SPACE: Beyond Apollo (was: a to-do list for the next century)

Date: Sat Apr 01 2000 - 07:31:39 MST

In a message dated 3/27/00 2:24:23 PM Central Standard Time, writes:

> This is always true of visionary proposals, whether by science fiction
> writers or people named Seward. What characterizes the late twentieth and
> early twenty-first century is a remarkable falling back from the dreams of
> the Apollo decades (post World War 2).

As I've said before here, I am an irredeemable child of Apollo: Apparently no
amount of reasoning can convince me that the effort wasn't worthwhile and I
literally never tire of the story being retold. But, as David Harland has
pointed out in his excellent recent book on the field geology accomplished by
the Apollo missions, "Exploring the Moon", "In retrospect, it is clear that
Apollo was an element of twenty-first century exploration which was somehow
drawn forward 50 years and, incredibly, implemented with early-1960s
electronics technology." (332-33) He makes this comment in reviewing the
general plan for building space infrastructure that was almost universally
envisioned in the mid-20th century, before Apollo, i.e. first the
establishment of reusable, inexpensive access to space, then an orbital space
station and only then going on to explore and develop Luna and the rest of
the solar system. I don't think that the people who originally conceived of
that plan, Oberth, Von Braun, Ley, Clarke and others, are or would be
surprised, therefore, that the supreme effort required to achieve the Apollo
goals was followed by a period of retreat. In the historical context of
post-Vietnam politics and economics and the slow, steady erosion of Soviet
power during the 70s and 80s, it seems all the more inevitable. Thus, Greg,
it is not the "falling back from the dreams of the Apollo decades" that is
remarkable, it was Apollo itself that was remarkable.

> We're waiting for something to happen
> before we make the next leap, and I believe this something is a convincing
> model not just for economics in space, but for maintaining biological
> processes in space (one and the same thing, in my view!).
> A lot of people--many of them friends--are working hard to lower costs to
> orbit. NEO is already a proven money maker for some. But as Joe Carroll
> pointed out, we haven't done the complete closed loop habitat experiments
> necessary to convince anybody that we can survive for a couple of years in
> space without help from Earth. This is the biological equivalent of cutting
> lose from suppliers of venture capital; breaking even, paying off debts, or
> making a profit!

I agree, and the "GNR technologies" (to borrow Bill Joy's term) are the key
to solving this problem, as well as the CAtS (Cheap Access to Space) problem.
 Just as a number of technological innovations and a base level of economic
prosperity in Europe made exploration and settlement of the New World
possible (the square-rigged sale and the compass on the technological side
and the post-Black Death, Renaissance crop rotation and urbanization on the
economic side), so genetic engineering, nanotechnology and robotics will
create the background and tool-set for really exploiting the resources of the
solar system. The truth is that 20th century technology just wasn't up to
the job. Mid-21st century technology will be.
> When the culture as a whole is presented with convincing evidence for
> solutions to these hard practicalities, the visionaries will be back in
> favor.

You bet! (And so do I).

       Greg Burch <>----<>
      Attorney ::: Vice President, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
                                           ICQ # 61112550
        "We never stop investigating. We are never satisfied that we know
        enough to get by. Every question we answer leads on to another
       question. This has become the greatest survival trick of our species."
                                          -- Desmond Morris

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