What will be the future of space?
Well, that really depends on us. We’re starting to see some private sector investment in space, which is a good thing. but really, mainly because government funding has dropped the ball on space back in the 1970s. NASA has never gotten even 1% of the national budget, and has been twiddling their thumbs since the Apollo Program shut down, and looking at each other going, “Are we going to be able to afford a Coke from the machine next week?”
There are things that most people forget like, whether for good or ill, Landsat discovered more oil within one year than all the oil that had been discovered up to that point, keeping us from running out by the year 2001.
I remember going to the Space Frontier Foundation Lunar Development conference back in 1999, and what really stood out to me was the complete lack of understanding of how society works and the extreme amount childish, petty ego going on. They all wanted to do lunar fly-by projects, but everybody thought that their one test was the only one that counted, and that they did not need to combine efforts or convince anybody other than other nerds at the conference. They had a disdain for the general populace that was, while possibly justified, entirely unrealistic and not useful. The one scientist who spoke because he had succeeded in getting a lunar fly-by project was an object of envious scorn. They were all praying for an angel that they did not deserve. Furthermore, they all snubbed the guy with the proven solar sail system that had been tested on the space shuttle.
If I had been an angel looking to finance a project, I would have forced a group of them to work together with removable test modules on one probe where everybody who had a test that could be done with the same piece of equipment was grouped together and attached solar sails to extend massively the ability to run tests while reducing the need for fuel. I also would have put the one man who had succeeded with a project in charge, and had them set it up so that it flew back by the Earth to have modules changed out to change the tests that could be done.
This model would have given us the equivalent of twenty probes for the price of one.
When I was at the ISDC in Milwaukee in 1998, I worked on one of the panels planning differing aspects of planning a space probe to the moon. Most everybody was in agreement as to what to do for almost everything that our team was supposed to work out, but we got hung up when it came to the orbit that should be used for the project.
I ended up arguing with all of them that the probe should be taking an off-planar orbit, and ticking off the various reasons why. I did not give up on my point because, well for God’s sakes, it’s rocket science, it ought to be logical! We had loudly been debating this for about five minutes or so when Buzz Aldrin came over (I think he was working on one of the other projects at another table or something) and said, “Yes, it absolutely should be an off-planar orbit. That will work much better. I’ve already worked out the math. I’ll send a copy over.” (He has a PhD in Orbital Mechanics and has proven that he can find the moon in the dark.) Then he turned to me and said, “Sorry for stealing your thunder.” I said, “No, don’t be. They listen to you. We got them to change their minds. That’s the important thing.”
I think that if we make it as a species, that before too long we will have at least one “real” space station at one of the Lagrange Points, probably the one halfway between Terra and Luna, a Lunar base, at least mostly inside of the volcanic vents, where they will harvest water and mine the lunar surface for the ubiquitous titanium, aluminum and platinum, which will be used for space construction–such as the space station–and will proceed to build colonies on other planets such as Mars and Ganymede. By then, we will have worked out better propulsion methods, and will hopefully be at least sending probes to other systems and working on actual FTL drives.