2011 featured continuing economic difficulties and the retirement of the Space Shuttle, and followed most of the trends identified here last January ( “State of the Wave — 10 Space Trends for 2011“) as well as the expected directions sketched almost two years ago for the coming decade (“DecaState of the Wave — 10 Space Trends for the Decade 2010-2020“).
2012 will be the “Year of Decision” especially in the U.S. as presidential and other major elections occur that will impact our trajectory toward prosperity, the impending Maslow Window, and the new international Space Age — all expected to begin emerging by mid-decade.
For a brief intro, see my recent Ad Astra article; Click: A New Apollo Level Space Age.
Here are 10 key Space-related Trends for 2012:
10. Phobos-Grunt Symbolized A Key Approach to Mars Exploration:
Russia’s Phobos-Grunt mission was to be the first sample return of Phobos material to Earth — a highly attractive Mars science and colonization strategy that was recommended by us at The Case for Mars III Conference — as well as to deliver the Chinese Mars orbiter Yinghuo-1 and the Planetary Society’s LIFE capsule. Sadly, Phobos-Grunt became stranded in low Earth orbit shortly after launch on November 9 and its launch window closed on November 21.
In Space News (9/2010) I had indicated that a Phobos-first approach is a “safe, inexpensive, and smart” strategy for Mars colonization and a successful Phobos-Grunt mission might tempt Russia and China to employ it jointly. Last January I concluded that:
Two key indicators to watch in 2011 are plans for an international Moon base and a successful Russian/Chinese Phobos-Grunt mission. They’re important because they point in different directions.
It’s interesting that less than 2 months after the loss of Phobos-Grunt, China announced its development of a “preliminary plan for a human lunar landing,” (see 9 below).
However, interest in Mars remains high, including the successful launch of NASA’s $ 2.5 B Mars Science Laboratory, the continuing success of ESA’s Mars Express, NRC’s identification of Mars Sample Return as highest priority, and continued advocacy for near-term human spaceflight to Phobos (Unified Space Vision) and Mars (The Mars Society).
9. China Ascends in Space and Global Power
On December 29, shortly after the loss of Phobos-Grunt, China released a white paper announcing its intention — within the next 5 years — to pursue preliminary planning for a human landing on the Moon. In addition to the continued development of their space station and enhancing their Long March series,
China will launch orbiters for lunar soft landing, roving and surveying to implement the second stage of lunar exploration. In the third stage, China will start to conduct sampling the moon’s surface matters and get those samples back to Earth.
China’s rise as a global power has accelerated. In its “New Military Strategy” report released last February, 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.
Surprisingly, China’s economy may become its biggest challenge due to aging demographics, a difficult regulatory environment, and bad debt; Strafor predicts China will experience a Japan-like economic collapse by 2015.
China is well positioned to competitively encourage the U.S. to become a dynamic leader in deep space as we approach the next Maslow Window.
8. A Global “Critical State” Continues to Self-Organize and Points to the New International Space Age
Iran’s actions include war games in the Persian Gulf and threats to close the Strait of Hormuz if the U.S. returns its aircraft carrier (the USS John C. Stennis) to the Gulf. Recently the US Secretary of Defense reiterated that the US would not allow the Straits to be closed by Iran, and that attempts by Iran to develop a nuclear weapon will “get stopped.”
Iran’s provocations suggest irrationality. For example, most of the oil through the Strait goes to asian markets, not the U.S., although global oil price spikes might be the result of closure. Iran knows the US can use force to keep the Staits open if necessary, and also that covert operations have been utilized to delay their development of nukes. And speaking of irrationality, nuclear North Korea — who apparently shares its rocket technology with Iran — has previously threatened its neighbors and others with attacks. The recent loss of their long-time dictator has heightened tensions there.
So why all the turmoil — now? “Maslow Windows” — the rhythmic, twice-per-century pulses of great explorations, macro-engineering projects, and major wars — are actually brief critical states of the international economic system, achieved through decades of self organized criticality processes. And serious conflicts or wars are typical features of the years just before a Maslow Window or early in the Window itself.
The most recent example of such a pre- or early Maslow Window conflict was the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 (early in the Apollo Maslow Window;1958-69) which almost led to a major nuclear exchange. The Iran/Korea-style conflicts suggest a world rapidly approaching a 1960s-style “critical state” that is expected to trigger the next transformative Maslow Window — including the new international Apollo-level Space Age — by mid-decade.
7. NASA’s Kepler Discoveries Trigger A Copernican-level Expansion of Worldviews
One of the most important space programs of all time — NASA’s Kepler mission — is currently searching the skies for Earth-like planets orbiting nearby stars, with considerable success. As of today its website lists 33 confirmed new planet discoveries, 2,326 planet candidates, and most importantly, the recent discovery of the first Earth-size planets orbiting a Sun-like star.
In what Berkeley astronomer and planet hunter Geoffrey Marcy calls “a benchmark moment in the history of science” (Wall Street Journal, 12/21/11), many people and some astronomers are naturally jumping on the Earth-like planet bandwagon. For example, following scientific meetings in 2009 at the Vatican on extraterrestrials, the prestigious UK Royal Society had 2 scientific meetings in 2010 to consider if extraterrestrials are here on Earth and how to properly greet them.
This current growth of interest in ETs and Earth-like planets is part of a multi-century trend that extends back to at least the 19th century and has presaged and figured prominently in each transformative Maslow Window since that time.
However, Howard A. Smith (Harvard Center for Astrophysics) recently concluded in American Scientist (July, 2011) that the Rare Earth Hypothesis remains viable:
“Despite the growing catalog of extrasolar planets, data so far do not alter estimates that we are effectively on our own.”
In December, UK astronomer John Gribbin published Alone in the Universe (2011) in which he traces the development of human intelligence and civilization from the Big Bang to now, and concludes that the odds of our development are so low that we are probably alone. He cites, as just one of a large number of unlikely events, the exceptional circumstances of the large impact that produced our Moon and yet did not destroy Earth’s spin or axial tilt.
This is a scientific debate of Copernican proportions that has major implications for the presence of ETs in our Galaxy and elsewhere, the importance of human civilization and space colonization, and theological perspectives. It’s intensity will grow as more Earth-size planets are discovered.
6. Apocalypse Not Now, but the Doomsday Story will “go nuts in 2012”
The UCLA magazine (1/2012) interviews Dr. Ed Krupp (Ph.D., UCLA, 1972), 35-year director of Los Angeles’ Griffith Observatory and an authority on prehistoric and ancient astronomy. Given his research and professional background, he’s ideally qualified to comment on the end-of-days prophecies for 2012.
According to Dr. Krupp,
The great thing about astronomy is that you actually can predict some things. I can predict that (the doomsday story) is going to go nuts in 2012.
The pop culture fixation that when the Maya cycle of time ends on December 21, 2012 and the winter solstice Sun aligns with the center of the Milky Way – 27,000 light years away, by the way – that global havoc will ensue is “just totally untrue,” Krupp assures us.
Indeed, the Mexico Tourism Board expects more visitors in 2012 focused on the relevant Maya sites.
However, it’s important to realize that many people do not relate to space in terms of business plans, scientific advancements, technology development, national prestige, or even the excitement of discovery, but through the mystical world of astrologers and psychics. And because of the coincidental alignment of Maya end times with the approaching Maslow Window, it’s reasonable to expect that the magnitude of the public’s response – suggested by Dr. Krupp — will be intensified by the by the same “critical state” that is currently rippling into global business, geopolitics, science, and technology.
5. Slow U.S. Recovery Fits a 200-Year Pattern and Points to a JFK-style Boom by Mid-Decade
The financial Panic of 2008 and the subsequent great recession are classic precursors of the twice-per-century “critical state” over the last 200 years. While creating great hardship for many, the panic/great recession also signaled that the next JFK-style economic boom – not seen since the 1960s Maslow Window – is due by mid-decade (~2015), and would trigger the next transformative Maslow Window, featuring a new international Space Age.
That’s been the pattern over the last 200+ years, and explains why Apollo occurred during the 1960s and why we’ve been trapped in low Earth orbit for 40 years.
Stanford economist John B. Taylor (Wall Street Journal, 11/1/11) suggested recently that,
With a weak recovery – retarded by new health-care legislation and financial regulations, an exploding debt, and threats of higher taxes – the U.S. is in no position to lead as it has in the past.
Unfortunately this impacts U.S. leadership in space as well as in business, education, and technology.
Although previous pre-Maslow Window panic/great recessions have featured “double-dips” – and such concerns still exist today – the pace of the recovery will be strongly influenced by the elections of 2012 and the wildcards of Trend #1 below.
The eerie parallels between the economic and political trajectory of the 1890s – which led directly to one of the most ebullient booms in U.S. history and a transformative Maslow Window featuring the Panama Canal – and today, suggest that the prospects for prosperity will trump party affiliation or candidate identity for voter approval in 2012.
4. Solar Activity May Decline Significantly
The solar cycle may be going into a hiatus. This is highly unusual and unexpected, but the fact that three completely different views of the sun point in the same direction is a powerful indicator that the sunspot cycle may be going into hibernation,
according to Frank Hill of the National Solar Observatory last June. He was reporting the results of a 300-person meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Solar Physics Division in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
The Sun’s erratic behavior is based on long-term observations of its missing east-west jet stream (discovered by Hill’s group 15 years ago), the Sun’s erratic corona, and the declining strength of sunspot magnetic fields. Indeed, a simple extrapolation of the sunspot data indicates sunspots could completely disappear by 2022 (an earlier, less conservative interpretation of the data suggested 2015).
Hill suggested that one possibility is a nearly spot-free condition like that observed between 1645 and 1715 known as the Maunder Minimum.
Due to increases in solar activity over the last few months, the Solar Physics group of NASA/MSFC updated their forecast this week for the next solar max (in February, 2013) to 96. This is still the smallest solar cycle in more than 80 years but about 50% greater than during the Dalton Minimum (1790-1820).
Both the Maunder and Dalton Minima are associated with significant coolings on Earth (The Little Ice Age; B. Fagan, 2000). and are active areas of research. Likewise, breakthrough research at CERN is illuminating the possible connections between solar activity, cosmic rays, cloud formation, and global climate change on Earth. These studies are important to radio communication, power grids, satellite longevity, human spaceflight, and major climate and economic events.
3. The Commercial Space Age Has Begun:
I wanted to create a spaceship where myself and my children could go into space, and our friends could go into space,
explains Virgin Galactic founder and CEO Richard Branson (Wall Street Journal, 12/17/11).
I think it just simply goes back to watching the moon landing on blurry black-and-white television when I was a teenager and thinking, one day I would go to the moon—and then realizing that governments are not interested in us individuals and creating products that enable us to go into space.
In October, Branson christened Spaceport America – “the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport” – near Las Cruces, NM, and despite delays, predicts his first commercial flight by next Christmas.
Msnbc.com (Leonard David, 1/3/12) predicts that 2012 will be “a pivotal year” for private spaceflight. According to Carissa Christensen, of the Tauri Group in Alexandria, VA, the commercial achievement in human spaceflight by companies like Sierra Nevada, SpaceX and Blue Origin made “the end of the Shuttle program (feel) as if we mourned the passing of the mainframe but overlooked the emergence of the PC.”
Author/engineer Homer Hickam (Wall Street Journal, 11/17/11) concludes that:
What’s a government for if it isn’t funding research and development to make new stuff so we can all make new money? Human spaceflight is in that category. If we’re looking for a way to stimulate our economy today and in the future, a new space race—not relying on the Russians—is a good place to start.
2. Is the U.S. approaching a 21st Century “Sputnik Moment”?
The first “Sputnik Moment” occurred in 1957 when – in the context of an intense Cold War rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and attempts to work together in the International Geophysical Year – the Soviets launched the first artificial satellite, without warning. It was called the “Shock of the Century.” Americans who had provided leadership during W. W. II and promoted international economic growth in the post-War world suddenly experienced a crisis of confidence in their educational system, their ability to compete in technology development and space, and even in their ability to guarantee national security. It seemed that the U.S. trend was down while others were headed up.
Something similar may be occurring today.
For example, the U.S. educational system seems to be in the middle of the pack in international tests of math, science, and reading. On tests given to 15-year-olds in 65 countries in 2009, Shanghai’s teenagers topped every other jurisdiction in all three subjects, and in 2011 SAT scores in reading and writing have set new lows. Many students are looking for inspiration.
NASA seems to be adrift. While visits to asteroids and possible human missions to Mars (in the 2030s) are discussed, there is no plan or financial roadmap.
The U.S. is experiencing a slow economic recovery and uncertain future in response to the financial Panic of 2008 and the subsequent great recession. There is the perception of a lack of leadership in Washington.
President Obama’s proposed “historic shift” in military strategy involves major cuts in the Army and would limit U.S. ability to endure long-term conflicts and project power around the world (Wall Street Journal, 1/6/12).
There seems to be an unusual number of tipping points or wildcards (See Trend #1 below) that could have a major impact on the U.S. in 2012 and beyond.
Highlighting our “Sputnik Moment,” Apollo 17 astronaut and former U.S. Senator Harrison H. Schmitt summarized it recently this way:
America’s eroding geopolitical stature, highlighted by the July 21, 2011, end to flights of the United States Space Shuttle, has reached crisis proportions. Obama Administration officials now spin the nebulous thought of Astronauts flying many months to an undetermined asteroid in 2025 as an actual “National Space Policy”. On the other hand, Republican candidates for President have not yet recognized the importance of international civil space competition in the federal government’s constitutional function to provide for the nation’s “common defense”. Candidates appear to be uninterested in having the United States lead deep space exploration, including establishing American settlements on the Moon…
Over the last 200+ years, at this stage of the recovery from a financial panic/great recession just prior to the next “critical state” and Maslow Window, a political realignment (such as the one that began in 2008 and is continuing) has typically put the U.S. back on the road to prosperity and geopolitical ascent.
1. Several Wildcards Could Dramatically Influence U.S. and Global Trends in 2012 and Beyond
There is a perception today of an unusual number of wildcards that have the potential to dramatically influence current economic, geopolitical, and political realities. This is typical of the unusually dynamic and highly interactive environment seen during previous “critical states.”
For example, during a brief period of President Kennedy’s administration in the early 1960s, the tipping points included: the first human in space (Gargarin), the first American in space (Shepard), the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban missile crisis, the beginning of the Peace Corps, JFK’s “To the Moon” speech, and JFK’s offer to the Soviets to go to the Moon jointly.
Here are just a few well-known wildcards – and potential tipping points — that face the U.S. and the world in 2012:
a. A major recession in the Eurozone could trigger a global depression.
b. The threat of nuclear weapons could trigger a war with Iran.
c. The threat of oil flow disruptions in the Gulf might trigger a price spike and a recession.
d. The constitutionality of Obamacare will be decided in the Supreme Court.
e. As we approach solar max in early 2013, a major solar flare produces blackouts and other EMP-related effects on Earth, resulting in economic stress.
After a list like this it’s comforting to contemplate the good news: Over the last 200+ years – that included the Great Depression, several financial panics and great recessions, the Civil War, and two world wars — no Critical State/Maslow Window renaissance has ever been delayed or diminished in any observable way.