May 29 2011

Gaus’ Declining Anxiety Wave Points to the 2015 Economic Boom

1960s-style economic booms appear to be the triggers of great explorations from Lewis and Clark to Apollo, as well as the largest macro-engineering projects from the Suez Canal to Apollo.

That’s the extraordinary lesson of the last 200+ years.

However, Helmut Gaus asks if our prosperity is fundamentally more a matter of human psychology than just economics?

Gaus, a professor of political science at the University of Ghent in Belgium, has spent decades documenting an “Anxiety Wave,” which is the inverse of the better known long economic wave. According to Gaus (Why Yesterday Tells of Tomorrow, 2003)

If we scan two centuries of European history … a certain number of cultural-historical and mental changes show the same cyclic course as Kondratiev’s (economic) long wave. Not all of them can be as easily followed back to fluctuations in the market … On the face of it, these currents indicate an increase and decrease in the level of anxiety in society, with peaks and low points that correspond with the peaks and lows of Kondratiev’s long wave.

If Gaus is correct, the Maslow Window expected near 2015 (plus all those of the last 200+ years) is caused directly by the mass psychology of an “ascending phase” of the long economic wave.

In a descending long wave, in a period of increasing uncertainty and existential anxiety, the keynote of the state of mind of a whole population is different from that in an ascending phase of the same long wave, in which self-assurance and self-confidence and all other states of mind that are typical of this begin to get the upper hand.

Gaus bases his Anxiety Wave on “the best documented mass phenomenon that appears to be the subtlest indicator of the collective unconscious in our Western world”: women’s fashion. For example, Gaus has identified a yellow/orange fashion metric that’s apparently indicative of a positive mind set, as indicated in Figure 2. Notice that the index ascends during the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window until about 1968, when it begins a steep descent until the mid-1970s. Its decline continues more gently into the 1990s.

Fig. 2. According to Gaus, from 1956 to 2000 the bright color scheme (of yellow/orange) in women’s fashions indicates a “happiness wave” consistent with long waves in the economy

If it is real, we’d expect that Gaus’ fashion-based Anxiety Wave — the inverse of the “happiness wave” shown above in Fig. 2 — would correlate well with unemployment; and it does, see Fig. 3. Notice how anxiety and unemployment decline during the 1960s Maslow Window until about 1968, and then begin a steady rise until the mid-1980s.

Fig. 3. Unemployment in Germany from 1956 to 2000 correlates well with Gaus’ fashion-based Anxiety Wave.

Although the number of marriages (in the Netherlands) is inversely correlated with the Anxiety Wave, the mean age of the mother at the birth of her first child (in Germany) from 1956 to 2000 is directly correlated. As anxiety drops during the 1960s Maslow Window so does the mean age until about 1970 when both reverse and begin an upward trend.

Fig. 4. The mean age of a mother at the birth of her first child (in Germany) declined until 1968 and increased thereafter.

Even astrology correlates with Gaus’ Anxiety Wave. The end of the 1960s Maslow Window near 1968 triggers a steep increase in the number of books on astrology in German and British libraries, which levels off in the mid-1980s.

Fig. 5. Apparently astrology comforted an increasing number of people (in Germany and the UK) after the 1960s Maslow Window ended near 1968.

Because human anxiety is very difficult to measure, especially on a mass basis, Gaus’ data does not prove that an Anxiety Wave exists or that it drives the long economic wave (e.g. Kondratiev Wave). However, it does provide intriguing evidence of rhythmic, twice-per-century fluctuations of significant non-economic parameters in society, that correlates well with long-term economic trends.

Dimitri Maex at suggests that in addition to fashion, search engines might work too…

The idea that fluctuations in the economy are caused by the collective levels of anxiety is interesting but hard to prove. Data on the mental state of society is scarce, which is why Gaus used data on fashion as a proxy. There is however a relatively new data source that holds exteremely rich informatoion on what’s on people’s minds – it’s the data held by search engines. Knowing what people search on and how that changes over time could potentially lead to a barometer of society’s mental state.

Gaus boldly ends his book with 20 future behavioral trends, including the major economic boom of 2015 that is expected to trigger the next 1960s-style Maslow Window and the new international Space Age.

If the rhythm of rising and falling of the long wave in the coming decades is the same as in the past two centuries, we can expect the bottom of the anxiety curve, and thus the peak of the economic boom, around 2015 – 2020…

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May 17 2011

The Klaatu Effect Signals an Accelerating Cultural Focus on Space

Recently, the Wall Street Journal (5/6/11; J. Hookway) featured a grabby, partly tongue-in-cheek page 1 piece about strange events in Asia. “Alien Signtings Go Into Hyperdrive” — this time in Thailand — reminded me of the Klaatu Effect.

In the 1950s traffic was so bad in Washington that not even an interstellar spacecraft could find a place to park. Apparently, now the problem’s spread to Asia.

According to the Mutual UFO Network in Colorado,

Since the slump in the Western banking system in 2008, UFO sightings among Asia’s fast-growing economies have accelerated. Suspicious UFOs have shut down airports in China, buzzed resorts in Borneo and lti up the night sky in Myanmar.

However, the action in Thailand is strangely familiar. For example, dozens of UFO enthusiasts — e.g., medical students, interior decorators, others — routinely camp out at their own personal “Stargate” to experience UFOs and their effects. One participant explains that,

When we meditate we can understand what they’re trying to tell us — we feel it through our bodies and we understand.

An American medical doctor in Thailand says he had his first UFO encounter in 1996 on the phone with an alien from Mars. The ET said “not to worry about the phone bill.” Now he sees them all the time.

They warn of natural disasters such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami or political upheavals …

Other UFO investigators in Thailand believe they communicate with UFO aliens telepathically, and one army sergeant claims to have channeled ETs.

Then an alien voice spoke to us through the sergeant and told us he was there to help human beings reach the next level of development.

This is a replay of a UFO-related subculture that developed in the U.S. and elsewhere during the 1950s and 1960s, before and during the Apollo Maslow Window. Although seemingly with loose screws and easily dismissed, you can read about their cultural impact in computer scientist Jacques Vallee’s intriguing book, Messengers of Deception.

It suggests we may be approaching an affluent, ebullient time with a cultural focus on space, not seen since the 1960s.

In the 1950s, the medical doctor above would have been called a “contactee.” Alleged telepathic communications and warnings of threatening natural and political events were common. From 1953 until 1973, the famous contactee George Van Tassel, who was reportedly a flight test engineer for Howard Hughes, organized large, public UFO conventions — featuring all of the above — in the Southern California desert at Giant Rock (near Landers, CA).

During the early 1960s UFOs became so respectable that one contactee, Gabriel Green, ran for the U.S. Senate from California and received 171,000 votes in the primaries (M. Sachs, The UFO Encyclopedia, 1980).

About 5 years ago while casually perusing the UFOCAT (Center for UFO Studies), a computerized list of UFO sightings from 1946 to 2000, I noticed that UFO sightings were reported worldwide, including Europe, the UK, and North America. Athough they were plentiful from 1947 through the 1950s and 1960s, they petered out after 1973. The timing is coincident with the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window and the preceding decade.

Assuming the UFOCAT was accurate and complete, I still didn’t know if people were actually seeing more UFOs before 1973 than after, or if media reports were artificially stimulating the phenomenon. But I unofficially started calling this the “Klaatu Effect,” after the magnificent space alien in the original movie, The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951).

The current Klaatu Effect involves more than Bay Area-style UFO enthusiasts in Asia. For example, Dr. Lynne Kitei, a well-known physician and educator, discussed UFOs recently on Fox News Channel. She’s played a major role drawing attention to the extraordinary Phoenix Lights UFO sightings of March, 1997. They have been compared to one of the most intriguing mass witness UFO events ever: the Washington National Airport UFO sightings of 1952, when reportedly several UFOs flew in formation over the White House on consecutive weekends.

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Dec 18 2010

Korea, Iran, and the Venezuela Missile Crisis: Self-Organizing Toward a Critical State?

Bill Richardson describes current tensions on the Korean peninsula as “a tinderbox.” It’s “particularly complex and sensitive,” according to Jiang Yu of the Chinese Foreign Ministry. The popular New Mexico governor asserts “There’s enormous potential for miscalculation.”

All this is 57 years — one long economic wave — after the end of the early 1950s Korean War, a proxy war where the Soviet Union and China lined up with the North Korean Communists against the U.S.-led United Nations forces in the South.

Surely the rekindling of Korean tensions one long wave after the original war is a coincidence… Or is it?

Actually, over the last 2 1/2 years has highlighted a variety of evidence supporting my initial suggestion in 1996 (Cordell, 1996; Also 2006) that long-term trends in the economy (i.e., the long, 56-year business cycle, discovered in 1989) are the fundamental drivers of great human explorations (e.g., Lewis and Clark), macro engineering projects (e.g., Panama Canal), and major wars (World War I) that exclusively cluster together every 55-60 years, over at least the last 200+ years.

More recently, two new ideas are explored here: 1) that “Maslow Windows” — the rhythmic, twice-per-century pulses of great explorations, MEPs, and major wars — are actually brief critical states of the international economic/technology system, typically achieved through decades of self organized criticality (SOC) processes, and 2) that serious conflicts or wars are typical features of the years just before a Maslow Window or early in the Window itself.

The classic example of such a pre- or early Maslow Window conflict is the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 — early in the Apollo Maslow Window (1959-69) — when conflict over Soviet offensive missiles emplaced in Cuba almost led to a major nuclear exchange with the U.S.. Other examples include the Napoleonic Wars (Lewis and Clark Maslow Window), the Mexican war (Dr. Livingstone/Suez Maslow Window), and the Spanish-American War (Peary/Panama Maslow Window).

This model suggests the current Korean tensions — including their potential for nuclear war involving N and S Korea and possibly other nearby states (e.g., Japan) — are a harbinger of the next Maslow Window expected by 2015. Plus the seemingly irrational provocations by North Korea resulting in a “tinderbox”, “complex,” and “sensitive” situation, are actually the types of interactions we’d expect as we approach a critical Maslow state.

While it’s tempting to dismiss this model as just another scary fantasy, please be reminded that medium-size wars have already been identified as SOC phenomena by National Aademy of Sciences member Donald Turcotte and his colleagues as early as 1998.

The results we have shown indicate that world order behaves as a self-organized critical system independent of the efforts made to control and stabilize interactions between people and countries; and wars, like forest fires, are SOC processes.

Plus historian Niall Ferguson suggested recently that WW I was a product of self organized criticality.

But there’s more.

Iran is believed to be developing nuclear weapons and the missiles needed to deliver them to places like Israel and beyond. Some observers have suggested that Israel might preemptively attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. And WikiLeak cables indicate that even Saudi Arabia has encouraged the U.S. to attack Iran.

Iran’s growing nuclear capability is interpreted here as a precursor to the strong SOC conditions that will trigger the 2015 Maslow Window. And along with spiking Korean tensions, it underlines the gravity of our current, increasingly fractal, geopolitical situation.

And, or course, there’s even more: the Venezuela Missile Crisis.

The highly-regarded German daily, Die Welt. reported last month (11/25/10) that Iran — who apparently shares missile technology with North Korea — has plans to place medium-range ballistic missiles in Venezuela.

If this story is confirmed, it would constitute a true Cuban Missile Crisis-style threat, that would require a strategic response from the United States.

However, things have changed since the 1960s. Popular Mechanics (December, 2010) recently described a chilling scenario in which China is able to neutralize U.S. aircraft carriers — the basis for U.S. force projection in the Pacific and elsewhere — utilizing a new Chinese antiship ballistic missile. China’s carrier killer could conceivably preclude American naval support of Taiwan, South Korea, and other U.S. allies in the region.

Some have speculated that the recent mystery launch of an unidentified missile (it didn’t appear to be an airplane) off the Southern California coast was intended to demonstrate China’s growing antiship capabilities.

That’s the bad news.

But the good news is that even the Cuban Missile Crisis was rapidly resolved and did not delay — and indeed probably intensified — the 1960s space race to the Moon. The same is true of all other pre- or early Maslow Window conflicts over the last 200+ years.

Growing international interests in lunar development, space commercialization (including space toruism), and even Mars colonization, might stimulate the development of a Grand Alliance for Space. With a little luck, it could reduce the intensity of current conflicts that show evidence of increasing, long wave-related SOC in the world system.

NOTE: Please check out the following Comment for more on why a major war or nuclear conflict is unlikely in the next 10-15 years.

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Nov 25 2010

Images Celebrate Gold, John Sutter, and the Ebullient Mid-19th Century Maslow Window

Since I planned to be in Sacramento last weekend, I decided to enjoy some of the key historical sites — e.g., of the extraordinary California Gold Rush — associated with the ebullient mid-19th century Maslow Window.

Typical of America’s exceptional mid-19th Century ebullience was the California Gold Rush (1848-1855); gold was first discovered here at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, CA by James Marshall.
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(All images by Bruce Cordell, 2010)

Maslow Windows over the last 200 years are usually preceded by a financial panic and major recession (much like the Panic of 2008 and our current global recession), and the Dr. Livingstone/James Polk Maslow Window (~1847-60) was no exception.

The Panic of 1837 was a monster — in 1960 Nobel winner Milton Friedman compared it to the 1930s Great Depression — but in 6 long years it finally gave way to an early-1840s recovery and boom that triggered the ebullience of “Manifest Destiny.” This Panic/Great Recession/Boom/Maslow Window sequence repeated one long wave later starting with the Panic of 1893 and culminating with perhaps the most ebullient decade in U.S. history: the Peary/Panama/T.Roosevelt Maslow Window.

For more background on Mainfest Destiny please see, “How the West Was Won — The Expansionist Effects of Ebullience,” and on the CA Gold Rush see #1 of “10 Lessons Lewis and Clark Teach Us About the Human Future in Space.”

I’ve written about this period a lot lately because it appears that we began reliving major elements of the 1893-to-1913 chronology two long waves later starting with the Panic of 2008. If this trend continues, as it has repeatedly over the last 200+ years, we should expect a new 1960s-style golden age of prosperity, exploration, and technology triggered by a major economic boom, to emerge by 2015.

Shortly after the discovery of gold there, Sutter’s Mill was closed. The flood of 1862 destroyed the structure and the current replica (shown here from the river side) was constructed on the original site in 1967 — fittingly during the ebullient Apollo Maslow Window.


The image below is not a cannon. It was used during “hydraulicking” to dislodge sediment and gold from rock walls. The jets of water were environmentally destructive. A realistic depiction of this technique is seen in Clint Eastwood’s popular 1985 movie “Pale Rider”.


The Gold Discovery Museum of the Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma has a number of captivating exhibits.


I was originally headed up 80 to Tahoe to take a peek at the Donner Museum and the famous snow monument, but ran into an electronic sign announcing the need for chains at the summit. Since Hertz had rented me a red Mustang convertable (not my choice!), I was unequipped for the trip so I headed first to Coloma and then back to Sacramento to see Sutter’s Fort.

Proof of the macho Sierra storm was provided by this car’s snowy roof (and many others). It was fleeing westward down the hill Sunday afternoon on highway 50 just west of Placerville.


The famous, ebullient John Sutter who owned Sutter’s Mill also founded Sutter’s Fort in 1839 (he called it “New Helvetia”) that eventually grew into Sacramento. This interior view was taken looking southeast. I was in front of the Blacksmith Shop (doors on the right) in the West Yard looking toward the fort’s main entrance (near the left edge). Sutter would have been fascinated by the modern Sutter Medical Center in the distance.

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Here’s the Blacksmith Shop. State-of-the-art for its time. In terms of the craftsmen and technologists required to support early 19th century frontier life, the fort was essentially self-contained. It was the first non-native American outpost in the Central Valley. Except for the more benign environment and the native inhabitants, Sutter’s Fort was the 19th century analog to a first lunar base.


Cannons stationed in the second-floor bastion at the southeast corner made sure that anyone not invited to the party wouldn’t crash it.


Sutter founded his fort only 2 years after the Panic of 1837 (see above). Relative to the long wave, that’s what we call — bad timing. And although he was the quintessential entrepreneur, Sutter was increasingly plagued by debt. Here we see the Central Building — the only original structure still standing in the rebuilt fort — including the 2nd floor offices of the doctor, clerk, and Sutter himself. It would have provided the last line of defense if necessary.


It’s clear that everyone at Sutter’s Fort feasted well. This view — from the Clerk’s 2nd floor office — shows the northeast corner of the East Yard. Here are the Bakery and Bakery Storeage areas, and the outdoor Beehive Oven.

This must have been of great interest to the last survivors of the Donner party who were brought here in April, 1848, as the mid-19th century Maslow Window was gaining steam. Sutter’s Fort was near the end of the famed California Trail and welcomed many an ebullient pilgrim who came seeking their fortune in gold, agirculture, etc.


In this image (pardon the screen) we are peering into Sutter’s 2nd floor business office in the Central Building. This is where Sutter planned his new enterprises, worked with his Clerk to monitor operations and finances, and sadly, watched his fortune dissolve.


Sutter’s empire was short-lived. According to William Dillinger (The Gold Discovery, 2006), within only a decade of its founding, and …

After the gold discovery, Sutter’s heavily mortgaged fort and lands were overrun by gold-seekers and squatters until he was finally driven to take refuge at his “Hock Farm” on the Feather River.

In the Museum there is a revealing quote from Sutter to the effect that he would have become very rich if the gold discovery had happened only a couple of years later (~1850), but the ensuing chaos caused him to lose almost everything. In effect, if the normal major mid-19th century economic boom had not been temporarily subverted by gold fever, his under-capitalized (i.e., debt-ridden) businesses would have flourished — if his timing had been better.

Sutter’s experience reminds us that the long wave is very formidable — especially when you are unaware of it. Or if you don’t plan for it. This key lesson — gleaned from transformative Maslow Windows over the last 200+ years — still applies in the 21st century to those who aspire to grow with human expansion into the cosmos, when it re-ignites by 2015.

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Aug 21 2010

China Surges to #2 and Contemplates More Freedom: The Implications for Space

One way or the other, China will be a major player in space and on Earth during the next 10 -15 years (i.e., the 2015 Maslow Window)

The New York Times (8/15/10) concurs.

After three decades of spectacular growth, China passed Japan in the second quarter to become the world’s second-largest economy behind the United States. The milestone, though anticipated for some time, is the most striking evidence yet that China’s ascendance is for real and that the rest of the world will have to reckon with a new economic superpower.

Will China ascend to global leadership in space during the next 10-15 years?
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The Times suggested that China’s surge will continue and may eventually approach the much larger capacity of the U.S. “as early as 2030.”

China’s continuing growth fits well into a scenario that sketched over 2 years ago in “10 Reasons Why China is Good for Space”:

China’s space program stretches back more than 35 years, suggesting that space will expand in importance because of the growing economic, technological, and scientific culture of the country … China’s very rapid economic growth hovers around 10% annually. This is very important internally to the Communist Party leaders, as well as to major export sources like Wal-Mart! It also provides the financial cornerstone for future Chinese technology and space initiatives.

China’s challenges include its low GDP per capita value of $ 3,600 –similar to “impoverished nations ike Algeria, El Salvador and Albania” – versus $ 46,000 for the United States. Interestingly, the Times credits the Communist Party with China’s surge.

There is little disputing that under the direction of the Communist Party, China has begun to reshape the way the global economy functions by virtue of its growing dominance of trade, its huge hoard of foreign exchange reserves and United States government debt and its voracious appetite for oil, coal, iron ore and other natural resources.

Quite a different view is offered by a Chinese General recently in the popular Hong Kong magazine, Phoenix, in which he sees a choice for China of either “American-style democracy or Soviet-style collapse.”
According to General Liu Yazhou,

If a system fails to let its citizens breathe freely and release their creativity to the maximum extent, and fails to place those who best represent the system and its people into leadership positions, it is certain to perish … ‘The secret of US success is neither Wall Street nor Silicon Valley, but its long-surviving rule of law and the system behind it … The American system is said to be ‘designed by genius and for the operation of the stupid’. A bad system makes a good person behave badly, while a good system makes a bad person behave well. Democracy is the most urgent; without it there is no sustainable rise.

This is similar to American self-described “panda hugger” Thomas P. M. Barnett’s view (2/12/10) about the necessity for more freedom in China.

Once the extensive growth period is done and the “golden period” of demographic advantage dissipates, there is no advantage to having authoritarian government–despite the many myths recently created about the “superiority” of China’s single-party state. China is heading to the all-things-being-equal part of advanced development, and when a regime reaches that point, democracies simply perform better–not by how they run things but by how they get the hell out of the way of those who really need to run things, aka the private sector.

Such a transition might actually be easier than it sounds based on the impressions of international analyst Chris Mayer who recently visited Beijing and reports that “A more bustling capitalistic city would be hard to imagine … (and) There must be more communists in Berkeley than in Beijing.”

On the other hand, despite China’s 11.1% growth rate in 1st half of 2010, Stratfor cautions against linear forecasting and, in fact, sees a “Japan-like collapse” for China by 2015. In their Decade Forecast for 2005 – 2015 (2/5/05) Stratfor asserted the following:

Perhaps our most dramatic forecast is that China will suffer a meltdown like Japan and East and Southeast Asia before it. The staggering proportion of bad debt, enormous even in relation to official dollar reserves, represents a defining crisis for China. China will not disappear by any means, any more than Japan or South Korea has. However, extrapolating from the last 30 years is unreasonable. We also expect there to be significant political consequences … Why, then, if STRATFOR sees a China on the verge — if not already in the midst — of massive internal upheaval, is there a general global acceptance of the idea that not only is China on an unstoppable rise, but that people should pour their money into the Chinese economy? In part, this is due to tunnel vision — assessors of the Chinese economy are looking only at the booming center-coastal economies in and around Shanghai. In part, it is intentional self-delusion, a failure to connect the dots.

China’s approaching tipping point presents an opportunity to highlight trends — without giving away too many trade secrets — that are illuminated by the empirical, long-term approach of Here are a few.

1) Gen Liu Yazhou agrees with Stratfor.
After several admirable years of sticking to their unpopular, but rational China-collapse-by-2015 forecast, Stratfor recently found an important ally: the courageous Chinese General. Media hype about China catching the U.S. economically by 2030 appears increasingly unrealistic. But it also weakens somewhat the case for private investors to make long-term financial commitments to China’s economy. (Also, see #4 below.)

2) The Japanese deflationary decade was consistent with Long Wave trends.
According to the Wall Street Journal (8/17/10), “After its property and stock bubbles burst in 1990, Japan also embarked on what may have been the longest and most expensive Keynesian policy experiment in world history.” This deflationary trajectory mirrored the downward trend of the long economic wave which reached its trough in the late 1990s. By contrast, the U.S. experienced a remarkable economic boom in the 1990s, although — possibly due to long wave effects — it never gained the momentum or had the widespread demographic impact of the 1960s Kennedy Boom (which triggered the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window).

For more, see “200 Years of GDP Trends Support a Near-Term, New Space Age.”

3) Will China choose American-style democracy over Chinese communism?
China insiders insist that the country is held together by rapid economic growth and nationalism — both of which, of course, are strongly connected to China’s space program — not devotion to the Communist Party. Thus a near-term China collapse could indeed trigger major political changes like those advocated by General Liu Yazhou.

4) A near-term, Japan-style Collapse of China Will Be Relatively Brief.
There are at least 2 major reasons why a China collapse will be brief: a) Political reforms in China would be expected to stimulate the Chinese economy through increased freedom and innovation, and b) the dynamic upward turn of the global economy — much like we experienced in 2007 just before the financial panic — as we ascend toward the 2015 Maslow Window, will shorten the Chinese deflationary interval.

5) A Grand Alliance for Space or Apollo-style Competition?
The juxtaposition in time of a likely China collapse by 2015 accompanied by liberal political reforms, and the approach of the 2015 Maslow Window, is not as coincidental as it seems, and will virtually guarantee that China will not experience anything like the Japan Deflationary Decade. In fact, the real possibility exists that China will rebound early in the 2015 Maslow Window to become a (or “the”) global leader in space.

One key indicator to watch is China’s possible participation in a joint Russia-China manned Mars initiative after 2015 as an outgrowth of their joint mission in 2011 to Phobos.

Ironically, a robust, growing Chinese economy – which is in everyone’s economic interest around the world — might be more likely to trigger a new Apollo-style space race, instead of a more productive ‘Global Alliance for Space,’ that might be favored in less prosperous times.

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Jul 11 2010

State of the Wave: Why No One’s Been to the Moon in 40 years — How Soon We’ll Go Again

As we search for clues to our economic future by looking for parallels between our current great recession and the past (e.g., the 1930s), it’s logical to also seek historical parallels relating other great events that are strongly dependent on economic conditions. For example, the manned space program, and specifically, human spaceflight to the Moon and Mars.

Viewed in this context, President Obama’s recent cancellation of Constellation — America’s program to return to the Moon by 2020 — is not a big surprise. It’s just a speed bump on the road to a near-term Moon base, including international commercial and scientific development of Earth-Moon space.

This glimpse of the future is not based on hope or optimism, but on long-term trends in the economy, technology, and geopolitics which point to a near-term re-ignition of President Kennedy’s nearly 50-year old vision of human exploration of the Moon and planets.

The 1960s Apollo Moon program was the greatest combined exploration and technology event in the history of the world, because it was off-world!
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If we could understand what fundamentally drove Apollo, we might glimpse our future in space. And yet, as we discovered again last July during celebrations of the Moon landing’s 40th anniversary, we still can’t agree on why Apollo moonwalking ended in 1972. For example, Right Stuff author Tom Wolfe believes “the answer is obvious. NASA had neglected to recruit a corps of philosophers,” such as Saturn V developer Wernher von Braun, to explain the real meaning of Apollo to the public. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Heavens and the Earth (1985), Walter McDougall explains that

the bold lunar goal … encouraged Congress and the nation to believe that Apollo was the space program … Once the space race was over and won, Americans could turn back to their selfish pursuits.

Formerly with CNN, Miles O’Brien dismisses the most obvious manned space challenge — cost.

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?

This is an important clue. Apollo cost about $ 150 B (in 2007 USD). Imagine the Apollo-level manned space programs we could have funded with only a fraction of Obama’s initial $ 800+ B stimulus package. But although the money magically appeared, Americans did not spontaneously demand Moonbases or manned Mars missions. So the availability of money, by itself, does not fundamentally drive big space programs.

Wolfe alludes to powerful. but short-lived forces permeating Apollo: “

Everybody, including Congress, was caught up in the adrenal rush of it all.

This included the quintessential media figure of the time, Walter Cronkite, who predicted that after Apollo 11, “everything else that has happened in our time is going to be an asterisk.”

And O’Brien concludes that.

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.

This emotional component — and its rapid demise in the late 1960s — explains why money is not enough. The people also have to feel good.

This is reminiscent of a Keynesian concept called “animal spirits,” used to explain why investors become either irrationally exhuberant or unnecessarily discouraged by business conditions during a boom or a bust. However, public support for Apollo was not primarily driven by the promise of profits from space, nor in the end, even by beating the Soviets to the Moon.

Instead the unprecedented, widespread affluence from the Kennedy boom momentarily catapulted many average citizens to elevated levels of Maslow’s hierarchy where their expanded worldviews made the Apollo program seem not only intriguing, but almost irresistible — as reflected in 1960s opinion polls.

Indeed, the strong connection between manned planetary exploration and Maslow-related values was emphasized in 1961 by the National Academy of Science’s Space Science Board, chaired by Lloyd Berkner, in their influential report to President Kennedy.

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.

But the Maslow effect was short-lived. As early as 1966, growing distress over Vietnam and budget issues began to erode affluence-induced “ebullience,” and this 1960s Apollo “Maslow Window” rapidly closed, as evidenced by Nixon’s cancellation of the last three Apollo Moon missions.

As recently as Memorial Day weekend in Chicago at the International Space Development Conference 2010, distinguished physicist and space scientist Freeman Dyson lamented that “we have been stuck in LEO for 40 years.” In the context of Apollo, this is consistent with the absence — since the 1960s — of a post-World War II-style long boom culminating in widespread, Camelot-style ebullience.

We almost got one started in 2007 when Fortune magazine (7/12/07) celebrated the “greatest economic boom ever.” But it was interrupted by the financial Panic of 2008 and our subsequent great recession. Will 2007’s great boom be revived? And how soon?

Intriguing parallels with Apollo go back at least 200 years to Lewis and Clark, but the last century is particularly revealing. For example, the financial Panic of 1893 and the great 1890s recession may have more parallels with our current circumstances than the Apollo-related decades from 1950-70. The 1890s featured a double-dip recession and unemployment above 10%, as well as a political realignment that led to a stunning 1960s-style economic boom after 1899. The resulting early 20th century Maslow Window featured extraordinary ebullience, including “Panama fever” as the new canal split the continent and transformed America into a global power, “pole mania” as heroic international teams risked death to be the first to the poles, the civilization-altering Wright brothers’ first flights, and perhaps the most ebullient U.S. president ever: Theodore Roosevelt.

The trajectory of future history is not confined to a choice between the 1890-1913 Panic/recession model or the 1950-1973 Apollo example. But significantly, they both point to a golden age of prosperity, exploration, and technology that’s just around the corner.

Based on the historical pattern of rhythmic, twice-per-century Maslow Windows — over the last 200 years — including the Panic/Great Recession pairs (like the Panic of 2008) that typically occur a few years before the Windows, we can expect the new international Space Age to start gaining momentum by 2015.

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Jul 03 2010

How the Sun is Influencing Climate and the New Space Age

For those who relied mostly on economic models, the Panic of 2008 and subsequent great recession was a shock. But for those who noticed trends in macroeconomic data — especially over the last 200 years — it was a realistic probability. Likewise, theoretical models of Earth’s climate system can’t reliably forecast the future (or even current) climate, because they don’t include the actual physics of the system.

Does declining solar activity signal the “end of global warming”?

This is important because climate politics (not to be confused with climate science!) currently has the potential to significantly lower economic growth which is the fundamental driver of the new international Space Age, as well as previous Apollo-style Maslow Windows over the last 200 years.

Despite what many media and political types continue to tell us, for some time the scientific data has pointed away from CO2 as the climate culprit; an excellent summary is here. And the Sun is receiving icreasing attention because of its odd behavior and interesting history, and new science about its connections to climate.

The Sun is Changing

As of yesterday, the official webpage of chief NASA Sun forecaster David Hathaway is still sticking to its story that the next solar sunspot cycle will be only about half as active (Max= 64.1 in mid-2013) as the last 3 cycles. (Sunspot cycles last about 11 years but their intensities are highly variable.) It was only a few years ago when Dr. Hathaway warned colleagues at the American Geophysical Union meeting (12/2006) that the next solar cycle is going to be a big one. It

looks like its going to be one of the most intense cycles since record-keeping began almost 400 years ago,

You can see an amusing animation of the declining trend of Dr. Hathaway’s solar cycle predictions HERE.

Are We on Course for a Dalton Minimum or a Grand Minimum?

Times of low solar activitiy are associated with cooler temperatures on Earth. And 2008 and 2009 were in the top 3 most spotless years in the last century;
A good example is the severe European winter of 2009-10, although the correlation holds at least back to 1650.

Hathaway told the New York Times last year (7/20/2009) that while a Maunder Minimum — a time from 1645 to 1715 when sunspots were almost absent associated with the Little Ice Age — is unlikely, a Dalton Minimum “lies in the realm of the possible.”

From 1790 to 1830, the Dalton Minimum featured maximum sunspot numbers near 50 (only 15 below Hathaway’s current prediction for the next cycle) and cooler temperatures on Earth. For example, the Oberlacch Station in Germany experienced a 2.0 deg C drop for twenty years, and the “Year Without a Summer” occurred in 1816.

Although still uncertain, the mechanism amplifying small changes in solar activity (see the presentation by Kirkby.CERN.2009) to produce climate change on Earth is apparently associated with galactic cosmic rays (GCR); they trigger ion-induced cloud formation and cooling on Earth’s surface. During low solar activity, magnetic fields in the solar wind are weaker and block fewer GCRs; so increased ion-induced nucleation by GCRs triggers more cloud formation in the lower atmosphere — and cooling.

In the June, 2010 issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of Cosmology (Vol. 8, 1983-1999) Duhau and de Jaeger propose that the Sun will enter a “Grand Minimum” of solar activity. Like the Maunder Minimum, it will feature very low solar activity and will last for at least one century. They forecast that the current cycle (#24) will occur in mid-2013 and will have a Dalton-like max sunspot number as low as 55. Their model indicates the Grand Minimum should arrive around 2020 to 2030.

The Sun and the New Space Age

Macroeconomic data and historical trends — including the Panic of 2008 and current great recession — over the last 200+ years point to the arrival of the new international Space Age near 2015. In several ways, the Sun will encourage humans to think beyond Earth for their future.

1. As science points convincingly away from CO2 and toward other climate change factors (including the Sun/GCR connection), the rationale for major climate legislation — that would limit rapid economic growth typical of Apollo-style space programs — is reduced.

2. Opinion polls show the American public does not regard CO2-related climate change as a major threat to their lives. They appear to be far ahead of many current political leaders. The profoundly negative vision of the future described by CO2 climate advocates is inconsistent with the societal ebullience that we expect near the opening of the 2015 Maslow Window.

3. Increasing scientific and public interest in the Sun as a fascinating astronomical body with important influences on climate change is expected to accelerate as we approach the new Space Age. Things associated with extraterrestrial life and habitable planets (e.g., Mars) — including the life-giving Sun — will take center stage as we continue human expansion into the cosmos and contemplate settlement of the solar system.

4. The Sun will play an increasingly central role in our global energy future through the development of large space-based solar power satellites. This is closely related to #3 above.

5. If the Sun were to descend into a Maunder Minimum-style “Grand Minimum” between 2020 and 2030, it would be a global disaster. Keep in mind that without long-term planning we can expect long-term economic forces to abruptly terminate the 2015 Maslow Window by 2025, if not before. Having a large, routine presence in space by 2020 — including more control of solar energy — will enable human civilization to prosper through both potential threats.

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May 17 2010

Animal Spirits, Complexity, and “The Most Dangerous Guy Out There”

New York Times Magazine (5/16/10; B. Wallace-Wells) features a revealing profile of former Chicago professor and current Obama regulatory czar, Cass Sunstein. A profound devotee of behavorial economics — which assumes that human irrationality is predictable — Sunstein commented that its elaboration “is the most exciting intellectual development of my lifetime.”

Did positive Keynesian Animal Spirits drive both the Panama Canal in 1914…

… and the Apollo program in 1969? Click .

The Times’ piece is of interest to us at because John Maynard Keynes — the first prominent behavorial economist — invented the concept of “animal spirits” to explain the crucial role of confidence (both optimism and pessimism) in the economy. Conceptually, animal spirits appears related to “ebullience” which — through the psychologically expansive effects of Maslow’s hierarchy — triggers public support for great explorations and MEPs.

In fact, animal spirits and ebullience may be two sides of the same coin. For example, positive animal spirits stimulate actors in the economy to produce a boom. While ebullience, although typically affluence-induced, operates in the elevated Maslow (self-actualizing) mode and makes great expectations and MEPs seem almost irresistible. Negative animal spirits rapidly terminate the boom, erode ebullience, collapse society’s elevated Maslow state, and “close” the Maslow Window.

But the Times explains that not everyone is happy with Sunstein’s vision.

Conservatives see a Big Brother strain in Sunstein’s philosophy (Glenn Beck called him “the most dangerous guy out there”), while some liberals worry that behavorial economics is too immature to handle the weight of guiding policy.

This is partly because of two Sunstein beliefs:
1) the idea that the human quality of irrationality can be predicted,
and, according to the Times,
2) “this is the controversial part — that if the social environment can be changed, people might be nudged into more rational behavior.”

Animal Spirits Exist
More interesting at this point — given the still-embryonic state of the science — is the recent discovery by a University of California, Irvine economist that animal spirits are actually important to business cycles (Investers Chronicle, 3/26/10; C. Dillow). Fabio Milani compared the expectations of individual economic forecasters (from the Survey of Economic Forecasters) with a learning model featuring a “rational expectations solution” to the system. According to Milani,

Private sector agents in some periods may be overly optimistic — by forecasting a higher future output or lower inflation rate, for example, than implied by their learning model — or overly pessimistic. These waves of over-optimism and over-pessimism, which are exogenous to the state of the economy, are defined as the expectation shocks in the model.

Milani’s “expectation shocks” can account for more than half of the variation in the U.S. GDP over the last 40 years. Not only did his expectation shocks fall before each of the last 7 recessions, they are near an all-time low now. Thus animal spirits, expectation shocks, and ebullience are apparently at work during business cycles.

The Market is a Complex Adaptive System
Herbert Gintis (3/31/2009) of the Santa Fe Institute modeled the market in 2007 as an agent-based complex adaptive system. In his review of Akerloff and Shiller’s book, Animal Spirits (2009), Gintis suggests that animal spirits are only part of the story:

The major thesis of the book is only partially correct in attributing macroeconomic instability to human foibles … Akerlof and Shiller do not have enough evidence to assert confidently that people are driven by irrational animal spirits to produce market volatility. People imitate the successful, both in my agent-based model and in real life. This is generally quite rational behavior, but it can produce “behavioral cascades” that are destabilizing

Part of the confusion apparently arises because of evolving conditions that affect the notion of “rational” versus “irrational.” Is it rational for investors and businesses to join the bandwagon when a strong upward economic trend has been established? Probably yes. On the other hand, is it irrational for investors and businesses to assume that the boom will continue forever? Yes, for sure.

Therefore, investors who were initially rational may become irrational as the boom peaks. This is especially true when the system becomes strongly fractal and increasingly unpredictable.

It appears that animal spirits have an empirical foundation and, together with ebullience, are able to explain the psychological rationale behind widespread public support for great explorations and MEPs during Maslow Windows. The fact that public support is short-lived and that Maslow Windows display punctuated equilibrium — e.g., are separated by 55 to 60 years — is consistent with the idea that we’re dealing with a complex adaptive system that requires 5 – 6 decades to repeatedly self-organize into a critical state (the Maslow Window).

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May 01 2010

Space: The Fractal Frontier — How Complexity Drives Exploration

Like a breath of fresh air, the science of self organized criticality has illuminated many disciplines, including astrophysics, biology, climate, economics, geopolitics, and others (see Turcotte & Rundle (2002) PNAS, “Self-organized criticality in the physical, biological, and social sciences.”)

What do Apollo and the new international Space Age have in common?
…Self organized criticality?

Click .

The brainchild of Danish physicist Per Bak (1948-2002) — “one of the most original people in science” — SOC is an emergent property of complex systems whereby they organize themselves into a critical state such that rapid changes, including catastrophes, can occur. You can see the famous “Bak sandpile” conceptual model of SOC in Aschwanden (2010) as well as in Bak (1996), How Nature Works.

The captivating assertion of social scientist and SOC enthusiast Gregory Brunk (2002) that,

Virtually all aggregate-level, monumental events are somehow ’caused’ by the process of self-organized criticality,

suggests that SOC may have played a major role in the Apollo program and other major MEPs over the last 200 years. This post is a brief sketch how that might work.

Apollo Was the Most Recent of the Great Explorations
Cordell (1996) described the extraordinary pulses of great human explorations (e.g., Lewis and Clark), macro-engineering projects (e.g., Panama Canal), and major wars (e.g., WW I) that cluster together exclusively every 55 to 60 years, over the last 200 years. I speculated that the decade from 2015 to 2025 would have economic, technology, and geopolitical parallels with the spectacular Apollo 1960s, including a JFK/Camelot-style zeitgeist.

Cordell (2006) introduced the concept of a “Maslow Window,” triggered by rhythmic, twice-per-century economic booms. Affluence-induced ebullience propels many to higher states in the Maslow hierarchy, where their momentarily expanded worldviews make great explorations and MEPs seem not only intriguing, but almost irresistible. As ebullience decays — due to widespread perceptions of budget stresses, a war, etc. — the Maslow Window closes.

The Bottomline is: The realization that Apollo is the most recent in a rhythmic, 200-year long string of great human explorations starting with Lewis and Clark, potentially opens the door to Bak-style SOC.

Wars and the Evidence for Complexity
According to Bak, a complex system exhibits SOC only if it has some form of power-law scaling, called “fractal” by Mandelbrot (1963). Based on their size-frequency plots for wars, Roberts and Turcotte (1998) conclude that,

The results we have shown indicate that world order behaves as a self-organized critical system independent of the efforts made to control and stabilize interactions between people and countries; and wars, like forest fires, are SOC processes.

Although Roberts and Turcotte (1998) only had data up to 150,000 deaths per war, the fact that “medium-size” wars are almost pure SOC indicates that the major wars of Maslow Windows are also fractal, as suggested recently for World War I by Harvard historian Niall Ferguson.

Punctuated Equilibria and Exploration
In 1994, the National Academy of Sciences held a major colloquium in Irvine, CA on “Physics: The Opening to Complexity.”

In Bak’s conference paper, he considers SOC in the contexts of geology, biological evolution, and macroeconomics. For example, in economics each system consists of many “agents” that interact together,

such as producers, governments, thieves, and economists. These agents each make decisions optimizing their own idiosyncratic goals. The actions of one agent affect other agents. In biology, individual organisms … (or individual species) interact with one another. The actions of one organism affect the survivability, or fitness, of others. If one species changes by mutation to improve its own fitness, other species in the ecology are also affected.

Bak generalizes Stephen Jay Gould’s biological theory of “punctuated equilibrium” to all complex systems:

The system exhibits punctuated equilibrium behavior, where periods of stasis are interrupted by intermittant bursts of activity … They are intrinsic to the dynamics of biology, history, and economics … Large, catastrophic events occur as a consequence of the same dynamics that produces small, ordinary events … We believe that this punctuated equilibrium behavior, first noted by Gould and Eldredge (1977, 1993), is common to all complex dynamical systems.

The Bottomline is: The Apollo program — seen in the context of 200 years of great explorations — exhibits punctuated equilibrium behavior, an important step toward identifying it and the other MEPs as a SOC process.

Dynamics of SOC — The Gap Equation
Bak’s Gap Equation governs the system’s evolution from weak SOC to the fractal, self organized critical state.

The model is so general that it can also be thought of as a model for macroeconomics. The individual sites represent economic agents, and the random numbers f1 represent their “utility functions.” Agents modify their behavior to increase their wealth. The agents with lowest utility functions disappear and are replaced by others. This, in turn, affects other agents and changes their utility functions.

Bak’s quote above could apply just as well to agents of particular space projects modifying their behavior and vying for funding at NASA (or elsewhere) and/or Macro-Engineering Projects likewise seeking support of all types. Agents and projects with the “lowest utility functions” soon disappear (a Darwinian principle), no matter how big they are – just ask Constellation advocates!

The Bottomline is: This compatibility with Bak’s law indicates that space projects and MEPs are most likely governed by SOC. The Space Project/MEP System is most fractal just before and during a Maslow Window. As in Bak’s computer simulations, transitions into and out of the strong SOC state are abrupt just before (e.g., in 1901; in 1958) or just after the Maslow Windows (e.g., in 1914 and in 1970). While in the critical state, large changes (i.e., great explorations, MEPs, major wars) can occur in response to even a minor stimulus.

Predictability and SOC
The fractal nature of SOC inhibits long-term predictability of specific events during the critical state (i.e., during a Maslow Window). However, the last 200+ years show that, especially during the non-fractal decades between Maslow Windows, the long wave has been a reliable guide to the rhythmic, twice-per-century timing of Maslow Windows from Lewis and Clark through 1960s Apollo to the present. And other intriguing regularities are also observable.

For example, according to former UCLA geophysics professor Didier Sornette — who more recently founded the Financial Crisis Observatory in Zurich — in reference to the U.S. stock market, “It is possible to identify clear signatures of near-critical behavior many years before the crashes and use them to ‘‘predict’’ the date where the system will go critical …”

Bak also hints at predictability (by analogy with his sandpile model, he refers to major changes during the critical SOC state as “avalanches”):

During an avalanche, a great deal of rapid activity occurs in which species come and go at a fast pace. Nature “experiments” until it finds another “stable” ecology with high fitnesses. The Cambrian explosion 500 million years ago can be thought of as the grandmother of all such avalanches.

So what should we expect prior to a Maslow Window? What’s the analog for Nature looking for a more “stable” ecology while “species come and go” in a Darwinian sense? What signal should we see of “near-critical behavior many years before” the critical Maslow Window?

Two potential candidates have been identified that appear regularly over the last 200+ years:
1) Major financial panic/great recession combinations (e.g., Panic of 1893) that usually begin 6-8 years before a Maslow Window (including the Panic of 2008 and current great recession),
2) Moderate wars and/or dangerous confrontations (e.g., Cuban Missile Crisis) that are rapidly resolved and occur early in or just before Maslow Windows (including the current Iran crisis).

These precursors are consistent with both long wave patterns and self organized criticality, when our complex international economic system self-organizes into a critical state — characterized by Great Explorations, Macro-Engineering Projects, and major wars — that we call a Maslow Window.

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Apr 19 2010

Obama’s New Space Policy and the Spirit of Apollo

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

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

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

Can President Obama take us to Mars? Click .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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