Jan 05 2012

Is Earth Unique? What this “Benchmark Moment” Means for ETs and Our Future

Astronomer John Gribbin (Alone in the Universe; 2011) uses the latest astrophysics to make an impressive scientific case that we are alone in our Galaxy.

This is despite several hundred planets currently known to exist around nearby stars, and despite NASA’s recent discovery of Earth-size planets orbiting Sun-like stars, as well as the potential for billions of such worlds in our Galaxy of almost one trillion stars.

Even Gort and Klaatu (from “The Day the Earth Stood Still“; 1951) could learn a trick or two from the ultra-ETs — suggested by current astrophysics and physics — that might be visiting us today.

Despite this “benchmark moment in the history of science” according to Berkeley astronomer Geoffrey Marcy (Wall Street Journal, 12/21/11), Gribbin traces the origin of human intelligence and civilization from the Big Bang to today, and shows that the odds of our development are so small that we are most likely the first high civilization to arise in the Milky Way.

For example, Gribbin points to the origin of the Moon by an impact with a Mars-size body over 4 billion years ago as a pivotal and yet very dicey event. The impact itself had to avoid destroying Earth’s spin (as apparently happened at Venus) and yet excavate and launch into space enough material to form an unusually large Moon that could gravitationally anchor Earth’s axial tilt. Without such a Moon our rotation axis would wobble chaotically due to tugs by Jupiter, Venus and other bodies, and undermine the long-term climate stability conducive to the development of high intelligence and civilization.

Last summer Howard A. Smith of the Harvard Center for Astrophysics also independently found ETs to be scarce in the Galaxy — in American Scientist (July-August, 2011) — as did I last March: Click HERE. I used an updated, anthropic version of the Drake Equation to show that unless a high-tech civilization lives for at least millions of years (highly unlikely) we are probably alone in the Galaxy.

However, other scientists hold contrary views. For example, as I noted in October, 2010:

Following scientific meetings in 2009 at the Vatican on Extraterrestrials, the prestigious UK Royal Society has had not just one, but 2 scientific meetings in 2010 (in January and just last week) to consider if exterrestrials are here on Earth and how to properly greet them.

This current growth of interest in ETs and Earth-like planets is part of a multi-century trend recognized by 21stCenturyWaves.com. It extends back to at least the 19th century and has presaged and figured prominently in each transformative Maslow Window since that time.

For example, just after the financial Panic of 1893 that ultimately led to “Panama fever” and “pole mania” of the early 20th century Maslow Window, it featured the founding of Lowell Observatory in Arizona to study evidence for a highly intelligent canal-building civilization on Mars. Early in the Apollo Maslow Window, Frank Drake began the radio search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) almost a decade before humans first landed on the Moon in 1969.
For more see: “State of the Wave: ETs Surge to Center Stage.”

If we take Gribbin’s conclusion seriously for a moment, it has a number of intriguing implications for the cosmos, ETs, and our future:

1. If we are the first lofty civilization to develop in our Galaxy then radio SETI should not expect success, and we will never see interstellar Von Neumann machines in our vicinity. But the good news was envisioned by Marshall Savage in The Millennial Project (1992):

The stars are our destiny…Strewn like diamonds…All these treasures are free for the taking. There is no guardian genie. There are no alien owners to be bargained with, no evil empires to be vanquished…The galaxy is free and open now in a way it never will be again.

2. If there are no native ETs in our Galaxy, then UFOs may come from very far away — other galaxies or even other universes — and will require exotic transportation concepts (e.g., wormholes) to arrive here. This is a future that could begin tomorrow or may already be in progress, and was imagined — both the good and bad news — by Deardorff et al. in JBIS (2005):

While the ‘We are alone’ solution to Fermi’s paradox was once a seemingly valid one, this answer is now incompatible with the infinite universe and random self-sampling assumption consistent with inflation theory. We thus find ourselves in the curious position that current cosmological theory predicts that we should be experiencing extraterrestrial visitation…

The huge technological head start of the presumed ETs would still come as a great shock to many … The implication that we would be powerless relative to their presumed capabilities and evolutionary advantage may be most unwelcome … science would have difficulty coming to terms with the situation.

3. If there are no ETs from anywhere, then UFOs may originate from covert, terrestrial sources (e.g., secret military aircraft) and we have arrived in Jacques Vallee’s intriguing world of Messenger’s of Deception (1979):

UFOs may be a control system…there is a genuine technology at work here, causing the effects witnesses are describing. But I am not ready to jump to the conclusion that it is … some kind of “spacemen.”

The social, political, and religious consequences of the (UFO) experience are enormous … over the timespan of a generation… Is the public being deceived and led to false conclusions by someone who is using UFO witnesses to propagate … social conditioning?


4. Gribbin’s conclusion scientifically elevates human civilization to the pinnacle of the Galaxy which has important implications for both space colonization and theology:

My view is that while life itself may be common, the kind of intelligent, technological civilization that has emerged on Earth may be unique, at least in our Milky Way Galaxy…

Whether or not you see the hand of God in any of this, it would mean that we are the most technnologically advanced civilization in the Universe, and the only witnesses with an understanding of the origin and nature of the Universe itself.

2 responses so far

Dec 06 2009

Climategate and the New Space Age

The Climategate scandal involves “some of the world’s leading climate scientists working in tandem to block freedom of information requests, blackball dissenting scientists, manipulate the peer-review process, and obscure, destroy or massage inconvenient temperature data — facts that were laid bare by … disclosure of thousands of emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit…” (Wall Street Journal, 12/1/09; B. Stephens).

Climategate connects with prospects for near-term space colonization in at least 3 major ways. One is financial.

Anything that weakens the potential for re-ignition of the major economic boom — actually the greatest global boom ever — that was interrupted by the Panic of 2008, might delay the near-term development of widespread affluence-induced ebullience that has powered each of the spectacular Maslow Windows (e.g., the 1960s Apollo Moon program) over the last 200 years.

One such potential factor is Cap and Trade. “The Heritage Foundation, the Brookings Institution and the National Black Chamber of Commerce all found that the bill will have devastating economic impacts … (including) significant losses in employment and GDP.” Republicans are not shy about characterizing it as “”the largest tax increase — about $ 400 million USD per year — in the history of America.” And according to Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe (WSJ, 11/27/09), in response to a question from him, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson stated it won’t significantly reduce global CO2 emissions.

As countries like the U.S. struggle to recover from the current great recession, major new taxes are considered unwise government policy by most economists. This is especially true in the U.S.’s current deficit situation.

According to former Congressional Budget Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin,

The federal government ran a 2009 deficit of $ 1.4 trillion — the highest since World War II — as spending reached nearly 25% of GDP and total revenues fell below 15% of GDP. Shortfalls like these have not been seen in more than 50 years.

Equally threatening to the next Maslow Window which, based on 200-year timing, should open near 2015 and extend to around 2025, is that there is no relief in sight.

Our national debt is projected to stand at $ 17.1 trillion 10 years from now, or over $ 50,000 per American …

Regarding the potential upswing (characteristic of a Maslow Window), Holtz-Eakin comments that,

The planned deficits will have destructive consequences for both fairness and economic growth … Federal deficits will crowd out domestic investment in physical capital, human capital, and technologies that increase potential GDP and the standard of living.

Mr. Holtz-Eaking concludes that the president’s “policies are the equivalent of steering the economy toward an iceberg.”

The deficits are also taking a political toll as President Obama’s poll numbers decline. According to Karl Rove (WSJ, 11/27/09),

Anger over deficits was picked up in a late October NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll which asked voters if they’d rather boost “the economy even though it may mean larger budget deficits” or keep the “budget deficit down, even though it may mean it will take longer for the economy to recover.” Only 31% chose boosting the economy; 62% wanted to keep the deficit down.

This is consistent with Gallup polls (9/17/09) indicating Obama’s lowest marks on his handling of the deficit; only 38% approved and 58% disapproved.

The good news for Obama’s popularity and the deficit — as well as the 2015 Maslow Window — is that Climategate has weakened the prospects for Cap and Trade. According to Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe (WSJ, 11/27/09),

Cap and Trade is dead … Ninety-five percent of the nails were in the coffin prior to this week. Now they are all in.

The second way Climategate connects with prospects for near-term space colonization is psychological.

Over the years Global Warming has been presented as a near-certain chamber of horrors including sea level rises of 3 feet or more resulting in devastating, global coastal flooding, huge temperature increases of 5 or more degrees producing plant and animal extinctions, increasingly intense hurricanes and extensive ecosystem damage … and on and on. All because humans are commiting the sin of releasing too much carbon into the environment. And we much stop now before it is too late.

Even the wildest claims about the dangers of global warming are routinely trumpeted by much of the media, including that giant Burmese pythons will migrate as far north as San Francisco and take over one-third of the U.S.. I heard the python story on local radio one day in Southern California and was very amused, but not everyone is. For example, many young children — who are much too young to evaluate the political and scientific issues involved — are frightened. One recent survey shows that 1 of 3 children aged 6 to 11 fears that our planet won’t exist when they grow up, and over one half believe that the Earth will be “a very unpleasant place to live.”

The usual solution to global warming fears is an anti-growth, anti-technology message. The “science is settled” so all we can do is dramatically cut back our use of fossil fuels, submit to trillions of dollars of taxes, and end our hopes of increasing prosperity due to crippled economies.

Even before Climategate, the public was not buying it. For example, in 2006 Gallup found that the percentage saying global warming will “pose a serious threat to you or your way of life in your lifetime” was only 35%; 62% thought it would not. And earlier this year, Gallup reported “the highest level of public skepticism about mainstream reporting on global warming seen in more than a decade of Gallup polling on the subject.” The Climategate scandal is likely to accelerate this trend among the public.

A number of scientists have proposed innovative technological approaches to mitigation of global warming if it were to become a serious problem in the 21st century. Perhaps the most interesting examples are from Roger Angel, the discussion in March/April, 2009 issue of Foreign Affairs, and the distinguished Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson.

This trend toward a more positive and realistic approach to climate change — being accelerated now by the revelations of Climategate — is very consistent with historical trajectories of public attitudes at comparable times over the last 200 years. As I pointed out in a previous post:

As we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, two other effects will increasingly come into play: 1) the fact that Maslow Windows are characterized by unusually optimistic (even ebullient) public attitudes, and 2) the increasing global fascination with large, international technology programs and space colonization — expected during the 2015 Maslow Window — will suggest to many around the world that solutions to key global challenges (e.g., the environment, energy) will benefit from space technology and resources.

The third way Climategate connects with prospects for near-term space colonization is through science.

Science is special. It is the only objective way humans have of probing physical reality and learning about the Universe. Scientists collect data about a natural system and then propose a model for how it works. Scientists use the model to make predictions about what should be observed in the real world. Those predictions are checked by observations of the natural system; any deviations from physical reality are used to change the model and thus improve it. Repeatedly using this process — making observations, sharing data, openly discussing issues — can result in a convergence of the model with physical reality.

That’s how it’s supposed to work. But the scientific method can break down, even for major questions. And when it does it shakes the foundations of what we know about the Universe, including potentially the public’s belief in our ability to expand human civilization into the cosmos, or even just to prosper on the Earth.

Here are some examples:

1. “The fact is we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.” Dr. Kevin Trenberth, National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).
In his email, Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section of NCAR, acknowledges privately a key point: In 1998 climate models did not predict the cessation of global warming that has occurred — despite continued increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide — over the last dozen years, and no one can explain why it happened.

MIT climate scientist Richard Lindzen (WSJ, 11/30/09) points out that articles by climate modelers attrribute “the failure of these models to anticipate the absence of warming for the past dozen years was due to the failure of these models to account for natural internal variability …” like El Nino and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. “Thus even the basis for the weak IPCC argument for anthropogenic climate change (i.e., human-caused warming via CO2) was shown to be false.”

The bottomline is that: 1) modelers are admitting that something other than carbon dioxide can drive global climate change (e.g., natural variability), and 2) because the climate models cannot explain even the current lack of global warming, their predictions for warming 10, 20, or more years into the future are unreliable. And thus while global warming might indeed become a major problem at some point in the future — as astrophysicists assure us it will within a billion years when the Sun’s luminosity predictably increases and evaporates Earth’s oceans — we cannot accurately predict even near-term warmings or coolings with current climate models.

If the scientific method had been operating normally, these and many other secret conversations would have been shared with other scientists and the public in real-time. Instead, sadly we had to wait for Climategate to reveal them and clarify important issues.

2. “Science is not always what scientists do.” J. Allen Hynek (d. 1986), formerly Professor and Chair, Department of Astronomy, Northwestern University.
Scientists are people first and scientists second. They are subject to the same fears, greed, jealousies, ambitions, anger, etc., as anyone else. In fact, scientists are only being scientists when their professional activities conform to the scientific method as sketched above.

Sometimes scientists behave with almost quasi-religious attitudes. Religions are atrractive to the vast majority of people because they involve belief systems and world views that give meaning to life. Plus challenges to their beliefs do not usually disturb the believers because they are based on faith. In essence, while religions may be supported by historical or physical evidence, they are not fundamentally driven by it, as science is.

For example, in August 2009 more than 60 prominent German scientists — including several UN IPCC scientists — declared that global warming has become a “pseudo religion” in an Open Letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. They noted that rising CO2 has “had no measurable effect” on temperatures and that the “UN IPCC has lost its scientific credibility.”

Sometimes scientists behave more like politicians than scientists. In real democracies the people often vote to make decisions on important issues. In science, voting or authority figures do not determine our picture of physical reality, only data does. Today we especially admire Galileo for standing up to the authority of the 17th century Roman Inquisition and not disavowing his then controversial telescopic observations of the Sun, Moon, and planets. This idea of the primacy of observational data has penetrated deeply into modern life, even beyond the natural sciences. For example, the British economist John Maynard Keynes — father of Keynesian economics — once said, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

Sadly, the Galileo Principle of the primacy of observational data in science is not reflected in the private emails of Climategate. For example, Professor Phil Jones, who has stepped down temporarily as head of the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia while Climategate is investigated, speaks privately of modifying temperature data sets to “hide the decline” in global temperatures. According to John Lott of FoxNews.com (12/1/09), another CRU professor,

Tim Osborne, discusses in emails how truncating a data series can hide a cooling trend that would otherwise been seen in the results. Professor Mann (of Penn State) sent Professr Osborne an email saying the results he is sending shouldn’t be shown to others because the results support critics of global warming. Time after time the discussions refer to hiding or destroying data.

When ideology trumps science, some scientists act like politicians. They secretly modify data to conform to their party-line beliefs. I am not surprised that some scientists are dishonest; they are regular people and that’s to be expected. My concern is the way the scientific method has been deliberately ignored for many years by many scientists around the world, who definitely know better. This, including the destruction of the original temperature data sets by Climategate scientists, has obscured our view of the details of real global climate change. And certainly, as Professor Lindzen points out, “Claims that climate change is accelerating are bizarre.”

3. Is science dying?
As a planetary scientist who’s worked in the aerospace industry and in academia, and has been thrilled by the idea of space colonization since a very young age, my major concern is what Climategate means for science. Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal recently asserted (12/3/09) that “science is dying.” Henninger continues,

I don’t think most scientists appreciate what has hit them … For years, global warming and its advocates have been the public face of hard science. The public was told repeatedly that something called ‘the scientific community’ had affirmed the science beneath this inquiry … Global warming enlisted the collective reputation of science. Because ‘science’ said so, all the world was about to undertake a vast reordering of human behavior at almost unimaginable financial cost. Hard science, alongside medicine, was one of the few things left accorded automatic stature and respect by most untrained lay persons.

But because of the Climategate scandal — an “epochal event” — the public’s view of science is about to change.

The average person reading accounts of the East Anglia emails will conclude that hard science has become just another faction, as politicized and “messy” as, say gender studies … If the new ethos is that “close-enough” science is now sufficient to achieve political goals, serious scientists should be under no illusion that politicians will press-gang them into service for future agendas. Everyone working in science, no matter what their politics, has a stake in cleaning up the mess revealed by the East Anglia emails. Science is on the credibility bubble. If it pops, centuries of what we understand to be the role of science go with it.

For some, global warming politics and ideology are all that matter; you can recognize them by their lack of interest in the details of climate science and their attempts to ignore or divert attention from the science-related content of Climategate.

Science should be quite different from politics in both methods and goals, and certainly needs to move farther away from politics so that the scientific method can flouish again. As long as politics and ideology dominate science — as they have in the climate change field — we can never know what really exists in the Universe and how it works.

If the universities and governments affected by Climategate take appropriate action against those who stifled the free and open discussion of scientific data and issues in Climategate, the essence of science and even science’s public image can recover.

In a best-case scenario, Climategate could ironically help stimulate the New Space Age by strengthening our global financial picture, helping people everywhere regain a positive, even ebullient feeling about the future, promoting 1960s-style pro-technology, prosperous attitudes, and reaffirming that science is indeed a reliable tool for expansion of human civilization from a vibrant Earth into the cosmos.

If the last 200 years of Maslow Windows are any guide, that’s what we should expect will happen.

No responses yet

Sep 02 2009

The Carnival of Space #118 and A New NASA?

21stCenturyWaves.com is again happily participating in the Carnival of Space #118.

This week the Carnival is at Cumbrian Sky. Thanks to Stuart Atkinson of Cumbrian Sky for his kind comments about 21stCenturyWaves.com.

Commercial Space, a Canadian blog, probes the fun topic of “NASA as the next General Motors…”

But his bottomline is really:

What will happen to NASA?

That’s easy to predict. NASA employees and their subcontractors will either develop new skills, associations and capabilities to survive or the organization will become irrelevant and either slowly die or be changed into something else useful but in a different (perhaps less inspiring) way.

This is important stuff.

NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) was formed just after the Peary/Panama Maslow Window slammed shut, as an emergency measure during World War I. NACA’s assets were incorporated into the new NASA in 1957 as an emergency response to the surprise launch of Sputnik. In 2013, NASA will be 56 years old — one long wave in age — and it’s likely there will be another major transition in that timeframe.

The “new” NASA might be a product of an international Sputnik-like shock near 2013, involving a consortium of non-US countries which trigger another race to space (like Apollo). They might announce, for example, their plans to commercially develop the Moon, create solar power satelites, and/or colonize space. The post-2013, Sputnik-style NASA would be highly competitive, focused on deep space, and involve relatively few international partners. On the other hand, we might be fortunate enough to create a “Grand Alliance for Space” including all key global space powers. It would have dramatic, unprecedented goals in space and might resemble “Interspace.”

In any case, as Commercial Space suggests, NASA is likely to change dramatically in the next few years.

Next Big Future offers highlights of ambitious Russian hopes for manned missions to Mars — featuring joint missions with the United States. The Russians advocate a Mars-first strategy, leaving the Moon temporarily to the more space-challenged. Their “Interplanetary Expeditionary Complex” (IEC) includes a nuclear-powered space tug and a full interplanetary infrastructure.

The Russians see IEC as more of a prospectus than a realistic engineering plan, hoping to share the financial, technology, and human requirements with several international partners.

Perhaps the largest fantasy element is the timescale: Their manned space initiative would span 3 decades. Multi-decade space plans are unrealistic unless they take into account the history of Great Explorations and Macro-Engineering Projects (as well as major wars) over the last 200 years. Unless a major program is carefully coordinated with the opening of the 2015 Maslow Window it’s likely to lose momentum rapidly and fail.

Consistent with the conclusions above by Commercial Space, the Russian proposals — if taken seriously — would require major, near-term changes in NASA.

No responses yet

Aug 23 2009

Kepler, Carl Sagan, and the Guzman Prize — Our Century-Long Search for Space Aliens

Special thanks to Dr. Sean for vectoring me toward this week’s Newsweek.

Newsweek this week (8/24 & 31/09) features “In Search of Aliens” on its cover and uses NASA’s new $ 600 M Kepler spacecraft as our most recent attempt. On March 6 Kepler became the first spacecraft ever launched whose mission is to directly detect Earth-like planets in the habitable zones of nearby stars.

This is huge.

Kepler’s mission is among the most important in the history of space science. Click kepler.gif.

Although early science results already exist — the HAT-P-7 light curves — Kepler’s monumental significance is not yet fully appreciated by the global community. However, it will grow in global esteem as we approach the 2015 Maslow Window because Kepler feeds directly into 2 of the basic rationales driving near-term space colonization: 1) detection and international exploration of Earth-like planets, and 2) discovery of extraterrestrial life, especially intelligent space aliens. And it motivates the third: Human settlement of the solar system and beyond.

As we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, the way we currently search for extrasolar Earthlike planets (including their possible residents!) is with Kepler. But by 2015 we’ll have an even more sophisticated and powerful tool: the Terrestrial Planet Finder!

Of course, our search for space aliens didn’t start with Kepler, it goes back at least to the late 19th century discovery of canali on Mars by the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli. And as we scan the last century it becomes apparent that the public’s interest in space aliens has been modulated by the long wave. During times of economic upswings (especially during Maslow Windows) there is great interest in detecting and communicating with space aliens, but as the long wave plummets toward its trough between Maslow Windows, the public becomes more negative toward them.

During the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window, astronomer Frank Drake launched ebullient radio searches for messages from space aliens, and popularized the “Drake Equation” — familiar to every introductory astronomy student — that attempted to estimate N: the number of high-tech civilizations in our Galaxy.

Interest in Drake’s seminal work encouraged the development of extraordinary NASA concepts for advanced searches (Project Cyclops). Bernard Oliver’s favorite featured a phased array of one thousand, 100 – meter radio attennas covering an area 10 km in diameter! Now that’s 1960s ebullience! It’s scope was exceeded only by its pricetag: $ 6 to 10 B.

Toward the end of the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window, a directed beam from the Kelvans, Kelinda and Rojan, in the Andromeda Galaxy could have theoretically been detected by Cyclops. Click kelvans.jpg.
© 1968 Paramount Pictures

Of course Project Cyclops was never built because it broke a fundamental rule for Macro-Engineering Projects: Never propose a multi-billion dollar MEP toward the end of a Maslow Window. The last 3 Apollo missions had already been canceled, and as the Apollo program wound down, there was little political or public interest in another MEP — no matter how exciting — that cost 1/2 of Apollo.

One of the most ebullient scientists of the late 20th century and maybe the best science popularizer of all time, Carl Sagan was not one to avoid the infectious ebullience of the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window. In 1963 he wrote a scientific paper (Planetary and Space Science Vol. 11, May, 1963, pp. 485-498) asserting that space aliens could come here (and probably had already done so) in real interstellar spaceships and would be aided by relativisitic time dilation!

Although Cyclops became an early casualty of the collapsing Apollo Maslow Window, a much smaller version was eventually funded by NASA. Unfortunately, it was canceled by Congress in 1993 — a victim of the “Giggle Factor” as constituents began to ridicule the public-funded search for space aliens. This was only a few years before the long wave trough — an anti-ebullient time for sure.

During perhaps the most ebullient decade in US history — the Peary/Panama Maslow Window (1903-1913) — space alien fans had a field day. Lowell Observatory was founded to study Mars and its presumably modern, canal-based civilization. The Guzman Prize was offered to anyone who could prove contact with space aliens; But they couldn’t be from Mars because that was considered too easy! But that’s hardly surprising because the Wall Street Journal published an article in 1907 on “the proof by astronomical observations . . . that conscious, intelligent human life exists upon the planet Mars.” And some ebullient folks even suggested we should light huge fires at night to signal the Martians directly.

By contrast, during the Great Depression in 1938 — almost exactly one 56 year long wave before Congress canceled SETI — Orson Welles did his famous radio broadcast of the War of the Worlds, in which the Martians invaded New Jersey. It reportedly resulted in panic and mass hysteria.

Near long wave troughs we ridicule search attempts for space aliens (and cancel funding) or imagine the aliens actually attacking us; either way we’re pretty negative toward them. But as we approach Maslow Windows, such as the one in 2015, interest in space aliens picks up.

Just ask Newsweek.

One response so far

Apr 05 2009

State of the Wave — The Economy, Pyongyang, Freeman Dyson…4/4/09

This State of the Wave summarizes specific progress toward the opening of the 2015 Maslow Window and movement toward real, near-term space colonization. The focus is on events and trends of long-range significance, especially in the context of the 10 Wave Guides.

1) The Economy

U.S. unemployment is 8.5% — the worst since 1983 — and forecasters say it is headed to 10% later in 2009, and “the world economy is in the midst of its deepest and most synchronized recession in our lifetimes,” according to Klaus Schmidt-Hebbel of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (Wall Street Journal, 4/1/09).

Nevertheless, the globally slumping economy remains well within the historical envelopes of similar pre-Maslow Window panic/recessions over the last 200 years.

The New York Times (3/15/09, V. Bajaj) cautiously seeks the bottom by noting that: 1) price/earnings ratios for stocks are very low now but still about twice the P/E ratios of market bottoms for 1932 and 1982, 2) although existing house prices have declined by 1/3 (in current dollars) from their peak in 2006, they remain higher than in the housing booms of the 1970s and 1980s, and 3) Americans are starting to cut back on consumer spending of disposable income which has recently hovered near 100%. According to Obama economic advisor Lawrence Summers, these are the type of early signals that suggest the crisis is easing, although it’s not clear how soon it will end.

On the other hand, the Congressional Budget Office indicated recently that Obama’s budget would result in annual deficits of about $ 1 T over the next decade, and the total deficit from 2010 – 2019 would be “$ 2.3 T more than the administration forecast last month,” (Wall Street Journal, 3/21/09). This could weaken support for Mr. Obama’s spending initiatives. For example, North Dakota Democratic Senator Kent Conrad expressed concern over the long-term debt level because it “threatens the economic security of this country — I believe it in my bones.”

The odds of our current recession reaching depression status were estimated at only 15% recently by a Wall Street Journal (3/30/09, Justin Lahart) poll of economists. According to 94-year old economist Anna Schwartz, who studied causes of the Great Depression with Milton Friedman, “When you get an unemployment rate of 25%, everyone is conscious of that and fearful. We’re not talking in the league at all.” According to Lahart, a depression today would be different than the 1930s because fewer people work in agriculture and more are in service-related jobs today, plus the social safety net programs (e.g. unemployment insurance) would “blunt the blows.” Even without an official depression, Nobel economist Paul Samuelson, is concerned that “after the economy bottoms out, there could be a ‘lost’ four or five years of sluggish growth.”

Even Samuelson’s bleak scenario wouldn’t significantly delay the next Maslow Window. Indeed, growing global Maslow-style pressures to explore and colonize the Moon should have a positive economic effect; e.g., as they did toward the end of the 1893 panic/recession just prior to the Panama Canal/Polar Exploration Maslow Window.

2) North Korea Missile Launch

The launch of Pyongyang’s Taepodong-2 rocket occurred as I was writing this post; Stratfor reports that, “North Korea launched a satellite into orbit via a multistage rocket, Yonhap reported April 4, citing a statement by the Japanese government. The rocket lifted off at 0230 GMT, and it passed over Japan as planned in the flight path.”

The launch had generated global concern: The Los Angeles Times (2/8/09; J. Glionna)speculated that it might test the U.S. “The missile is pointing at Obama. North Korea thinks that with such gestures they can control U.S. foreign policy,” according Baek Seung-joo of the Korean Institute for Defense Analysis in Seoul. Anticipating its trajectory to be over Japan, Tokyo positioned missile interceptors against the rocket or its debris (Wall Street Journal, 3/28/09). British Foreigh Office Minister Bill Rammell, while visiting Seoul, said the launch would be “a clear breach” of the UN Security Council Resolution 1718. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton labeled the North Korean launch a “provocative act” that would have consequences.

Stratfor reported on 3/25 that according to National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair, “all indications suggest that North Korea will actually launch a satellite.” It appears he was right.

I suggested earlier that “the North Koreans are betting that the ‘global trend of the times’ — i.e., new space programs are developing in many countries around the world — will make the DPRK story believable.” This global trend is a major theme of 21stCenturyWaves.com featuring the approach to our next Maslow Window (expected in 2015) — the culmination of 200+ years of long-term trends in the economy and technology development, characterized by a major thrust toward international human expansion into the cosmos.

On April 3, Stratfor stated that “Ultimately, the Taepodong series missiles and SLVs are showpieces — diplomatic tools Pyongyang wields with care. They are not weapons,” for a variety of reasons including inaccuracy, low production numbers, slow launch capability, and NK’s inability to miniaturize and weaponize a nuclear bomb, according to Stratfor. They expect a few more scoldings or sanctions from the UN, and that’s about it. We’ll see what happens.

3) Growing Optimism About Technology and the Future

As we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, this blog has consistently forecast 2 things: 1) increasing public interest in technology and space, and 2) more optimistic public attitudes toward the future. There is evidence that, even 5 to 7 years out from the next Maslow Window and in the midst of the current global recession, both are appearing.

For example, the New York Times Magazine last Sunday (3/29/09; N. Dawidoff) featured an in-depth inteview with Princeton’s Nobel-caliber emeritus physicist Freeman Dyson, whose mind is still described by his colleagues as “infinitely smart” and “extraordinarily powerful.” He is profiled as a brilliant pro-technology scientist, who’s not comfortable with Gore-style climate crisis rhetoric. According to Dyson, “the climate-studies people who work with models…come to believe models are real and forget they are only models.” But the real global warming culprit is NASA scientist “Jim Hansen. He consistently exaggerates all the dangers.” In a recent shift in public opinion, it appears the majority of Americans agree with Dyson; Gallup reports that only 38% think that global warming will have a major impact on their lives.

Another surprise was the current issue of Foreign Affairs (March/April, 2009) whose cover features a stunningly pro-technology article “Geoengineering the Climate?” In case Dyson and others are wrong, the article, by five legal, engineering, and public policy academics, favors albedo techniques to reject solar radiation and cool the Earth. In the style of volcanic eruptions, they suggest injecting sulfate aerosols or similar reflective materials into the upper atmosphere; the space-based reflective cloud technique of Roger Angel is not mentioned, despite the fact that it would be less invasive for the biosphere. Their technology-intensive bottomline is that “the option of geoengineering exists. It would be dangerous for scientists and policymakers to ignore it.”

In another pro-technology development, Gallup reports that “a majority of Americans have been supportive of the use of nuclear energy in the United States in recent years, but this year’s Gallup Environment Poll finds new high levels of support, with 59% favoring its use, including 27% who strongly favor it.” This mirrors beliefs expressed by University of Southern California engineering professor Najmedin Meshkati, at a public event in Orange County that I organized. While acknowledging concerns about nuclear wastes and life-cycle costs, Dr. Meshkati spoke of a “nuclear renaissance” due to increased reactor safety and environment-friendly energy.

Although it is not yet obvious what mix of technologies (e.g., solar, nuclear, others) is best to address future energy/environment challenges, the trend toward pro-technology solutions and optimistic public attitudes about the future is consistent with the last 200 years and especially with our forecasts of the 2015 Maslow WIndow.

4) No NASA Administrator

Space News has concerns about President Obama’s inaction regarding a new post-Griffin Administrator. In a March 30 editorial, they suggested that the candidate vetting and Senate confirmation processes could leave NASA leader-less “well into the second quarter of 2009.” The worry is about major near-term decisions — e.g., retirement date for the Shuttle and the 5-year gap — that will affect NASA well into the 2015 Maslow Window.

This situation is consistent with my January forecast that, despite Obama’s interest and support of NASA during the capaign, he will, of necessity, need to focus on the economy and national security. Therefore, NASA will simply not be a front-burner item early in his administration.

5) ABC News Explains the Theory of Maslow Windows!

The centerpiece of 21stCenturyWaves.com is the concept of a Maslow Window. These are decade-long intervals separated by 55 to 60 years, when major economic booms produce widespread affluence-induced ebullience. For most people, this triggers their ascent to higher levels in Maslow’s heirarchy, where major exploration and technology projects seem at least intriguing and often almost irresistible.

But why, over the last 200 years, have great explorations and macro-engineering projects not been favored by the public during the decades between Maslow Windows (e.g., 1970s, 80s, 90s)?

Gina Sunseri of ABC News (11/29/08) explains that “the space station is the most complicated engineering project ever undertaken, and astronauts are…accomplishing remarkable feats in space — but it is hard for most Americans to care much about the space program when they are worried about keeping their jobs, making house payments and putting food on the table.”

In other words, low levels on Maslow’s heirarchy just don’t make it. Thank you ABC News!

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Mar 17 2009

Public Attitudes and Prospects for Global Temperature Control

A few of my academic friends believe that the 2015 Maslow Window may not be as spectacular as previous Windows (e.g., the Panama Canal Window, or Lewis & Clark Window) because of a possible climate and/or energy crisis. They fear that the financial resources required to mitigate a global crisis will drain societal affluence and restrain ebullience — thus limiting the ascent of many to elevated levels in Maslow’s heirarachy — that are the hallmarks of Maslow Windows over the last 200 years.

As we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, the public is becoming more optimistic about the human future in space…and on Earth. startrek.bmp.

Although the notion of “global warming,” associated with human emissions of CO2, has experienced considerable popularity in recent years, Gallup has recently sensed a turning point in public attitudes, “Altogether, 68% of U.S. adults believe the effects of global warming will be manifest at some point in their lifetimes,… (but) only 38% of Americans…believe it will pose ‘a serious threat’ to themselves or their own way of life.”

Moreover, “most Americans do not view the issue in the same dire terms as the many prominent leaders advancing global warming as an issue…Importantly, Gallup’s annual March update on the environment shows a drop in public concern about global warming across several different measures…over the past year.” This trend is probably due to growing public awareness of scientific data indicating that global warming ceased in 1998 and of unusually severe recent winters. And while Al Gore has made a major contribution to public science literacy by drawing attention to global climate concerns, his current reluctance to publicly defend his views — e.g., his refusal to debate European economist Bjorn Lomborg, and others — may be perceived by some as indicating growing uncertainty.

However, as we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, two other effects will increasingly come into play: 1) the fact that Maslow Windows are characterized by unusually optimistic (even ebullient) public attitudes, and 2) the increasing global fascination with large, international technology programs and space colonization — expected during the 2015 Maslow Window — will suggest to many around the world that solutions to key global challenges (e.g., the environment, energy) will benefit from space technology and resources.

An example of this accelerating trend is already visible in futurist George Friedman’s new book, The Next 100 Hundred Years. Friedman sees 21st Century global carbon issues as moderated by population trends and the increasing use of space-based solar power (SSP) systems; SSP may also “solve the problem of delivering power to the battlefield from space”…as the U. S. becomes “the largest energy producer in the world.”

Despite it’s self-doubts and real external threats, Friedman forecasts a “Golden Age” for the U.S. in the 21st century, “American culture is the manic combination of exhultant hubris and profound gloom. The net result is a sense of confidence constantly undermined by the fear that we may be drowned by melting ice caps caused by global warming or smitten dead by a wrathful God for gay marriage…” But in an ebullient expression of Maslow Window-style optimism, Friedman’s and Stratfor’s geopolitical and technological sense is that “the United States is stunningly powerful. It may be that it is heading for a catastrophe, but it is hard to see one when you look at the basic facts.”

Friedman’s optimism is supported by conceptual studies of space systems that could ameliorate a future climate catastrophe with minimal invasive effects on the biosphere. For example, Roger Angel, a National Academy of Science member and MacArthur Fellow at the University of Arizona, envisions cooling the Earth with a cloud of small spacecraft reflectors located near Earth’s inner Lagrange point (L1), a region directly toward the Sun about 1.5 million km from Earth.

Although containing innovative design elements, Angel’s Macro-Engineering Project (MEP) concept builds upon current technologies. Fully deployed, Angel’s 100,000 km-long “cloud” would consist of millions of meter-size autonomous deflectors capable of reducing the incoming solar energy by 1.8 %, and thus cooling the Earth. Angel envisions using very thin refractive screens to deflect sunlight from Earth, to minimize the effects of radiation pressure on each spacecraft’s location near L1, and to limit the total Earth launch requirement to 20 million tons. For a launch cost of only $ 50/kg, Angel prefers an electromagnetic launch system.

Angel estimates that his space cloud could be developed and deployed within 25 years — making it potentially a 2015 Maslow Window project — with a total cost of a few trillion U.S. dollars. Although a large number, assuming the typical GDP growth implied for the 2015 Maslow Window by macroeconomic trends over the last 200 years, a decade-long program would cost roughly the same fraction of U.S. GDP as similar MEPs of the past (e.g., Apollo, Panama Canal). Use of global human, financial, and technological resources — another expected hallmark of the 2015 Maslow Window — would be central to the project.

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Feb 28 2009

The Future's So Bright You're Going to Need Shades…!

The future’s bright because it’s sunny! And as the world hurtles toward the 2015 Maslow Window and embraces the spectacular potential of space colonization, it will become increasingly clear that space also provides the solution to Earth’s energy challenges.

21stCenturyWaves.com sees the Sun as the bright spot in our global energy future. Click sun.jpg.

In The Next 500 Years (1995) Adrian Berry celebrates that “we have learned to tap solar energy almost at its source,” meaning satellites. For a clean, environmentally-friendly, endless energy source, we merely build “solar collectors in stationary orbit…(that) continuously transmit energy down to receiving stations on Earth…” The cost would be reduced by using lunar materials which provide an economic payback for colonizing the Moon.

In The Next 200 Years (1976), the seminal futurist and physicist Herman Kahn strikes his typically upbeat tone: “Except for temporary fluctuations caused by bad luck or poor management, the world need not worry about energy shortages or costs in the future.” And although a 21st Century solar power MEP is suggested — “one image of a future world economy visualizes a large part, perhaps one-third, of the Sahara Desert being devoted to solar power production.” — no mention is made of space solar power. This is somewhat surprising because Kahn’s book appeared 8 years after Peter Glaser first proposed solar power satellites.

In The Next 100 Years (2009) forecaster and founder of Stratfor, George Friedman envisions the 2nd half of the 21st Century as the golden age of solar energy because “The American obsession with space will intersect with another intensifying problem: energy.” Friedman forecasts that “vast numbers of photovoltaic cells … will be placed into geostationary orbit or on the surface of the Moon. The electricity will be converted into microwaves, transmitted to the earth, reconverted to electricity, and distributed…”

In a public event that I hosted this week in Orange County, California, Dr. Iraj Ershaghi, the Omar B. Milligan Professor and Director of the Petroleum Engineering Program at the University of Southern California, waxed enthusiastic about the near-term potential for solar energy. Although he’s a world-class oil expert who sees peak oil as still in our future, Ershaghi is convinced that solar energy is the next big thing. He advocates that the U.S. burn through its devisive energy politics and focus major resources on increasing the efficiency of solar technology, with an eye toward eventually expanding solar collection into space.

According to Friedman, by the 2060s, space-based energy will be “a feature of everyday life.” And more importantly, the United States “will become the largest energy producer in the world.” Friedman believes that “space will become more important than Saudi Arabia ever was, and the United States will control it.”

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Jan 07 2009

Marcel vs. Fermi — Toward A Possible Convergence

Just finishing up some Christmastime reading last weekend and was especially enjoying an article in the British Interplanetary Society Journal (November, 2008) by Stephen Baxter who asserts that the apparent absence of pre-Marconi optical beacons from nearby extraterrestrials (ETs) shows “a deepening of the Fermi Paradox…To the ‘great silence’, we must add the ‘great darkness’.”

Of course, the Fermi Paradox refers to Nobel physicist and A-bomb scientist Enrico Fermi who in the 1940s recognized that our Milky Way Galaxy was the right size (about 100,000 light years across) so that an advanced civilization using nonrelativistic speeds could colonize the Galaxy in only a few million years. And, the fact that our Galaxy is about 13 billion years old suggests that if an ET civilization somehow appeared and got organized, they’d have had plenty of time to come here, and just ONE — the first one — could take over the entire Galaxy. So Fermi wondered, “Where are They?”

A Von Neumann Probe would be the key to colonization of the entire Galaxy. Click vnp.jpg.

To me, Fermi’s Paradox is especially wonderful because it integrates and crystalizes the two fundamental rationales driving human expansion into the cosmos as we approach the 2015 Maslow Window: 1) the desire to explore and settle Earth-like planets (space colonization), and 2) the search for extraterrestrial life, especially intelligent life. Under Maslowian influences, the Fermi Paradox will assume increasing importance during the next decade.

Baxter’s point is that optical beacons could have been used by ETs to remotely greet humans long before radio was invented on Earth. For example, using a 7-meter Next Generation Space Telescope, ETs from 10 light years away could produce an optical beacon comparable to the brightest star (Sirius) in our sky. Using an optimistic Moore’s doubling law currently observed in high-powered laser development, Baxter estimates the power requirements (~30 terrawatts) could be attained in ~40 years. A pulsed beacon with steering capability could reduce power demands by orders of magnitude for potentially gregarious, nearby ETs.

Prior to radio waves, how would ETs find us? Ruddiman (2007) argues that detectable pre-industrial effects of humans on the atmosphere may go back at least to the Neolithic ‘farming revolution’ (8000 yrs ago) when significant greenhouse gases escaped into the air. This signal should have enticed ETs to aim their sunlight beacons at Earth, from up to 1000 light years away. Although our pre-Copernican ancesters didn’t know what they were, they did faithfully record the supernovas of 1054 and 1181, but there is “no record of anything unequivocally resembling a sunlight beacon,” according to Baxter; hence the increasing Fermi-style “silence” and “darkness” I recounted earlier.

About this time I picked up my copy of Jesse Marcel, Jr.’s The Roswell Legacy which suggests any Fermi-induced depression may be premature. Dr. Marcel is a key figure in all of UFO history because when he was 11 years old, in 1947, his dad (Major Marcel) brought home some debris from the Roswell crash site and put in on their kitchen table. It apparently was not a weather balloon because “my father knew that what he had found was something absolutely incredible… parts from a ‘flying disc’…” Jesse noticed the I-beam had the now-famous “Egyptian hieroglyphics” markings that he decided “were more like geometric symbols…” Later his dad warned him not to mention the debris to anyone else and “that this material was from an unearthly craft.”

So is he telling the truth? Having been over the book a few times Dr. Marcel comes across as a very frustrating guy: he speaks lovingly of his father; he’s a respected physician in Montana, he loves his wife and kids, he did a 13-month tour in Iraq as a flight surgeon, …I could go on. It would be easier to dismiss him if he just dated Paris Hilton or something, but he doesn’t. I’m at a loss. I can’t think of any reason not to believe him and admire him.

So where do these two stories — the Fermi Darkness and the Marcel Witness — leave us? What would happen if we took them both seriously?

The Fermi story points to the absence of ETs in our vicinity while Marcel (and much other data) suggests there’s serious evidence for the reality of some UFOs. For the moment let’s rule out Messengers of Deception — one of my favorite Jacques Vallee books — because if UFO encounters are actually being faked by humans on Earth to frighten us so we don’t have wars….well let’s just say it isn’t working very well.

How else could we explain real UFOs with no ETs? How about a self-replicating machine — i.e., a Von Neumann Probe — capable of making copies of itself from raw materials found on any moon or planet in the Galaxy? A few VNPs strategically released in ancient galactic times by ETs would exponentially increase to fill the Galaxy with a vibrant reconnaissance network. Over time, if the ETs died, left the Galaxy, or lost interest, the VNP Galactic Network would continue operating and replicating indefinitely according to their creators’ original plan.

Raw human exploration passions are accelerating the riveting search for answers to many potential Fermi/Marcel-type scenarios; they can only be attained by space colonization and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The most aggressive expeditions into the unknown occur during the twice-per-century Maslow Windows when pulses of exploration inevitably propel human expansion into the cosmos.

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Nov 29 2008

10 Lessons Peary & Amundsen Teach Us About the Human Future in Space

Riveting polar expeditions of the 1903 Maslow Window resulted in the discovery of the north pole by Adm. Robert Peary (U.S.) in 1909 and the south pole by Roald Amundsen (Norway) in 1911; this “pole mania” featured daring adventure, international competition, and tragic accidents. The Peary/Amundsen Maslow Window has intriguing parallels with the 1960s Apollo Moon program and many lessons for the future human exploration and settlement of the Moon and Mars.
The top 10 lessons of Peary and Amundsen include:

10. The early 20th Century Peary/Amundsen Maslow Window (1903 – 1913) featured the spectacular achievement of Admiral Robert Peary — first credited with reaching the north pole — and the “Heroic Age” of Antarctic exploration including Roald Amundsen, discoverer of the south pole, the tragic deaths of Robert Scott and his crew, and the aborted transantarctic expedition of Ernest Shackleton… For more, click HERE.
The presence of both widespread ebullience and spectacular exploration of new geographical sites forms the core of Maslow Windows of the last 200 Years, and will likely be the zeitgeist of the 2015 Maslow Window

Amundsen and crew reach the “last place on Earth” in December, 1911. Click southpole.jpg.

9. Antarctic exploration in 1843 by Sir James Clark Ross — discoverer of the well-known Ross Ice Shelf — was the last mid-19th Century foray into the Antarctic by explorers for more than 50 years. Polar expeditions were replaced by the central African adventures of Dr. David Livingstone as the focus of the world’s attention during his Great Exploration. The postponement of polar exploration until the early 20th Century is consistent with the general rules of thumb for Great Explorations (GEs) during the last 200 years: a) GEs are separated by 55 to 60 years, b) their sequence is from closer geographical sites to those of greater inaccessibility (e.g., central Africa vs. poles), and c) new GE sites always stimulate great public interest. And thus our next Maslow Window should arrive near 2015 and involve humans to Mars, Moon bases, or possibly both.

8. Clarence King — a 19th Century version of both Carl Sagan and Howard Hughes –was one of the greatest explorers of the American West, but because of poor long wave timing he’s not associated with a Great Exploration. During his important exploits, Americans were devastated by the Civil War and Europeans were distraught by the financial Panic of 1873… For more, click HERE.
Scentist-Explorer Clarence King is a classic example of a great explorer not having the global impact you’d expect because his discoveries occurred in the decades between Maslow Windows; these often dark decades — over the last 200 years — are inhabited by major wars and financial contractions that quickly destroy societal ebullience and make Great Explorations temporarily impossible.

7. “This is the greatest factor — the way in which the expedition is equipped — the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck,” according to the discoverer of the south pole, Roald Amundsen. In the 15 major antarctic expeditions from 8 countries during the Heroic Age, there were a total of 17 crew deaths, including Scott’s entire party of 5 while returning from the pole. Having been overcome by extreme weather and questionable strategic decisions, Scott’s ill-fated crew is reminiscent of the famous California-bound Donner party during the ebullient mid-19th Century Maslow Window, who was trapped by unusual, early snow storms in the California mountains after ill-advised voluntary delays.
Great Explorations always involve significant risks, especially in an atmosphere of international competition. Experience has shown (see Stuster, 1996) that the best way to ensure crew safety and mission success is by trying to anticipate every potentially threatening situation and taking appropriate precautions.

Monument near Donner Lake indicating the 20+ foot depth of the snow in 1846 (B. Cordell, 1999). Click donner.pdf.

6. The international conquest of Antarctica was launched in 1895 when a general resolution at the 6th International Geographical Society in London exhorted scientific societies world-wide to support antarctic exploration. This echoed a similar theme ventilated by London’s Royal Geographical Society in 1893. Between 1901 and 1917 — the “Heroic Age” — 15 expeditions to Antarctica were mounted by 8 countries including the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Scotland, France, Japan, Norway, and Australia.
The Heroic Age of antarctic exploration proved that international cooperation can be a powerful tool for science and exploration, and suggests that it will be essential for human expansion into the cosmos.

5. The financial Panic of 1893 caused estimated unemployment over 10% for 5+ years. The crisis initially lasted only 18 months but was followed by another recession that continued into 1897. The combination of GDP declines of several % coupled with population growth meant that GDP per capita didn’t recover to 1892 levels until 1899… For more, click HERE.
The Panics of 1893 and 2008 have interesting parallels, including that they began 10 and 8 years before their Maslow Windows opened, respectively. The Panic of 1893 suggests that the 2015 Maslow Window might be delayed only briefly as the global economy recovers to its mid-2007 “greatest ever global boom” status.

The 2015 Maslow Window may still arrive on time and feature Great Explorations even greater than Peary & Amundsen and Apollo, and MEPs more amazing than even the Panama Canal. Click panama.jpg.

4. Unike the Lewis and Clark expedition, which opened the West to human settlers, the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration did not trigger massive human migrations to the polar regions. And while important meteorological and geographical science was done, it was the sheer adventure of polar exploration that enthralled the world… For more, click HERE.
That’s why during the 1960s Maslow Window, President Kennedy did not propose sending a mission to exploit the polar areas or anywhere else on earth, he chose to go to the Moon. It was the next obvious target that would globally demonstrate America’s technological prowess (Apollo was also an MEP), as well as revitalize education and society by activating raw human exploration passions — that have been hard-wired into us for 200,000 years.

3. “To a visitor from Mars it must have seemed that the Western world in 1914 was on the brink of Utopia,” according to historians J. Harrison and R. Sullivan (1966). Unfortunately, this pinnacle of Polar Maslow Window ebullience crashed in 1914 with the onset of World War I, the “Great War.” For more, click HERE.
The Peary/Amundsen Maslow Window is consistent with the lesson of the last 200 years: public support for Great Explorations and Macro-Engineering Projects typically vaporizes shortly after the economic boom peaks due to financial, political, and/or military factors. Maslow Windows flourish for less than a decade, and — unless we make special plans for it — the 2015 Window is unlikely to be an exception.

2. Although antarctic exploration began with an international organization in the mid-1890s, the desire to be first to the pole — i.e., pole mania — was overwhelming to some explorers. When Amundsen realized that Peary had reached the north pole in 1909, he made secret plans to be first to the south pole. For more, click HERE.
The Amundsen-Scott pole mania episode is reminiscent of the 1950s Cold War, which featured the International Geophysical Year’s plans to launch satellites into Earth orbit and resulted in the surprise Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957; Sputnik ignited the Race to Space as the Apollo Maslow Window opened. As we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, is an Amundsen/Sputnik-type surprise likely to trigger the Next Race to Space?

1. Will there be a Grand Alliance for Space? Although the Polar Maslow Window failed in that regard (See #2), it’s likely the technical and financial challenges of early 21st Century space colonization will require a globally coordinated approach. The last 200 years indicate that twice-per-century pulses of Great Explorations and Macro-Engineering Projects are likely to be the focus of global ebullience in the foreseeable future — especially in space. And AIAA’s Jerry Grey and others have even suggested a multi-decade plan for unified, global settlement of the solar system. The spectacular achievement of the $ 100 B International Space Station and current international plans for Moon exploration and bases suggest hopeful movement in the right direction.

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Oct 28 2008

State of the Wave, Geopolitical & Economic Focus — Monday 10/27/08

A key question is: Given the current financial panic, is it likely the United States will play a leadership role in space colonization and exploration between 2015 and 2025? The question can be split into two more fundamental ones: 1) will the U.S. remain a global superpower in the normal sense of the word, and 2) will the U.S. aggressively pursue large-scale, unprecedented space activities of the type expected during the next Maslow Window?

Is America’s global leadership declining? Click buzzaldrin.jpg.

Doubters abound regarding the U.S.’s future superpower status. For example, Germany’s finance minister, Russia’s prime minister, and Iran’s president have predicted U.S. “hegemony” is ending. And the New York Times, Der Spiegel, and Guardian columnist John Gray, all foresee a diminished America.

In this blog, I’ve featured rational arguments that suggest the U.S.’ superpower status will be uninterrupted, because:
1) The U.S. is not only the weathliest and most powerful country now, but in all of history; see Professor Madden.
2) The U.S. has weathered major challenges for over 200 years and continued to flourish; see Lewis & Clark.
3) The analog between Britain’s decline and the U.S. is very weak; see Zakaria.
4) America’s bright future is enhanced by its world-class universities and robust demographics; see Zakaria.

Bret Stephens, in the Wall Street Journal (10/14/08) asserts that “America will remain the Superpower,” because — referring to America’s opponents and critics — “When the tide laps at Gulliver’s waistline, it usually means the Lilliputians are already 10 feet under.” This is seen in a variety of economic stressors where the U.S. is favored vs. other countries, including inflation, ability to finance a bailout, government debt to GDP ratio, amount of foreign direct investment, and others.

The New York Times (10/12/08, David Leonhardt) anonymously quotes a senior Chinese economist who says that people in his home country do not doubt America’s prospects, “They know its ability to turn around problems is really unmatched, historically.”

Stephens concludes that no matter who wins the upcoming presidential election, “the United States will eventually regain its economic footing and maintain its place” as the Superpower.

In space, will the U.S. be a Gulliver or a Lilliputian? Click iss.jpg?

Assuming the U.S. remains the Superpower, will the financial panic reduce the U.S. — in the space arena — to a Lilliputian or will it remain a Gulliver? Several points are relevant:

1) George Friedman (Stratfor, 10/16/08) notes that the current panic is less like a systemic collapse (i.e., the Great Depression with 50% GDP decline over 3 years) and more like an “inflection point” related to business cycles. For example, in the Savings and Loan crisis of 1989 government bailout was 6.5% of GDP, while currently government intervention is about 5%. Friedman concludes that a recession is coming but it “would not break the framework of the postwar economy.”

2) The timing of the current panic relative to the anticipated opening of the next Maslow Window (2015) is a concern. For example, economists believe the credit crunch could last “well into 2009,” (San Diego Union-Tribune, Dean Calbreath, 10/19/08). Until credit problems are resolved, “the current recession could be much deeper and longer than otherwise.” A worst-case scenario would be the decade-long Great Depression. This suggests the next Maslow Window could start near 2018, about 3 years “late”. On the other hand, two major 19th Century panics began within a decade of their Maslow Windows and did not delay their openings or diminish in the least their spectacular Great Explorations and MEPs. I’ve noted before that two factors — renewed Cold War-like tensions, and strong international interest in Moon bases — suggest the Maslow Window might open earlier than 2015. These geopolitical effects might even counter an unusually long recession, similar to how the war economy of W.W. II ended the Great Depression.

3) There was no financial panic in 1949, one decade before the onset of the Apollo Maslow Window, which featured the Cold War’s race to space and footprints on the Moon in 1969. Does that imply that the current panic (7 years before the 2015 Window) will interfere with realistic prospects for international space spectaculars between 2015 and 2025? It appears that the 1949 NON-panic was due to the post-war boom (for which the Boomer generation is named!) and financial reforms passed during the Great Depression. I concluded earlier that a good analog for our current situation is the Panic of 1893 which lasted through that decade but ultimately gave birth to the most spectacular Maslow Window of the last 200 years (until Apollo).

However, there is still considerable uncertainty about how our current panic will end. Arthur Laffer (Wall Street Journal, 10/27/08) believes that “this administration and Congress will be remembered like Herbert Hoover,” and that “the age of prosperity is over” because even more government bailouts are in our future. And The Economist (10/16/08) concurs: “Even if it staves off disaster, the bail-out will cause huge problems. It creates moral hazard: such a visible safety net encourages risky behavior. it may also politicize lending.”

On the other hand, it’s possible that international events will play a stimulating role. We may unify globally and have a Grand Alliance for Space, or someone might decide that a Sputnik-style surprise conveys irresistible geopolitical advantages. Either way it will get our attention.

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