The big space news for 2009 was that we didn’t learn the answer to the big question: What is the future of human spaceflight in the U.S.? But this didn’t happen in a vacuum and it was anticipated by 21stCenturyWaves.com last January; see State of the Wave — 10 Space Trends for 2009. The U.S. space program exists at the intersection of long-term trends in economics, geopolitics, and domestic politics, and thus the space trends for 2010 are best understood in the context of those for 2009 and previous years.
2009 was a year of monumental change globally and especially — as President Obama promised — in the U.S.. The seismic shifts of 2009 — both positive and negative — will reverberate well into 2010.
For a post-State of the Union update, click HERE.
Here are 10 space trends for 2010:
10. Although 2009 was the Year of Obama, in 2010 it will continue to be hard for him to focus on space.
According to Stratfor, “Obama dominated 2009 as no freshman year president has since Reagan.” Early in the year public confidence in Obama was so high that he was easily able to engineer major bailouts and stimulus bills — including the $ 787 B stimulus package — that were guaranteed to keep unemployment under 8 %. As unemployment approached 10% public confidence in the administration began to decline; e.g., on July 12, the Los Angeles Times announced “The End of Obamania”. During 2009 the president’s job approval rating fell 20 points, from 68% to 48% (Gallup.com), largely due to high unemployment, record government spending, huge deficits, and Obama’s preoccupation with his health care program.
Recently the unthinkable occurred: a Republican (Scott Brown) won a special election in the most Democratic state in the U.S. (Massachusetts), and took the Senate seat of the late Ted Kennedy that he’d held for decades. And the Washington Post recently reported (1/16/10) that “By 58% to 38%, Americans said they prefer smaller government and fewer services to larger government with more services.” That’s 15% more people favoring small versus large government since Obama’s nomination in June, 2008.
Last January, 21stCenturyWaves.com noted that President Obama’s agenda would be dominated by the great recession and national security, and he would not be able to focus on space. This is still true; e.g., Gallup reports that “67% don’t expect economic recovery to start for 2+ years.” But unlike early 2009, Obama has to contend now with the serious political challenges of Republicans in 2010. All this comes as the U.S. space program is approaching a tipping point, as described below.
9. Economically, 2010 will be a year of uncertainty, but long-term trends continue to show we’re on schedule for a New Global Space Age starting near 2015.
Last January, 21stCenturyWaves.com reported that the timing and severity of the financial Panic of 2008 was consistent with our next Maslow Window — a golden age of prosperity, exploration, and technology — opening by 2015. This is because over the last 200 years, a financial panic/great recession combination typically precedes the Maslow Window by 7 to 10 years (except for the 1960s Apollo Window which had none); e.g., the Panic of 1893/1890s Great Recession and the stunning Peary/Panama Maslow Window (~1901-13), and the Panic of 1837/1840s Great Recession and the ebullient Dr. Livingstone/Suez Maslow Window (~1847-57).
The big question is: How soon will the current great recession subside and allow the economy to return to the “greatest boom ever” that was interrupted by the Panic of 2008?
On July 24 (Wall Street Journal) Princeton economist Alan S. Blinder stated that, “The U.S. economy appears to be hitting bottom.” In its 2010 Annual Forecast (1/4/2010), Stratfor concurs but adds that, “pockets of economic weakness remain within the U.S. and larger problems continue elsewhere in the world.” Financial advisor John Mauldin (1/8/10) cautions against a robust “V” shaped recovery because of worries about continuing unemployment among others. His major concern is “Congress is likely to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire … (and) we could see a massive increase in taxes of $ 500 B … or 4% of GDP.”
Long-term patterns in financial panic/great recession pairs in the decade preceding Maslow Windows over the last 200 years suggest the 2015 Maslow Window is on schedule. Recent opinion polls and election results show frustration with Obama’s economic policies during 2009. Today’s New York Times (1/24/10; R. Zeleny, P. Baker) indicates Obama is aware of the political situation. If the trio of unemployment/spending/deficits is not reduced soon the American people may seek new leadership. Thus both long- and short-term economic and political trends point to a new Space Age by 2015.
8. Geopolitical and national security issues will continue to dominate Obama’s attention in 2010, but their timing and significance are consistent with a rapidly approaching Maslow Window near 2015.
It became fashionable in 2009 to compare Obama with previous presidents, mainly in connection with concerns about Afghanistan, Iraq, and other potential flashpoints. For example, the New York Times (8/23/09, P. Baker) sees a potential parallel between Obama and Lyndon Johnson because Afghanistan could eventually resemble Vietnam. More recently, Walter Russell Mead of the Council on Foreign Relations fears that Obama’s foreign policy could become like Jimmy Carter’s (Foreign Policy, Jan/Feb, 2010).
Stratfor (1/4/2010) sees the major geopolitical issues of 2010 as “Russia’s resurgence as a major power … (and) the sharpening crisis in the Middle East,” centered on Iran’s nuclear program and a potential “Israeli strike on Iran — a strike that could quickly spiral into a general melee in the world’s premier energy artery, the Persian Gulf.” The recent Fort Hood massacre and the Christmas Detroit airline bomber show that the threat of terrorism within the U.S. also remains a major concern.
In a recent post I showed that significant military conflicts occur either early in a Maslow Window or just before it; e.g., the Cuban Missile Crisis of October, 1962. Please see the summary in: How the West Was Won — The Expansionist Effects of Ebullience. These conflicts played a key role in the major exploration and/or technology activities of their Maslow Window. Given that the Iran crisis could threaten global energy supplies, it is a potential flashpoint nearly at the level of the Cuban Missile Crisis. These events signal growing international tensions that are characteristic of early or pre-Maslow Window times over the last 200 years.
7. The new NASA Administrator — Gen. Charles Bolden — supports true international collaboration in space, but doesn’t know “The Answer” yet.
Director Bolden emphasized the importance of international collaborations in space. Perhaps most important is the idea of treating our partners as “equals” and with “respect.” This is the 21st century trend in international space cooperation. My concept for a global space agency (“Interspace”) features organizational equality among the major players and an opportunity to participate for almost everyone else. In the mid-1990s I forecasted that Interspace would materialize near 2013, driven by global interests in space colonization.
Director Bolden also echoed a familiar theme of Obama: the importance of education. As in the late 1950s, in response to the launch of Sputnik, it is likely that similar calls for beefed up science and math education in the U.S. will ramp up as international activities in space intensify near 2013.
Although Bolden assured his audience that, “This will not be the president who precedes over the end of manned space flight,” he was unable to be more specific because Obama has not publicized his decision on the future U.S. vision for human spaceflight.
While NASA waits on pins and needles, Obama has not articulated his vision for manned space. This is partly due to the economic, geopolitical, and now the political trends that demand his attention. President Obama is in a tough spot. He cannot ignore space because of national prestige and growing international space programs. On the other hand, he must be willing to commit $ 3 B more annually to do the Moon and beyond. The solution, of course, is to join with other global space powers to settle the solar system together before a Sputnik-like event drives us apart. It will be an interesting test of his policy of international engagement in 2010.
6. 2009 was the year that Global Warming politics showed significant decline in response to Climategate, new science results, and the public’s rejection of this negative vision of the future.
The Climategate scandal showed that most scientists — including those associated with the IPCC who didn’t want to publicly admit it — agree that global warming ended in 1998, that temperatures have declined in recent years, and that global climate models based on CO2 effects cannot account for the current lack of warming, and thus cannot be scientifically used to forecast climate in future decades. The Climategate scientists also speak privately of manipulating temperature data sets to emphasize warming.
The Wall Street Journal (1/23/10) recently recounted the strange story of the “rapidly receding” Himalayan glaciers. In their 2007 report the IPCC insisted that these glaciers would disappear by 2035 — due to global warming. The IPCC was warned in 2006 by a leading glaciologist that the 2035 forecast was bogus, but they chose to ignore it. According to glaciologist Georg Kaser, “This number is not just a little bit wrong … It is so wrong that it is not even worth discussing.”
Based on history of the last 200 years, including the 1960s, Maslow Windows are golden ages of prosperity, exploration, and technology. They are times of extraordinary affluence-induced ebullience when many in society ascend Maslow’s hierarchy and become supportive of great exporations and macro-engineering projects. The public’s growing rejection of global warming politics will continue in 2010 and is consistent with our approach to the ebullient 2015 Maslow Window.
5. The psychology of financial meltdowns and economic booms suggests that our current great recession will be followed by a major economic boom that will trigger the new Space Age.
Behavioral economist George Loewenstein of Yale recently (Discover, Jan/Feb, 2010) explained the factors which produce financial meltdowns as well as economic booms. They include 1) self-destructive behavior, 2) believing that what we want to believe is true, 3) short-term focus on immediate threats, and 4) lazy decision-making (going with the flow). These factors click in when the trend is up or down and thus reenforce behavior during both meltdowns and booms.
According to Keynes, the father of behavioral economics, the trick during a recession is changing people’s negative expectations to overcome their “animal spirits.” According to Keynesians George Akerlof and Robert Shiller, the economic policies of Franklin Roosevelt were ineffective during the Great Depression, “The drop in confidence during the Great Depression was so fundamental that it continued for a decade. Confidence — and the economy itself — were not restored until World War II completely changed the dominant story of people’s lives, transforming the economy.”
Obviously with 67% of Americans not expecting economic recovery to start for 2+ years and consumer confidence low, negative Keynesian animal spirits are currently in full force. When Obama is able to reverse the current trend and elevate consumer confidence, history shows the economy will rapidly respond with a major economic boom.
4. One of the most exciting developments in modern astronomy — the search for Earth-like planets — continues to motivate public interest in human expansion into the cosmos.
According to the online Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia, as of January 23, 2010, there are a total of 424 planets known to be orbiting stars other than the Sun. Most of these are hot gas giants resembling Jupiter but much less than 1 AU (Astronomical Unit) from their star, as opposed to 5 AUs for Jupiter.
However, a few recent discoveries have had tantalizing, Earth-like results. In February a European group using the Corot space observatory detected a small planet in orbit around a star in Monoceros about light 500 years away. Subsequent observations confirmed that the planet is almost twice Earth’s diameter and 5 times its mass, indicating it’s composed mostly of rock. However, it is so close to its star that its surface temperature is a toasty 2000 degrees F.
In April, planet hunters reported that Gliese 581, a star only 20 light years away, has a planet with 7 Earth masses that is at the right star distance for liquid water. It is the first extra-solar planet ever discovered that could possibly support life. At only 20 light years distant, if the Gliesians exist and can build rockets, they should have been here by now!
And in March, NASA’s Kepler satellite began scanning 145,000 stars for transiting Earth-like planets. The observatory works. Earlier this month Kepler scientists announced the discovery of 5 new extra-solar planets. Earth-like planets can’t hide for long from Kepler.
Even smaller planets with Earth-like sizes and masses in their Sun-like star’s habitable zone will eventually be discovered, possibly in 2010 or soon thereafter. The closest ones — inhabited or not — will someday become targets for human exploration as human civilization expands into the cosmos.
3. In 2010 NASA will face a tipping point involving the Shuttle, the International Space Station, and international plans for human spaceflight to the Moon and Mars.
In 2010, the current plan is to complete construction of the ISS and retire the Shuttle. Four of the last 5 Shuttle missions will visit ISS and deliveries will include the U.S. Tranquility node as well as a Russian module.
Last month, Space News (12/14/09) suggested that “the administration will cancel Ares 1 in favor of a different approach to getting astronauts to and from the space station … (like) a commecially developed crew transport service (that) could be available sooner than Ares 1-Orion and at less cost.” Space News concludes that Administration changes must be “accompanied by a long-term commitment to meaningful exploration of space beyond low Earth orbit, with a credible story — with resources to match — for getting there…”
On the other hand, in the same issue (Space News, 12/14/09) Christopher Kraft warns that “The suggestion that commercially developed launch vehicles can replace the Ares 1 rocket is ill advised.” His recommendations include continuing to operate the Shuttle, continue to operate the ISS as long as it’s economically feasible and scientifically productive, continue with the goals of the Constellation program, and develop the capability to send astronauts to Mars.
In 2010 President Obama is facing a major political challenge to his presidency. He must reduce economic distress and show progress toward future prosperity, and at the same time he must run the war in Afghanistan, monitor Iraq, influence Iran and Russia, and neutralize global terrorists. This doesn’t leave much time for space, but he must respond to the tipping point space issues above. Human spaceflight is very supportive of Obama’s interests in motivating youth and improving education, and it is a powerful symbol of American leadership in the world. It is unlikely that US participation in a Moon race with China or others would excite the American public because the US won that prize over 40 years ago. And given the understandable anti-ebullient state of the American public, planning manned missions to Mars is probably out of the question during Obama’s current term. This leaves less expensive human missions to near Earth asteroids and/or Lagrange points as potential U.S. space objectives beyond low Earth orbit, possibly coupled with American leadership in a long-term international effort to expore, commercially develop, and eventually settle the Moon. In this scenario, preparations for human spaceflight to Mars would continue at ISS, with astronaut access provided by a commercially developed space vehicle, while the actual Mars expeditions themselves would be relegated to the late 21st century Maslow Window (starting in 2071).
2. President Obama is Creating the new Space Age: Scenario I — The JFK model
As the last 200+ years have shown, extraordinary pulses of activity in exploration and engineering are enabled by reliable, long-term business cycles. And all indicators suggest we’re sneaking up on the edge of another Golden Age of Prosperity, Exploration, and Technology that will trigger the new Space Age; see How President Obama is Creating the New Space Age.
Typically, during the twice-per-century upswings of the long economic wave and within a decade after a major financial panic (such as the Panic of 2008) and its major recession, we emerge into an ebullient, transformative decade known as a Maslow Window. Perhaps the most ebullient one followed the Panic of 1893 and was led by Theodore Roosevelt: the Peary/Panama Maslow Window from 1903 to 1913.
Our most recent Maslow Window — the stunning 1960s Apollo Moon decade — was unique in the last 200+ years in that it wasn’t immediately preceded by a financial panic or great recession. But the approaching Maslow Window, expected to open near 2015, resumed the much more “normal” sequence of the last 200+ years when the Panic of 2008 heralded its impending arrival.
So one key lesson of the last 200 years is: The Panic of 2008 supports our expectation that the next Maslow Window — the next Golden Age of Prosperity, Exploration, and Technology — will open near 2015.
But the question is: Will Obama reverse current trends and set the country on a trajectory toward near-term prosperity — the hallmark of all Maslow Windows?
If he does Obama will be a 2-term president and will become the new John F. Kennedy without the Vietnam-style baggage of LBJ. And he will continue the brilliant transformative legacy that began with Thomas Jefferson and Lewis & Clark.
1. President Obama is Creating the new Space Age: Scenario II — The Theodore Roosevelt model
Another potential scenario is remminiscent of the Panic of 1893 that culminated with Theodore Roosevelt’s spectacular Peary/Panama Maslow Window of the early 20th century. The Panic of 1893 has parallels with the recent Panic of 2008 and the great recession that bottomed out in mid-2009. The great 1890s recession lasted nearly 6 years — and let’s hope that’s not one of the parallels.
In the Roosevelt model, Obama becomes a victim of the current great recession and — because of his inability to ignite prosperity — becomes a 1-term president much like Grover Cleveland in the 1890s. In this scenario Obama is replaced by a president who does start the recovery, points the nation toward prosperity, and triggers the 2015 Maslow WIndow.
So which is it? Scenario I — The JFK Model, or Scenario II –the Theodore Roosevelt model?
I. Long-term macroeconomic patterns — especially the Panic of 2008 — suggest the 2010s are more like the Roosevelt Maslow Window than the Kennedy one. In this case, the great recession that favored Obama’s election in 2008 would ultimately prove to be his undoing (like Grover Cleveland), and thus support Scenario II.
II. Recent polls and election results — especially the recent Massachusetts Senatorial shocker — show the public is anxious about Obama’s economic policies because they haven’t reduced unemployment and seem inconsistent with prosperity. These also support Scenario II.
III. But it’s still really all up to Obama. If in 2010 he decides to reverse course, reduce economic distress, and stimulate the recovery, he will experience Scenario I. If not, it will be Scenario II. In a month or two we should be able to discern his economic trajectory.