Thursday, March 12, 2009

How Space Exploration and Development Can Save the American and Global Economy


The focus of this article is on America, the country I live in, am proud of, and have served (Navy). However, many of the opinions stated in here can apply globally for all nations. Yes, this article is long, but worth it, in my opinion.


I have talked before on how I think that this current economic depression gives us the greatest opportunity to change the direction of how America operates and does business. The days of invisible money, house flipping and banking/Wall St. shenanigans is over. It is time for America to become a nation of production once again, and not just a nation of consumers and spenders.


My solution, as some of you may know, revolves around the development of a serious space program that involves the entire nation. I am not talking about a quick fix, 10 year program like going to the moon in the 60’s. I am talking about a permanently established infrastructure system dedicated to the infinite reaches of space.


My solution tackles a few of the major issues confronting America today, such as jobs, education, health care and international relations. All of these are fairly high on the list of things that need to be rectified immediately. I plan to address each of these in greater detail than I have before, to drive home the point that this simple plan of action will provide long term, if not indefinite, stability for America.


Jobs


Currently, most of the world is familiar with the major American aerospace companies like Northrup, Lockheed, Boeing, United Space Alliance (which is really a Boeing/Lockheed company), Orbital Sciences, etc. Although large, they don’t employ as many people as you may think, so more needs to be done to increase the workforce of the space industry.


For the most part, these are government contractors who basically derive the majority of their profits from the tax payers by virtue of their contracts with NASA. NASA gets their federal budget and divvies out contracts to these companies for their services. These lions aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, but they are also not really developing much in the way of commercial space either. Why should they, when their bread is nicely buttered by locked contracts with the government? Where the rubber really meets the road, and the average person, is private commercial space exploration and development. The jobs will be created here more than anywhere else.


Private companies, like SpaceX, Bigelow, Virgin Galactic, etc. have started the revolution, where the notion of going to space is not reserved for the select few as appointed by the government (our present day astronauts), but open for everyone to enjoy. They are also breaking down the walls of high cost, low return on space travel. One of the main reasons why space is so expensive is because we have so few players in the game, developing limited scope and unique products that only serve specific purposes. Mass production is what drives prices down.


For example, the rovers Spirit and Opportunity cost a few hundred million each just to design and build, but how much would that cost drop if you mass produced them, in assembly line fashion, with “plug-in” ports to hold vast arrays of scientific instruments? If you punched out a few hundred rovers a year in this format, the cost would drop significantly. Now marry this idea with long range rockets designed the same way (mass produced) and we could have rovers and probes exploring our solar system by the hundreds every year and where the costs are no more drastic than the cost of maintaining commercial airliners. Can you imagine the amount of science and discovery that would provide just in and of itself?


Now that is just a robotic example. The real job growth would come with manned exploration, development and recreation in space. We need to build better spaceships. For the past 30+ years we’ve sat on our hands, enjoying the iconic space shuttle, yet complaining all the way about its faults and its cost of operation. Yet all we did was complain, and never spent the time or resources to develop the next generation of shuttle or spacecraft to accomplish the task better, cheaper and safer.


Honestly, the government is not the arena where progress like this happens. It is the private sector that can and will develop proper spaceships. These companies will compete, grow, employ hundreds of thousands of people, and re-establish America as a manufacturing powerhouse. America needs to get into the business of building spaceships with a substantial infrastructure to support them. These craft would benefit the world, by providing low cost, high access to space for whatever scientific projects or recreational endeavors the world has in mind.


It is very simple to spark this kind of growth and development; make it attractive for space companies to start and grow in America. Nations of the world should be enticed to do business with the American Space Industry, because the costs would be reasonable. The best way to assure reasonable costs is to ensure the companies in America are at the top of the competitive ladder. This means tax incentives would be given to start a space exploration, development, or recreation company. Since these companies are private and not working on military or secret assets, ITAR would not restrict them from free trade with other companies of the world. This mutual interest expands foreign relations and strengthens peaceful ties among nations.


The government doesn’t need to contribute a single dime to make this happen. All they need to do is enact legislation to make it desirable to start a space company in America. From this point the companies begin building their offices and research facilities, spaceports would need to be constructed, and these companies would employ American workers, the best in the world, to drive humanity into the solar system as frequently as we fly around the world.

Education


A natural byproduct of creating space businesses in America is that there would be a serious focus on fixing our lackluster public education system. A highly educated workforce is essential to the survival of our nation. If students knew that the direction of the nation was math, science and engineering, they would have little choice but to focus on those subjects. The days of fast money business are over.


Knowing that hard work in school could lead to one actually living in space, because there are more serious opportunities to do so, is a very strong incentive to maintain the proper focus and excel in math and the sciences. Right now it seems more like science fiction, whereas we need to turn it into science fact.


It’s not just about engineers and scientists though. Space Law and Policy will have to be seriously addressed as we develop orbiting hotels, a lunar mining and research facility, etc. Space Medicine would become a completely separate discipline, because what you do on Earth is not exactly the same as what you would have to do in space to save someone’s life or perform surgery. Special schools may have to be developed to study topics such as these. And space business is a business after all, so there is marketing, finance, administration, and all other aspects of running a business that are involved. Many fields of learning are involved in this new direction.


This is where federal funding does come into play, but more importantly, a refocus on how education is administered. No longer should we cater to the lowest common denominator, because all that does is slow everything and everyone else down. High standards, based on strong individual (and in some cases group) effort, are needed in our school systems.


Standardized testing is a farce, where teachers are more focused on teaching just the elements of standardization and not concentrating on the overall picture of scholastic development. You either pass or fail, and not everyone gets an award. The focus needs to be on ensuring everyone receives the most challenging education possible, where failure is an option that serves to strengthen ones resolve. Failures do happen in life, and school is one of the first places to learn the lessons of humility, failure and rising to success. Those that struggle should receive additional assistance after school and on weekends. Reducing the standards does nothing more than destroy the overall potential of America.


It also wouldn’t hurt to run TV commercials, targeting young people to get involved with math and science for the commercial space business. Entice them with how it can be and how they can help make it happen. In addition, offer older people the opportunity to re-educate themselves and get involved. This would mark a new era in education and focus.


Health Care


This topic is covered very succinctly. With such frequent trips to space, the ability to conduct low cost space medical research would grow significantly. This would in turn help medical scientists address and solve some of the complex health issues we face today. Medical research in space offers great potential for breakthrough discoveries. It is this kind of space based research, on a large scale, that will help humanity become a stronger, more healthy and vibrant species. The best way to fix the broken health care system is to find ways to prevent sickness in the first place.


International Relations


Peaceful relations among nations is achieved on many fronts. One of these is free and open trade. America should be the leader in space exploration and development, providing hardware and services to the rest of the world to aid in their development and exploration needs. This is a significant economic boon for America, where we finally return to our roots of manufacturing and export. In the same way that we revolutionized the automobile industry and made it global, so should we revolutionize the private space industry, but in this case (unlike the auto industry) we should never lose our focus on striving to create the best and most affordable product possible.


Only through global cooperation can we as a species truly achieve a consistent space presence. Everyone has something to contribute, and these contributions should be used to fortify economies, stabilize relations, and most importantly, advance human space exploration and development.


Conclusion


Advancing the American space program, federal and private, is not just something to boost our economy, fortify international relations, strengthen our education system, or provide enhanced medical research opportunities. An advanced space program is necessary for survival.


It is no secret that the Earth is a fragile sphere. It is no secret that the Earth is not made of unlimited resources. It is no secret that overpopulation could strangle humanity with itself. Yet above all this, it is also no secret that there are objects in our solar system that could wipe out human existence in a matter of minutes. At some point, this stark reality must be faced.


Nothing we do on this planet matters if, in the blink of an eye, we are eradicated by an astronomical disaster. You can’t bring it with you if you’re vaporized. It is imperative that the human species expand to the stars, for survival. The time of large scale space cruisers carrying thousands of people to the far reaches of space may be a far off dream to some, but it must start somewhere, and governments alone will not get us there.


Private space exploration and development, through American leadership, innovation and determination, will make the advancement of humanity to the stars possible. The world will come with us, but we will lead the way, and although the greater reason for developing a strong and long lasting space industry is human survival, we can also bring ourselves out of this economic darkness, reinvigorate the American spirit and establish ourselves once more as the greatest nation the world has ever known.

8 comments:

Jeff C said...

I think there's an important side benefit to companies like SpaceX taking the reins. Most people associate the space program and its contractors with bureaucracy, inefficiency, and dishonesty, what with some of the recent scandal and accusations that have been flying around.

I think letting SpaceX do the grunt work will be the first step to helping restore honor and integrity to the aerospace industry, and make engineering a noble profession once more--not like it ever wasn't, but you get my idea.

Norman Copeland said...

Truefully, the petrol business has had a really dramatic effect on the aviation business, the cost of fuel has seen large airplane companies lose all potential profit, largely because of the current trend of new cheap airline companies who have purchased older model airplanes and sent them to work on budget fares.

The larger airline companies which have spent hundreds of billions on new airplanes and technology for newer generation airplanes have had real difficulty balancing the books.

These companies who would of used percentages of profits for company development have not as would of been expected entered the space engineering business.

That consideration may itself be the contributing factor to the slow development of space aeronautics, probably the reason the new wave of space interested companies is primarily funded from exterior business sources.

I beleive the trend will continue and it may reveal a new drive for the development of technology which does not use petrol, it would save the big companies from bancruptcy, but, why is out of their league now?

I'm not sure, but, flying through someones airspace...

Petrols got history written all over it...

Douglas Mallette said...

Which is why I feel the evolution of serious advanced space travel will not rely on combustion.

Anonymous said...

I agree with all that was said in your article. My one unaddressed concern is about the perception of education in America. Politicians have been bashing public education for so long - turning public opinion against the system, and using this as an excuse to pass laws that have the net effect of making the system worse - that many people have joined the "blame the teachers" chorus. While your article does not directly attack America's educators, neither does it defend them while attacking the failings of the system.

There is a widespread perception that America's schools are inferior to those of other developed nations. This perception is based on the abysmal results seen in America's high school graduates - and dropouts. The perception is false. Our schools are as good as any in the world. Sadly, frivolous legal actions by parents have challenged the schools' designated status in loco parentis, while the parents themselves insist that it is still the schools' job to raise their children - without any legal standing to impose measures to deal with children who are not only spoiled but completely out of control.

Every nation that can claim better results from its education system than the USA can also claim better support for its teachers and a better understanding of the role of parents in the education and upbringing of the children.

Douglas Mallette said...

Anon - First, please get a name. It makes the conversation so much more polite. :)

I'd have to say that I'm 50/50 on teachers. There are great ones (I had many), but there are also terrible ones (and I've had those too). The problem is with the Teachers Union that seems to refuse to seriously clean house and remove the bad apples from the bunch.

I'll be the first to jump up and announce that I can't stand modern unions. Notice how I say modern. Back in the past, unions served a vital role to bringing fairness to the worker. However, now that has been twisted, such that it's more about political power and control than servicing the members of the union and doing what's right for the success of the business.

Unions hold industry hostage now, and it's disgusting. I'd say that 50% of the Auto Industries problem is the stranglehold the UAW has over it. And the same can be said for the Teachers Union.

Wipe the union, retain the teachers that deserve it and expunge the ones that stink. There's one huge step in the right direction.

I will completely concur that parents need to step up and be more involved. I cannot imagine being a teacher and dealing with some snotty spoiled and rude little punk kid that's only 8, but cussing me out. I think I'd punch Dad dead in the face since I can't punish the kid. lol.

Anonymous said...

You have put down what I was thinking in such a fine tuned way. Have you ever thought about starting an organization to drive for privatizing the Space industry completely. Once NASA completes the Space Station and ends the Shuttle program I feel that their mission might just end as well. Give it a good thought. We need more people willing to do things instead of just being content with their own little worlds.

Keep fighting for this. I don't think I can loose the idea of Space Exploration yet, It defeats the all purpose of what NASA has been working for.

Douglas Mallette said...

Anon - Thanks. I've already written a book covering this topic and a few others related to Space Exploration and Development to a publisher. I hope they like it.

There are already several organizations that are pushing for the private space movement. The National Space Society and the Space Renaissance Initiative, both of which I am a member of.

No need to start something that already exists. :)

Anonymous said...

Space ship
As has been outlined many times elsewhere, the survival of the human species, near-term and long-term, depends on expansion into the solar system: to gain the experience of living and working indefinitely in extraterrestrial environments and to locate a breeding population off-planet, among other specific reasons. The United States possesses the resources and knowledge base to foot the first critical steps of the expansion, but has, at least two times, let the opportunity pass: 1) when Congress cut the legs out from under a sustained lunar program and the von Braun Mars plan and 2) when the Space Exploration Initiative (SEI) was dismissed out of hand from "sticker shock". get it started

Here I am talking about my life
No matter where my life stands today
I will always be grateful I am still here

My life
I pray every single day goes to God
Knowing past is past
I only can make my life go where I want it be

My life always been crazy
No matter what I am going through
I will always be grateful
I am still breathing today

My life is my life
Nobody can change my life around but me
People tell me it's hard to be me
I don't look at it that way
Every days I wake up
Thanks to God I am still here
I always will have faith in God, in myself, and in my life
I know I will be all right