I’ve been wrapped up in other projects for awhile, and I return here after a protracted absence to see that my good friend Shubber is once again igniting flames of controversy and derision both here and on the Anousheh Ansari space blog. (BTW, I find the flame responses as “educational” as the uncritical adulation.)
I have a different view from Shubber in that if I had $20M +$1, I would NOT spend the $20M on a joyride to the ISS. (In the first place, my wife would divorce me before I could do such a reckless thing with our finances, and her lawyer would demand half, in settlement, at any rate – so much for space fantasies!)
As for me – I got into this whole “space thing” with the goal of helping empower the rest of us, of perhaps more modest means, but with nonetheless a similar, overriding vision that we happen to share with the wealthy and fortunate few, to also one day be able to make that trip. So I’d be better off investing my $20 million helping develop the core frontier-enabling technologies, and building long-term market demand that will sustain them. That way, ultimately, the price of a joy ride goes WAAAAYYY down, and I can pay for a ticket from my long-term capital gains.
Do I find Anousheh’s flight “inspirational”? Not really. As some have stated, others have done it, and more will in the future. She was wealthy, healthy, and could afford an expensive joyride – that, in and of itself, does little if anything to create either a mass social movement, OR lower launch costs for the rest of us. Simple fact.
Having said that, I was far more inspired by the Ansari family’s willingness to accept the risk in underwriting the original X-Prize to begin with, along with their continued support in helping us all do the hard work that will need doing to create a truly viable space commerce sector – a task that will take years, perhaps an entire generation. I applaud the Ansari’s commitment each day, in that regard, and I wish we could clone more of them. (Is that the inspiration for the genome XPrize?? LOL)
I’ve often – perhaps cynically – felt that if astronauts were more like rock stars, perhaps both public and private space efforts would get more attention – and the more deserving of the “privateers” would benefit from increased VC funding and ultimately lots and lots of paying customers with cash in hand. But NASA has spent too many decades reinforcing an image of boring irrelevance to remake it overnight.
What remains to be seen from all this hoopla is the aftermath of the Ansari flight, both in terms of whether she retains a certain celeb status, and whether or not there will be any “halo effect”. As history teaches us, the “Lindbergh effect” from Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 trans-atlantic flight, was a 50% increase in pilots licenses granted and a 300% increase in airmail demand over the next two years. There was no similar “Tito effect”, however. Perhaps an “Ansari effect” will ensue – my mind is certainly open to the possibility – but it is yet to be seen how that would manifest itself.
As the old saying goes: “Faith without works is dead.” It is claimed that millions of people have read Ansari’s space blog and have been almost universally inspired by it. (With a few exceptions, naturally…).
But for the sake of argument I’ll grant the supposition. OK, now what are you all inspired to DO, as a result of Ansari’s good works? What concrete actions will you, who claim to have been so “inspired”, engage in to better your world, right now, and on into the future, evermore?
Will all of you join and participate in the activities of a space advocacy organization, such as the NSS, Mars Society, or Space Frontier Foundation (to name only a few)? Will you donate money and time to these causes? It seems to me, if you are seriously inspired, I would expect the ranks of these groups to swell to bursting with new bodies and renewed energy, which, frankly, all of them desperately need. I always felt it telling that one can commonly find anywhere from 20-100 times more bodies at a Star Trek convention than at an average space conference, where people actually want to do “the real thing”.
Will you commit to putting your own money at risk by investing a portion of your portfolios in promising space or space-related companies? Will you reeducate yourself, if need be, in engineering, business management, or economics, so you can participate professionally in such endeavors?
Will Iranian women, both in the US and in Iran, organize and demand serious social and political reforms in their native country, freeing it from the one-sided domination of the mullahs, so all women and girls in that nation can have the same freedom to dream and act on those dreams that Anousheh did?
Will Americans rededicate themselves to improving economic and political conditions in this country? For I have concluded that only a free, prosperous, peaceful and forward-thinking people will summon the resources, ingenuity and the collective will to reach for the heavens and claim them (not to mention profit). A fearful, insecure, vengeful and “captive” people, however, who imagine they see terrorists under every Bush, will not. Simple as that. “Space tragics” all too often often neglect the hard realities of the world around them, somehow imagining themselves immune to such mundane political issues, or falsely believing said issues are irrelevant to The Dream. (But that’s a separate topic for future posts, which we WILL get to – that’s a promise!)
The point of this screed is that, after all the cheering, adulation and bowing on a prayer mat 5 times a day in the direction of the Ansari household dies down, there remains a lot of serious work to do to enable the rest of us to make that same journey. Will the truly “inspired” commit to a personal course of action, including, but by no means limited to, the options mentioned above? Will you continue to do it, when it drags on, or gets too expensive, or seems boring, or even becomes dangerous?
Faith and cheerleading don’t pay the bills – and will certainly not get the rest of us to the stars anytime soon. Yes, Anousheh is a goddess for today. Fine. I’m good with that. Now go back and do your homework.