Back at the beginning of the 1960’s, Russia scared the crap out of America by putting the world’s first artificial satellite up in orbit. Sputnik was the definitive sign of red domination of space, and it sent a cowed populace running screaming.
America back then was a country in the grip of anti-communist fever, with political witchunts from McCarthy causing a serious amount of whiplash as the two main global super-powers of the time were engaged in a large amount of dick-swinging and glossing over their own troubles.
Russia, eager to prove her might, set out to conquer space. Predictably, America had to do the same, but bigger, better and faster. And so the space race was born.
Thanks to the space race, we now enjoy a whole host of amazing innovations which may never have gotten off the ground (yes, that’s a stealth rocket pun):
- disposable diapers
- non-stick frying pans
- the entire computer revolution (transistors and IC’s and more)
- advanced aviation and aeronautics
- composite materials
- satellite TV & global communication
- and more, so much more
All these things were, in the most part, not just improved thanks to money being pumped into “space” (as the short-sighted blithely put it), but in some cases were out and out born and propelled into the majorly important technologies which we rely on today, not to mention every single spinoff independently created thanks to that bedrock created by the space industry.
This is what really burns my toast, when idiots say “why spend all that money in space when we should be spending it down here?”
What, you think there’s a great big money-shredding machine on the moon? You think none of those advances ever flow out like the neverending cornucopia of invention that they most obviously have?
Every dollar, every single red cent, spent “on space”, benefits people down here on Earth.
Now, I’m not saying that there’s not waste, cruft, graft and grift. I’m not saying there are not some fat bastards making too much money on something trivial or merely overpriced, but to pretend money just evaporates when spent “on space” is not just ridiculous, it’s down right subversive.
Which is why, for pennies on your taxation currency of choice, you should be rip raring to go on space, because nothing else provides as much bang for buck in the long run than dealing with the hostile and unique environment found at the top of this gravity well.
And, quite simply, if you’re familiar with the phrase “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”, you should look up at the stars and realize just how vulnerable we are.
In fifty years or so, we are going to either be collapsing under, or we will have overcome, the following hard limits on our current civilisation:
- food (and drink) production vs world population
- fuel (oil, we’re already over the peak)
- raw materials
These aren’t just random bullshit I’ve pulled out of my arse, these are real, hard, fatal problems for the world we not only have, but want to continue to have.
All of these problems can be assuaged by a commitment to space industry. Simply starting with raw materials, and novel compounds: do you know how much raw value is floating around out there? Trillions of dollars. Quadrillioins. Far, far more than is down here on Earth.
In some 40 years, we’ll be running out of zinc, copper, tin, silica and so on – sure, it’ll be around, but we won’t be able to get at it. That’s if we have the oil to continue making something useful of it.
And with oil, I don’t just mean for burning. Oil is the greatest single source of plastics and malleable materials we have, and the greatest single type of oil is from digging up dead dinosaurs.
And like everything else on this planet, it’s a finite resource.
It. Will. End.
There are only two energy sources that we can depend on in the coming century to keep our civilisation out of the gutter. One is nuclear (fission or fusion). The other… is solar power.
Ask yourself this question: where does the sun always shine? Where can you always be sure of clear skies, no clouds, and no inconvenient break in the daylight?
If you said “in space”, then DING DING DING! You win a cookie. We can build solar powerstations (commonly called sunsats) which sit in orbit around the sun, or the moon, or even the earth, which always collect solar energy, and continuously beam it safely back down to earth for redistribution. Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, for the next four billion years.
Doing this, of course, requires infrastructure. And doing it all from Earth (from the bottom of a dirty great gravity well) is extremely inefficient and improbable.
But doing it up there, say from LEO, or the moon, or even around the sun itself… suddenly, things make sense. But only if we can build the infrastructure to take care of it.
So, what do we need? Well:
- we need good rockets (go china, russia, europe, space-x and scaled composites and ALL THE OTHER GUYS TOO! And America, WTF did you do? You cancelled your space program? Really?)
- We need orbital arrays
- we need space habitats
- We need space workers (hey, I’ve already said I want my castle on the moon)
- we need raw materials
And more than that, we need them now. We need to be not only planning for the future, but investing and investigating now.
Because, quite simply, we could have been doing all this in the 70’s, if the big dick-waving contest hadn’t been exposed for the sham it was when the US’ space station was cancelled, leaving that great white-elephant boondoggle of a shuttle as only half of a complete space enterprise.
Talk of going to Mars, bypassing LEO and the moon, angers me. Not because it can’t happen that way, but because it smells more of make-work than real enterprise. No money can come out of a Mars base, it can only go in, which will only initially benefit a small number of people, instead of everyone like a real space program would.
So let your senators and MP’s know what you think – this is not pie in the sky tech, this is here and now. This is shit we could have been doing for the last 30 years.
Make it happen, please.