Oct 15, 2011

Space Renaissance: Dawn of a New Age of Civilization

Posted by in category: space

A little more than 40 years ago – 42 years in July, to be exact – men walked on the moon for the first time. This achievement was a landmark for humanity – not only in that it demonstrated a vast technological ability but also because it was that “giant leap for mankind” – as Neil Armstrong so eloquently put it – in an eternal quest for the stars.

Most of us grew up watching the space program – the first orbiting satellites, the Apollo program, the Space Shuttle and International Space Station. We became accustomed to constant “leaps for mankind” in technological achievement. We shared in the sorrows – the Challenger explosion, the loss of Columbia high over Texas – and we shared in the numerous heroic successes of our astronauts and the scientists and engineers who formed NASA.

With the ending of the Shuttle program, many Americans are now beginning to feel that all those glory days are behind us. I’ve heard people lament the changes in direction of our policy of space exploration as though the adventure of discovery beyond the pull of Earth’s gravity is all but over.

I would like to remind you that we are not at the END of the Space Age. We are still merely at the beginning. Current circumstances – mainly economic ones – might make it seem that we are unable to advance – or that major advancements might not come in our lifetime. But there are still a lot of things going on that make me believe we are rapidly entering a new age of civilization that ultimately will take us beyond Earth and to the stars. All things considered, this new age is likely to be the kind of pivotal movement in history that occurred as Western civilization emerged from a state of decline through what became known as the Renaissance – literally the REBIRTH of civilization.

This new age we can call the Space Renaissance, because it comes at a time when humanity faces dire predicaments on Earth while possessing the technology to approach solutions through advancing into extraterrestrial space. And it will bring about vast changes in the way we think about ourselves – our science, our politics, our economics, even the social contracts that bind us together as human beings. It will alter, in fact, the way we regard mankind’s position in the universe, in much the same way as the notion of Renaissance astronomer Copernicus more than 500 years ago that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

The Space Renaissance will both create such changes and be forged by them. As ideas advance into new technology and new endeavours, those developments will spawn new ideas. This is the way humans have always advanced – and are advancing even today.

There is no question – in my mind – that we are progressing rapidly toward a time that human beings will routinely travel through extraterrestrial space – tapping resources such as energy, minerals and even water – not as an Earth civilization but as a Solar Civilization. Not everyone might agree with that assessment. Some are simply too pessimistic to believe that mankind will be able to work together long enough to make it happen before destroying our planet. Others think it is too futuristic to contemplate – especially during a time when we are faced with widespread joblessness, rising debt and mortgage foreclosures at home, along with wars and revolutions in the Middle East and Wall Street protests.

I have to remind my friends that although many of the ideas of space exploration and development seem spun from science fiction, in many respects they are not of the future but of the present. Consider this:

• Hundreds of people have already traveled in space.
• The International Space Station continues to operate, conducting experiments and research that have widespread implications not just for future space missions but also for developments here on Earth.
• Daily, we send and receive communications transmissions that are bounced off of manmade satellites.
• We have robots exploring other parts of our Solar System, including the surface of Mars, and devices such as the Hubble Space Telescope transmit images that provide ever increasing insights into the expanse of the Universe.

In short, we are already THERE – in space. And this is happening just 50 years after the first space missions that sent men into orbit. In many ways, it is akin to the explorations of the New World that occurred in the decades after Columbus first sailed across the Atlantic during the age of the first Renaissance centuries ago.

Now, in the decades ahead many more changes are sure to follow. I see it as a natural progression of human civilization, just as the exploration and development of the New World led to new nations built on new ideas of human freedom and democracy that were unprecedented in human history.

And just as developments then called for new ideas – new ways of looking at mankind and our relationship to the planet – there will be new ways of considering our relationship with other human beings today. There will be a need for unprecedented international cooperation as we advance not just on the basis of national interests but of the interests of all humanity coexisting on one planet. The old economic models that competed during the last century as Capitalism and Communism will give way to new models that rely on extensive cooperation between governments and private enterprise. In many ways, this is already happening. Consider the recent trends in the U.S. Space Program, in which greater reliance is placed on other governments and private companies to propel our astronauts to new discoveries.

And it in this latest development there are many opportunities opening up already to pave the way for the future of commercial space. This is certain to accelerate as systems that have failed in their missions to achieve human success are replaced by new efforts based on the long-term goal of protecting planet Earth while reaching beyond the confines of its gravitational pull toward other worlds. Space-based solar power is a prime example, with the potential to provide energy to Earth and habitats beyond.

So, the message I would like to share is that we are still heading out there, toward the stars. The same ambitions that drove Europeans to discover and explore new worlds, and inspired inventors like the Wright brothers to keep pressing forward until man could take flight, and pushed the United States into the space race that landed men on the moon are still with us, driving us ever onward and outward.

We are now, and will continue to be propelled by a new energy and new ideas into a new age for civilization. Another Renaissance – SPACE RENAISSANCE.


Comments — comments are now closed.

  • Ray Wright on October 16, 2011 11:47 am

    I agree with the above — but there is something missing, I think. Access to space is still desperately expensive and, because of that, our lofty plans for commercial space exploitation, exploration and colonisation will remain pie-in-the-sky until there are completely-reusable space vehicles to bring the cost right down. Furthermore, I believe that time is running out to do this. Expendable launchers can’t get much cheaper, and the rising cost of materials, not to say credit, is going to make space launch more expensive in the future, and strangle the renaissance before it has started, unless we focus hard on reusable launchers. We have to do that before we can make anything else we want to do in space real, don’t you think? (I and my collaborators have just such a project, but no finance as yet…)

  • john on October 16, 2011 12:15 pm

    Please tell us more about your plans for a space vehicle.

  • Walter Putnam on October 16, 2011 2:05 pm

    Reducing costs is essential, and in fact is the cornerstone of Space Renaissance International’s philosophy. See:
    The key is to educate the general population to understand the direction of scientific, technological and cultural changes that are taking place — and to demand that world leaders heed them. The public is largely confused and divided right now, and leadership is sending mixed messages of both retrenchment and advancement.

  • Craig Russell on October 16, 2011 5:27 pm

    Space Operations Inc. is ready to begin construction of a 2-seat, reusable vehcle. The “Eclipse” spacecraft is based on NASA’s Gemini. If the program is funded before the end of this year, a test launch would be possible by Q4, 2012.

  • GaryChurch on October 16, 2011 6:23 pm

    Reusable Launchers are not practical with present technology. The best that can be had is to expend a fuel stage. The people hyping the RLV and SSTO and the “cheaper is smaller is better” are advertising an impossibility. There is no cheap; space flight is inherently expensive. Only vast government resources can open up the solar system to colonization. And impact defense and the DOD is the path to those resources.

  • Stuart Eves on October 17, 2011 3:13 am

    I wonder whether the process of globalisation will continue to the point where we end up with a global government coordinating cooperation on space exploration.
    But perhaps the commercial opportunties in space will lead industry to replace governments as the principal funders of space exploration in the future.

  • C.R.M on October 17, 2011 3:41 am

    Have you explored the British effort by Reaction Engines Ltd., with their Skylon spacecraft?

  • Robert James on October 17, 2011 10:16 am

    This seems just ludicrous considering half the planet doesn’t have running water

  • Doug Jones on October 17, 2011 10:20 am

    Robert James, by your logic the Wright Brothers never should have flown, because half the planet didn’t have outhouses then, either.

  • Walter Putnam on October 17, 2011 10:53 am

    @Stuart — There will have to be extensive international cooperation, whether it is coordinated by a global government or by individual nations working among themselves. The nationalism that fueled the space race during the Cold War is unlikely to accommodate the necessary advancements, which will have to include — as Robert James observed — improving the lives of those who are now deprived. The point is, if the resources now available on Earth are inadequate for a population of 7 billion and rising, we have no choice but to turn to sources beyond this planet. Even if the resources are adequate for 7 billion divided equally now, we eventually will have to take this next step into extraterrestrial space.

  • Chris on October 17, 2011 11:00 am

    42 years after the “discovery” of the Americas in 1492, Europe had only sent a number of explorations into the new frontiers. The founding of of the first failed settlement on St. Kitts was still 4 years away, a failed attempt to settle Quebec was still some 25 years away, and the founding of Jamestown was still 70 years away.

    In the short time since the dawn of the space age, we are very much farther ahead than our forefathers were in exploring the Americas. We are doing so in an environment that is much harsher and unforgiving than the one our forefathers faced as well.

    If Skylab was our first unsuccessful settlement of space, then we are indeed ahead of the curve.

    We have only begun the conquest of space, but its’ conquest is inevitable… economic considerations will compell us to it…

  • Robert Winkler Burke on October 17, 2011 11:06 am

    Here’s a Space Joke:

    Some day in the not too distant future, Little Green Martians see a space vehicle from Earth land on their beloved planet of Mars. Out pops Chinese astronauts who salute the Martians. “We come to Mars to spread COMMUNISM!” they say.

    Next, another vehicle from Earth lands, this one marked “Euro-Zone”. Out pop German, French and English astronauts. They tell the Martians, “We come to Mars to spread SOCIALISM!”

    Next, an Arabian vehicle lands. These astronauts tell the Martians, “We come to Mars to spread rigid-religious MUSLIM JEHAD!”

    Finally, a back-firing, beat up looking space capsule lands. Out from it comes a ragtag, sloppy crew from the United States of America. The Martians ask them what they have. The American astronauts tell the Martians, “We don’t know what we’ve got!”

    Immediately, the Martians order all Earthlings off their planet, until they can figure things out.

  • M. Report on October 17, 2011 11:06 am

    One should use the word ‘impossible’ sparingly when discussing engineering issues; ‘Impractical’ is a much safer choice, as in: Given the depth of the earth’s gravity well, and the limited maximum energy extractable from chemical reactions, chemical rockets are an impractical means of reaching LEO, let alone other planets.

    This statement points to two possible work-arounds: Minimize the mass lifted into orbit by extracting all possible resources from sources in space, or on smaller planets, and discard chemical rockets in favor of nuclear ones (fission now, fusion soon), or ground based propulsion.

    This is not just your humble correspondent voicing an opinion; Far better minds than mine have explored all the possibilities, and demonstrated that space is indeed the High Frontier.

  • Denver on October 17, 2011 12:44 pm

    Robert James on October 17, 2011 10:16 am

    This seems just ludicrous considering half the planet doesn’t have running water

    Please point to the social convention that makes this my responsibility, and by inference, my nation’s. 100 years ago much of the US didn’t have running water. My father’s boyhood home in Dayton, OH had an out house. Nobody came here, from across the pond, and installed the plumbing.

  • Austin on October 17, 2011 1:56 pm

    This is what I’m talking about. It blows my mind when I talk to people who honestly don’t think there’s anything out there and that we have no future in Outer Space. Have they no vision!?! There’s a vast and wild universe with amazing discoveries yet to behold. We need leaders who believe in the dream.

  • Art Hippler on October 17, 2011 2:17 pm

    Unfortunately, these magnificent and expansive dreams will necessitate expensive and vaster powers of government. As is usual with such matters, the burden will be carried by those who do not have the power to stop the “great minds”. Remember, these are the ones who gave us the “agrarian reform: of Mao, the “peoples government” of Pol Pot the “future that works” of Joseph Stalin and the ObamaCare of our present incarnation of “superior intellect”.

    As a former professor who is only too painfully aware of how incredibly foolish the intellectual elite is, I can only point out that the Greek viewpoint that mankind could not escape its gross failings appears to have been well derived. Not only did they observe history well, (a caution which our Founding Fathers utilized in choosing to limit governmental power), but also because any present reading of history would show that even our own limited government submitted eventually to human failings and the ever present reality of human evil.

  • amalie on October 17, 2011 3:30 pm

    I think the economies are outer space are the determining ones . There is no point in proposing a space development that will actually deplete the already very limited planetary resources. But it does not have to be that way, there are many levels of space usage ( in particular for global and AI enabled information structures ) that can quickly add economic value, in terms of fast and equitable planetary development . Another is space based solar power which may be totally sustainable for the long term durations and which is very flexible and clean source. Launch costs need to come down for SBSP large scale, and studies for any beam effect. etc, but might be possible. There are many other kinds of uses and styles which are of genuine value via outer space. Space development does not need to be exploitative, it can actually help generate human prosperity.

  • flashgordon on October 17, 2011 3:31 pm

    This article said we’ll go to space because we’ll go to space. There’s almost no substance to it at all.

    I almost felt a little bit of Isaac Asimov “Foundation” in it. It said, well, the past ideas of how to advance to space failed, but problems necessitate that we must go to space. Here, I agree and disagree . Space is ‘a’ solution to our problems. Nanomanufacturing is another. This is another miss in this article.

    Yes, there’s hope in getting to space soon. It’s called nanotechnology. Dna-nanotechnology alone seems to me to be on the brink of doing lots of good stuff. If it can organize carbon nanotubes and graphene on a macroscopic scale, then, I’m thinking it can indeed make space rockets and colonies!(although Chris Phoenix doens’t want to hear that!) I wouldn’t be surprised to see a dna-nanotech revolution within two years from now! In fact, I predict widespread dna-nanomanufacturing for decades before the Drexlerian daimondoid nanotech gets going. If anybody is smart(Art Hippler), they’d get as far out in space as they can before the Daimondoid nanotech gets going!

    The only problem with using dna-nanotech to create a space colony and move out as far as possible is it requires more mathematics than you can possibly imagine! Ever seen Laplace’s “Celestial Mechanics”? It’s four volumes almost a thousand pages each! I’ve seen a two volume topology celestial mechanics as well! All that mathemtics is just for the space navigation! It’s not all that quantum chemistry, computer theory for the nanotechnology!

  • Gale on October 17, 2011 9:52 pm

    Much of modern engineering consists of better materials & more efficient design. I suspect that even in the near future much lighter, stronger spacecraft will exist that can actually just fly into outer space. The Apollo program served to stop much of the NASA research into such an approach. However, private industry will probably manage it now.

  • SenatorMark4 on October 18, 2011 6:49 am

    There is simply no limit to the resources that space can provide. We only have limited time. Once the train of resources is headed to a destination it is unlimited. I touched on this in “My Jeffersonian Home’ which is a quick read and crazy. If you think we haven’t already touched the point where CNC and 3D printing allow us to build our own space vehicles then you should be out at the OWS protests looking for solutions. Good luck!

  • John on October 26, 2011 8:38 pm

    I think you should read this re what what Western “civilization” is really all about.