Making space settlement a long-term goal of US space policy
can give NASA new focus and direction for its space efforts.
(credit: NASA)



Inserting the “s” word: a modest proposal

by Derek Webber
Monday, December 3, 2012

I am going to start this commentary with the ending: we need the space policy of the United States (and its reflection in NASA objectives and mission statements) to contain an explicit statement that one of its purposes is to make possible the eventual settlement of humans elsewhere in the solar system. I am not interested in whether it is the first objective or the last. I would just like to see that it is included the next time an update is produced. That’s not asking too much, surely?

Why do I want this? Because, if this is recognized publicly as a very long term aim, then everything else in the space program makes sense. Von Braun, Tsiolkovsky, Hawking and many others have underlined for us why in the long term this will become necessary (solar life cycle, asteroid bombardment, gamma-ray bursts, and so on.) This is the ultimate existential reason behind humanity’s progress in the last century from the beginnings of aviation to the Moon landings. We are in a position, because of the risks taken on our behalf by the early space explorers, to be able to make such a future possible for mankind. Because it is such a very long term aim, there is no need at this stage to even have budget implications.

If there are no immediate budget implications, then why does it matter to have this explicit statement included in our space policy? What difference would it make? And if there are no immediate budget implications, why might there be any resistance to making the overt existential statement? Many readers are aware of the superb contribution made by John Marburger, who was President George W Bush’s director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. He went on public record in 2006 saying we should “prepare now for a future in which the material trapped in the Sun’s vicinity is available for incorporation into our way of life.” (See “A Moon full of opportunity”, The Space Review, January 22, 2007)

Read more: The Space Review: Inserting the “s” word: a modest proposal.

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