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?
Click .

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.

One response so far

Apr 25 2010

Obama’s New Space Policy — An Encore!

My initial post on Obama’s new policy is visible here: Obama’s New Space Policy and the Spirit of Apollo

Frank Sowa’s insightful comments on my post are copied below for you, along with a few more of mine (in bold). Frank is CEO of The Xavier Group, Ltd. near Pittsburgh, PA. Along with first-American-to-orbit John Glenn, Frank is a graduate of Muskingum College in Ohio, and his interest in space was nurtured as a teen by his NASA engineer father who invented the J2H engine ablation system for the Saturn V Booster rockets. In the 1980s, Frank worked with Deke Slayton, one of the original NASA Mercury 7 astronauts, on the SSI commercial space payload concepts, and more recently with well-known futurist Marvin Cetron on DARPA, DoD, and other projects.

Here are Frank’s thoughts and a few more of mine (in bold):

Obama’s new space policy is not a ‘good one.’ While I somewhat disagree with Armstrong, Lovell, and Cernan — that is I do not believe “it is devastating.” I do believe it will have negative effects on the future viability of NASA as even “a premier space agency.” It certainly will lose its “superstar” status — probably within four years. In terms of policy, I think Obama sought a pragmatic middle ground that “saved” NASA as a “sustainable” agency with a “sustainable” future budget. The policy’s effects will limit NASA bureaucracy, and will support the political and media pundits who are chastising the US spending policies and deficits …

BC: Frank’s point about the “sustainability” of NASA relates to our great recession. Although many economists claim we are in for a slow recovery, I think it will probably be accelerated by U.S. political pressures that will be expressed later this year and in 2012. Not incidentally, that’s the pattern that occurred after the Panic of 1893 during the 1890s great recession. Their rapid turnaround led to possibly the most ebullient decade in U.S. history — the Peary/Panama/T.Roosevelt Maslow Window (1901-13) — and has implications for our prospects today.

Politicizing the decisions about the future of NASA, is much like politicizing the futures of the intelligence communities last year, and the cave-in to special interests on healthcare this year. They reflect on Obama and his administration poorly, but they DO get the job done, create incremental progress, and achieve some form of politically expedient compromise. The public sees little value in STEM, technological innovation, science, science literacy, etc. — much less space. That should be expected.

BC: The casual attitudes of some in the public today toward science and technology remind me of the mid-1950s before Sputnik. After the “shock of the century” the revitalization of science in the U.S. was immediate, including more money for all levels of education and the formation of NASA in 1958. Whether due to increasing cooperation in space with our international partners, or because of Apollo-like competition with others, it’s likely we’ll see a similar transition in the next 3 – 4 years.

Since Reagan, we’ve chosen as a nation to “refine and benchmark”, to “socially-engineer”, and to focus on brain-dead opinion polling rather than “exploring the unknown”, “seeking where no man had ventured before,” “truly exploring for the future of mankind.” We’ve dumbed-down our educational support systems by “trying to fix education” through a worn-out secular bureaucracy that performs best by never changing its precepts, challenging the given or status-quo, shaking things up instead of conforming, and championing new “out-of-the-box” thinking. We’ve bought into “supply-side” (voodoo) economics driven by finance, services, and consumption — as opposed to production, innovating to solve problems and meet demands, and using technology and the scientific method as the underpinnings of good growth. We’ve skewed capitalism to support me-ism and greed at the expense of people while peddling propaganda to say we were seeking an all-inclusive, kinder-gentler, less-violent society.

BC: Frank makes several strong points here, and these are typical of the negative long wave-related influences on society in the decades between Maslow Windows over the last 200 years (i.e., since Lewis and Clark). Another way to think of it is that since Reagan — in the context of great explorations and MEPs — the U.S. has experienced weak self organized criticality, and is only now moving toward a more fractal, self organized critical state characteristic of previous Maslow Windows (e.g., the 1960s), and expected again near 2015.

What does this mean to the new space policy?

It means we should no longer look to NASA as the driver of the US Space Program. NASA will continue to serve a policy role, and provide refinements on research to help facilitate private-sector and/or international options. It further means that all of NASA’s work and technologies since the 1950’s will be further divided between defense (national security) and civilian (sold to private sector contractors and interests), in sum — I believe NASA’s future will serve primarily as a policy-clearinghouse driven by legal eagles and acting much more in regulating US space like the FAA than exploring space as it had. This is sad and devastating to NASA’s Federal Labs, as well as to future governmental STEM employment that has much meaning. This won’t occur right away, but unless public opinion changes radically — it will be the normal view of and within NASA by 2030 …

BC: As Frank points out, if NASA’s trajectory remains as in Obama’s model, NASA will be dramatically changed. But big change for NASA at this time is not a surprise. Almost one long wave ago in 1958, NASA was formed from NACA to emphasize manned spaceflight (ultimately to the Moon). And today as we approach a new international space age, NASA should be expected to change again — most likely in the direction of more ISS-style international cooperation with a focus on human spaceflight into deep space (e.g., near-Earth asteroids, Moon, Phobos, Mars).

The US role in space if it accepts this tectonic shift in NASA’s role, and if the private-sector contractors that are domestically based are willing and able to take on the role of growing a domestic space program seeking and meeting long-term gains. The new US space program will be radically altered but may be bright. Will the private-sector live up to and take on this domestic challenge? It depends on how much we’ve dumbed down our society chasing short-term futures and “bling” at the expense of growing great through exploration. The odds are currently against a good outcome, but the same could have been said in the 60’s after JFK’s challenge. The scientists and engineers who want something good to be achieved will have to take on the responsibilities, as they did in the 60’s Space Race, to achieve beyond expectations. For those — “failure is not an option.”

BC: Frank is wise to see JFK’s Apollo Moon program as a positive analog, because 2015 is the portal to a similarly transformative decade in space and on Earth. Although it concerns me to hear canonical figures like Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan insist that it will take a decade before private industry can safely deliver astronauts to ISS and beyond, it’s likely that Obama will ultimately be remembered as the “father of commercial space”. In any case, the return of prosperity and the convergence of geopolitical forces within a few years will probably drive NASA back into the launch vehicle business sooner than most people expect.

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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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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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