On April 11, 2012, a letter arrived at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC It was addressed to Administrator Charles Bolden from 49 former NASA astronauts, scientists and engineers, including some legendary figures from the Apollo “failure is not an option” era. Tersely, it asked that the Agency refrain from making unsubstantiated claims that human-produced carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic effect on Earth’s climate.
NASA’s public reaction was swift and predictable: Human-produced carbon dioxide is a leading cause of climate change. The facts are undisputed and indisputable. Have a nice day.
The letter-writers are conservative lunatics, right?
Well, maybe. Regardless of how it happened, the earth’s surface is becoming less habitable even as its human population expands, limiting our prospects for survival as members of a free society. There are options. Dispersal is a universal strategy for survival. In the natural world, when the going gets tough, the tough get going – out of town. But where does a mere human go?
For a limited time, we had, and I believe we still have, the technical, financial, and organizational means to expand the human range beyond Earth into the inner solar system. If we can do that, and keep going, our prospects are limitless. Data I have seen suggests that we can start with a modest investment of $ 200 billion per year (in 2008 dollars) over fifteen years. That would buy us our first self-sustaining space colony, fully independent of resupply from the earth. It would allow us to sidestep central control’s false dichotomy, which is the real issue with conservatives. They just don’t want to live in a cave while working for the man with the Boeing Business Jet, the 328-foot mega-yacht, and the fleet of Rolls Royce Silver Shadows. Therefore, they do not buy the facts that are said to justify their bondage.
Space colonization gives us that third alternative beyond an impoverished life versus environmental Armageddon. It also provides the means (energy and materials) to give Earth a more prosperous, untrammeled existence. As always, there are barriers to overcome. The barriers in this case are not technical, financial, or organizational, but they do exist. According to the global Boeing Business Jet class, every other human being on the planet owes them a life. No one leaves until the debt is paid. Their demand for sacrifice, denser housing, rationing of water and energy, and redistribution of wealth is a strategy to fill their coffers at the expense of others. That and frontier formation are mutually exclusive propositions. There is a reason why frontiersmanship stands at the core of American values. It is because the most fundamental right of all is the right to leave.
It is not clear whether the people who took us from the earth to the moon in just ten years understand that they have focused a spotlight on an agency and a government completing a decades-long transition from tough and competent to comatose. It is clear that NASA, and the United States, are no longer capable of acting to preserve their founders’ legacy without help.
That help can take the form of entertainment, of theater, of decentralization, and of spacefaring technology and cultural development independent of government intervention. Details are left as an exercise for the student.