The success of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft in supporting the International Space Station demonstrate that alternative, more affordable models exist for space exploration and development.
(credit: J. Foust)

How the US can become a next generation space industrial power

by Charles Miller
Monday, November 5, 2012

[Editor’s Note: the following is an address given by Charles Miller at a Marshall Institute event titled “Exploring Space: Considering U.S. Goals and Aspirations for Its Space Exploration Programs” in Washington, DC, on November 1.]

I want to thank the Marshall Institute, Jeff Kueter, and Eric Sterner for holding this important discussion about the “why” and the “how” of space exploration and development. Their wisdom shows in first discussing the “why”, and then the “how”. To paraphrase Lewis Carroll, “If you don’t care where you are going, any road will get you there.”

First to “why”. My answer is simple. Our goal should be to extend human civilization across the solar system. A human civilization led by free people, and founded upon free enterprise.

It behooves us to ask “Why?” again.

The heart and soul of America, the core values of America, were born on the frontier. The Declaration of Independence, which declared that “all men were created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” would have died a bloody death on the continent of Europe. Indeed, the French Revolution was quite bloody. The powers in Europe did not hold these truths to be self-evident. The same is true around the rest of the established world. Billions still live under tyranny.

“The Blessings of Liberty” and the “Bill of Rights” were born as part of the Constitution, which was born in America. All of these ideas would survive, grow, and then flourish on the American frontier. Freedom is a disruptive innovation, a disruptive cultural innovation. The existence of a new geographic market to take root in—where the competing tyrannies and powers were weak—has accelerated the growth of freedom for all people on this planet.

We declared, “We are a free people.” We established our self-identity and image on the frontier. We then fought our greatest wars—a war to end slavery and a war to defeat fascism—because of who we said we are. While we have our failings, as we are forever becoming a more perfect union, America has led the charge for freedom for all humanity across the planet these last several centuries.

But the American frontier is now closed. I watch as we increasingly turn inwards, becoming more self-absorbed, more bureaucratic, and more divided. I fear that America is the metaphorical frog, sitting quite cozily in a pot of water, and slowly becoming more like Europe.

Human civilization needs a new frontier, to challenge the best in us, and to seed the greatest new ideas. That frontier is space. Permanent human expansion into space, led by free people and founded upon free enterprise, is the tonic humanity needs. This human civilization will be the ultimate light on the hill. This human civilization, if only by example, will contribute to the elimination of the last vestiges of darkness here on Earth.

While this goal is persuasive to me, and perhaps to some of you and to a few others, there is a major problem. There is a trap that we must avoid. We represent the visionaries, and leading adopters, but most Americans (including our elected representatives) have much more pragmatic concerns.

The vast majority of Americans cannot, and will not, put a high priority on space exploration, or extending human civilization across the solar system. This was Newt Gingrich’s mistake in Florida in late January. Newt mistook the repeated standing ovations he received from the hundreds of space industry people in the room for something that the far larger electorate cared about. We all need to learn from his mistake.

We need an answer to the “why” question that appeals to the pragmatic majority. We need a pragmatic strategy that ties near-term national and economic security to a fiscally-responsible but visionary economic development plan for the solar system.

I will now lay out a pragmatic general strategy, and a five-point plan to achieve it. I have two simple prescriptions to lay the foundation.

Read more: The Space Review: How the US can become a next generation space industrial power.

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