Vietnam. “Culturally we’re reinventing the ‘60s, but economically we’re reinventing the ‘30s.” Unfortunately, this misconception is typical of short-term thinking.

First, repetitive patterns in long-term trends in the economy, technology, and exploration – over the last 200 years – indicate we’re entering the 1950s (around 1953 based on the 56 year long wave), not the 1960s as Professor Franklin suggests.

Second, major financial panics are common in the decade just prior to each Maslow Window (except for the post WW II boom near 1949 when there was none), so the Panic of 2008 which gave birth to the current “Great Recession,” should not have been a big surprise.

And third, our current great recession, while severe and painful, is not as dreadful as the Great Depression of the 1930s. Based on the last 200 years of macroeconomic data and historical trends, if we were going to revisit the Great Depression it would have occurred between 1985 and 1987 (based on long wave timing). In fact the Crash of 1987 (“Black Monday”) was the worst crash since 1929 but didn’t lead to a Depression or even a recession because of financial rules adopted during the 1930s.

Finally, Star Trek is unlike a lot of science fiction today because of its optimistic tone. According to Leonard Nimoy, “We need that kind of hope…that kind of confidence in the future.”

He’s right. In fact, Star Trek is a preview of coming attractions. It’s optimism is a prelude to the ebullience that will drive the unprecedented space spectaculars of the 2015 Maslow Window.

We’ve recently suggested that long-term trends in western and science fiction movies point to the the next Space Age. It’s interesting that the new Star Trek movie grossed over $ 72 M this weekend – the first time any Star Trek movie has broken into the Top 30 Opening Weekends of all time. The previous 10 Star Trek movies had opening weekend box offices of only between $ 12 and 30 M.

The new Star Trek movie — after only the first weekend — is already #5 on the Star Trek movie list for total gross; momentarily topped by my favorite one, “Star Trek IV” at nearly $ 110 M. As we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, more major-money Star Trek movies will appear as this trend continues.

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Dec 04 2008

China & Russia Take the Smart Road to Mars!

China and Russia continue preparations to visit Mars’ moon Phobos together in 2009, according to Mars Daily (12/1/08). This unmanned trek is the first joint interplanetary mission between the two major space powers, and will also be the first interplanetary sample return flight from either a moon or a planet.

Twenty-seven km moon Phobos has milli-g surface gravity and countless impact craters, but it’s the key to Mars. Click phobos.gif.

This ambitious, joint Phobos mission is more convincing evidence that the next spectacular Maslow Window looms not that far in our future (expected in 2015). Indeed, Chinese astronomer Yang Liwei already speaks in Maslow Window-style phrases, “Our national strength has risen. It’s a road that we absolutely must travel.” And it’s the smart road too!

It’s the “smart road” to Mars because, every two years, the delta-V — a measure of the propulsive energy required for the mission — from Earth-to-Phobos and return is only about 1/2 the delta-V required for an Earth-to-Lunar-Surface loop! In other words, the shocking fact is that, in energy terms, it’s actually easier to get to Phobos than it is to our own Moon! When I first realized this at General Dynamics, it became the centerpiece of our humans to Mars strategy.

Although one of the darkest objects in the solar system, Phobos still has a colorful past, having been thought of momentarily (in the 1950s) as a hollow, artificial satellite apparently orbited by Martians. Better observations of its orbit confirmed its naturalness as well as its mortality: Phobos is condemned by tidal forces to impact Mars in 11 million years.

As a key part of the Sino-Russian Phobos team, Hong Kong Polytechnic University has been developing a small, cigarette pack-sized rock processor that will reduce Phobos’ surface materials to a fine powder for in situ analysis in the Phobos lander. After successfully landing/rendezvousing on Phobos’ milli-g surface, the Phobos Explorer will select rocks and soil for the trip back to Earth for detailed scientific analysis.

While initially scientific, interest in Phobos is also futuristic. Phobos is a low-density, porous world with carbonaceous chondrite composition…and it may have water in some form beneath its surface layer. Everytime I look at Phobos I see a gas station! Pull up your spacecraft, check the tires, clean the windshield, and fill ‘er up with inexpensive propellants from Phobos!

In 1989 General Dynamics Corporation funded a closer look at my fantasy of establishing an interplanetary economy based on water mined at Phobos (and/or Deimos) that’s transported to Earth orbit and/or the Moon depending on where the demand is. Using regular chemical rockets we could deliver 2000 mT of Martian moon waters to Earth orbit each mission; profits/savings versus launches from Earth are in the $ 1.5-3.0 B range. Depending on how much the Phobos Water Plant costs to setup, the breakeven point would be 5 – 10 years from the first mission. Are you working up your 2015 Maslow Window business plan?

The Chinese and Russians are smart to focus on Phobos. It’s the 21st Century key to the colonization of Mars and expansion of humans into the outer solar system.

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