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PEER REVIEW COMES TO THE SPACE CYNICS, SO HAVE AT IT! April 15, 2008

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Dear Fellow Cynics and Space Cadets:

Over the weekend, a space petition was brought to my attention by a previous guest on The Space Show. This petition, which you will find below, is being offered to the global space community by the folks at Marsdrive.com MarsDrive is both in the United States and Australia and Hal Fulton, MarsDrive COO and VP, and based out of Austin, Texas, was a guest on The Space Show on Nov. 20, 2007.

Since receiving this petition over the weekend, Hal and the MarsDrive CEO, Frank Stratford in Australia, and I have had many discussions about the petition’s potential to achieve the MarsDrive objectives and I offered them many challenges and lots of criticism. After some careful thought on all our parts, Frank and Hal agreed with my suggestion to place the petition here on Space Cynics and let everyone read it, consider it, and offer MarsDrive any feedback about the petition. Thus, peer review has come to Space Cynics! Feedback can include suggestions for marketing, modifying the petition, getting more signatures, changing it, smoking or even drinking it, or whatever you want to offer to the MarsDrive team. Regardless of your thoughts about it, please do give them feedback. I am taking the liberty of extrapolating from one of the email discussions I’ve had with Frank about the goals and purpose of the petition.

“We would like the chance to go into space in our lifetimes – perhaps to orbital hotels, to the Moon, or to Mars. This is the essence of this petition. It was designed for people to simply express their desires and dreams. Again- this petition is for the people to express what they want, not what we tell them they should want. The value in this is clear to us as well. So far little has been done in this regard. Yes, we have had political petitions but this petition is for the people to express their desires without all the BS and diplomacy that encumbers political petitions. We therefore appeal to all world space agencies, government leaders, and private sector organizations to challenge them in this matter. We ask them to adopt policies and help develop technologies that will take humanity into space.–This petition, if enough people sign it, will gladly be presented to the above entities. From NASA to Congress to the ESA, E.U and large private sector organizations. By being open on the web it is already open to their view if they should choose to look at it.”

In my last email with Frank, I was told there were 147 signatures which is on the low side of what MarsDrive expects, wants, and needs. So Cynics and Cadets, it’s time for your comments and opinions. Have at it. Frank and Hal, if I have incorrectly stated something or if you wish to add to this narrative, please post a comment on this blog post. Your comments are welcome and welcome often.

Professor L

Petition for Inexpensive Space Access by MarsDrive (www.marsdrive.com).

We, the undersigned, believe that the time has come for space flight to be opened to all people.

We recognize, however, that this cannot happen with the current high price of space flight. Humanity will never develop an economy in space – will never work, travel or live on other worlds – if it remains too expensive.

We would like the chance to go into space in our lifetimes – perhaps to orbital hotels, to the Moon, or to Mars.

We therefore appeal to all world space agencies, government leaders, and private sector organizations to challenge them in this matter. We ask them to adopt policies and help develop technologies that will take humanity into space.

“We, the undersigned, believe that the time has come for space flight to be opened to all people.”

THE PURPOSE AND INTENT OF THIS PETITION

“In case there is any misunderstanding, we will first make this statement: We fully support, encourage, and applaud the persons and groups who are already making tremendous effort and progress in these areas. These people should be regarded as heroes.

This petition aims to stand alongside these persons and groups, and certainly not in opposition to them. The exhortatory language of the petition is not directed to them, but to the rest of the world — persons, companies, and organizations who are unaware or uncommitted where spaceward expansion is concerned.

As such, this effort is primarily to raise public awareness and “get the word out” — and here, the word “public” includes non-space-related private enterprise. It will make no difference in the long run, any more than a single Yuri’s Night party makes a difference in the long run. But if it helps move space “onto the radar” of even one person or group, it will have been worthwhile.

This “intent and purpose” page was created in response to an email from a member of the space community (here reprinted anonymously):

This seems to be fly in the face of Elon and Space X, Bigelow, John Carmack, XCOR, etc. They know what it takes to get to space let alone do it cheaper. There are hundreds of millions being spent on this problem around the world. Do you think waving a magic wand with a petition like this will solve the real engineering, science, and tech issues? Don’t you think Elon who is way beyond $120 million of his own money knows what it takes to lower space access costs?…

I think its well intentioned but if it has no delivery point or focus or end result in mind, its wishful thinking. Also, I think it tends to belittle those in the trenches working this problem with their life blood. Its not that the issues of low cost space access are being ignored, hell, they are being addressed on the public and the private side. $500 million and more of our tax money is trying to spur COTS players to do this cheaper than the gov. contractors.

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Comments»

1. Monte Davis - April 16, 2008

I believe that the time has come for a personal jet to be available to me for $1,000. I appeal to everyone who’ll listen to adopt policies and technologies that will bring this about.

2. Frank - April 16, 2008

That’s the spirit Monte! Thanks for your vote of support.

3. Professor L - April 16, 2008

Monte, do you want this now or do you want to wait until one of the SST Executive Jets comes on the market and are approved for flying SS across the US? Please clarify your needs so that “everyone who’ll listen” will be sure to adopt the right policy and technology for your wish list. Also, provide us with your detailed action plan so we know how bring your wish list to fruition.

4. Ed Minchau - April 16, 2008

“These people should be regarded as heroes.”

And yet, on this blog, they are regarded as those who “drink the kool-aid”, as though they are followers of Jim Jones.

5. shubber - April 16, 2008

And yet, on this blog, they are regarded as those who “drink the kool-aid”, as though they are followers of Jim Jones.

I’m not sure if you disagree with that characterization. I certainly think that of many of the alt.space tragics out there.

6. Jim Davis - April 16, 2008

Monte has nailed it. It’s remarkable how often phrases like “We need” or “Humanity needs” are used as thinly veiled euphemisms for “I want”.

7. Frank - April 16, 2008

So Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Burt Rutan and Robert Bigelow are Kool aid drinkers? And while I understand the need to be grounded in reality and what is feasible, the issue here to me is about looking at all the problems that are before us. Yes, we need much more advanced technology and a lot more money, but one of the barriers to cheap space access which frustrates me is down to one simple yet complex element- People. When we say “If the people in power (government/private sector leaders) were to invest more in space” We are only stating the (painfully) obvious.

The cynics here might say that because of the physics and how hard it is to get anything into space that it is misguided(and unrealistic) to demand more investment in space transportation development but why? The problems/barriers for space are what they are, in all their painful complexity and no amount of Kool aid drinking will change this. Does this mean that we simply have to sit by and wait for things to improve on their own “somehow”? I don’t think that the rewards/profits of space are any different than what we have here on Earth(and must abide by the same financial rules) but I see that the barrier is actually getting to those resources and back in a way that makes it viable financially. This hasn’t happened yet.

Work is being done on the problem, but more can always be done and this petition exists to encourage those players who are working on the problem and admonish those who so far have ignored space priorities. If Branson got 82,000 signatures for his sub orbital trips then that in itself is evidence that there is a desire for space travel, however small from the public.

And yes, while Monte made fun of the absurdity of a veiled “I want” statement in his post I will admit to it up front. In fact I thought that by using the words “We would like” stated the obvious? I hear alot of complaints about “no market” around here and this is a fact of life in the private space race. That is all the more reason we need to gather as much evidence (empiricial) that we can that there is indeed some kind of basic desire out there for space travel. How are up and coming space businesses going to build their business case without at least some kind of “market research”?

Space is hard, but so are many other things we have created. Development of flight(and a commercial air industry) wasn’t something that happened overnight either. I’m sure that back in 1708 they thought the idea of air travel was just as fantastical as how some of us think of mass public space travel. But if they had decided it was “too hard” and just sat back and did nothing about it, we would still be using the horse and cart I would say.

I’m also certain that in the development of flight there were crackpots and inventors who were living in a fantasy world. I know the difference between dreams and fantasy (thanks to the cynics here), but this doesn’t mean that all fantasies are morally wrong or useless. Some fantasies do come true, you all know this. Putting a man on the Moon was one of them. What is wrong and useless is NOT striving towards ideas we know are possible. Is cheap access to space possible? The evidence so far says yes. How long will it take? I don’t know but what is wrong with giving the general public the chance to express their thoughts on this? The petition is not really aimed at the space community anyway. It is aimed at average people to give them the chance to express what they want.

And yes, wishing doesn’t make it so. But if all we ever did was base our wants on what is feasible here and now it would be a very boring planet to live on. So far, the criticism here has been quite weak really. All I hear is “You shouldn’t wish for things that aren’t doable here and now”. Much of the barriers to cheap space access do also revolve around politics. This is an artificial, not technical, barrier. Asking that political leaders pay more attention to space priorities is always going to be needed to achieve a private future in space. This petition also addresses that issue. So I’d like to see a more exact explanation of why this petition is “wrong”.

8. melsmarsh - April 16, 2008

Prof L has informed me that I must come here and comment intelligently on the post.

I want to let it be known I have exactly zero experience with petitions so feel free to take this with a grain of salt, but wouldn’t it be a little more effective if there was more of an action plan behind it as Prof L suggested in his comment?

I would *love* a million bucks (actually you could talk me down to $100K so I can pay off my student loans, but I digress…) I bet I could get 147 people to sign a petition to say “Give Mel a million bucks.” However, that isn’t enough.

I would like to focus a bit on this quote from the petition : “We therefore appeal to all world space agencies, government leaders, and private sector organizations to challenge them in this matter. We ask them to adopt policies and help develop technologies that will take humanity into space.”

OK… Well this part of the MarsDrive petition might be improved by offering specific goals or action items to challenge people on! Such as challenge them to reduce per pound launch cost by X %, for example. There are any one of a dozen (or hundred) different challenges to list! The petition isn’t very strong as it stands and I know I personally would likely just blow it off if I was head of one of the groups this was going to go to. I wouldn’t even give it a second thought. If someone had some good and feasible suggestions, I would be more likely to consider it regardless of how many signatures are on the petition or whatnot.

9. Frank - April 16, 2008

Well we are dealing with 2 groups with the petition(and a 3rd sub set group). 1. The non space public who don’t know about rocket science (and mostly don’t care) and 2. Those who will read the petition.

If we aimed it at the same old characters of the space community to sign then yes, the language would have to be much more specific and technical. Perhaps we could add a link to such a page like we have with the “intent and purpose” link. The general public could choose to read it, or not. But I’m not a believer in speaking “rocketese” to the general public, especially if they are not into it(which they aren’t). Most space advocate websites are full of technical engineer speak and their low membership numbers kind of give proof that this method doesn’t work so well in reaching those outside the space community.

So yes, we will add this extra page of specifics, but I’d like to know first from you all what you think a reasonable yet challenging goal might be. I have also mentioned that as it is on the internet it is in a sense available for anyone to read. But specifically, given enough numbers, we can outline the exact agencies and individuals we would present it to. I’ll add those details on the additional page. But please remember, the public face of the petition will remain as it is because we want people outside of the space community signing this. I’m open to changing the public face of it though if laymans terms can be presented there.

10. Professor L - April 16, 2008

Mel, my former student, you are applying critical thinking and discernment. I wish I could still give you an A but alas, you graduated from UND Space Studies and its likely I won’t be a professor in your coming anthropology or astrosociology PhD program. Still, you did well. If you create a petition to give you money to pay off your student loans or to strongly recommend you for the PhD program you want, I will gladly sign it as one of your former professors. I’ll be one of the 147!

11. Alfred Differ - April 16, 2008

Sigh….

>>>
We therefore appeal to all world space agencies, government leaders, and private sector organizations to challenge them in this matter. We ask them to adopt policies and help develop technologies that will take humanity into space.
>>>

I don’t see the point of appealing to private sector organizations with a petition. Those who would be motivated by it are already aware. Others are likely to say ‘show me the money’ if they are honest about their reactions. Show me the market, show me the product, and show me the path to profit are all statements they could make equally well. Even if we had all that they still might be inclined to let others do the work as entrepreneurs tend to take on these kinds of development risks and then exit when the established players buy them out. So unless there is something about the petition that can address a private sector issue I just don’t see the point. It sounds like a warm and fuzzy thing that undermines the message.

Pointing one of these at government is a different matter. Warm and fuzzy’s have value to politicians facing elections. However, asking them to come up with appropriate policies is like asking the blind to drive you to work. There most likely response to a petition like this will be ‘What do you want me to do?’ If the petition doesn’t say it clearly I don’t see the point. Asking ignorant legislators to invent policy might work but it could also be a disaster waiting to happen. My suggestion, therefore, is to be more specific.

To sum it up, I don’t see any motivation to sign the thing because it doesn’t appear to me that it will actually do anything. I’m not being cynical about politicians or private enterprise, though. I’m just saying that the petition doesn’t speak to what we really want so the viewers won’t give it much attention.

12. Starry-Eyed Space Nut - April 17, 2008

Three reasons this petition isn’t necessary: SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and XCOR. If a single one of them succeeds – and all three have an excitingly high chance of doing so to some extent – they will have done more to draw resources into the new “space race” than a million signatures on an “I think it would be cool if” petition ever could. A statement like that requires no commitment, and if every single voting-age adult in the United States signed such a petition, all that would happen is politicians would *talk* about space, get photo ops at Kennedy, and open up a pork spigot with virtually no actual benefit to human spaceflight. Leaders do not adopt the priorities of their constituents in conducting public business – they simply pretend to while carrying on their own personal agenda, and nothing happens. Witness what’s come of the “Vision” – lots of big talk and no actual commitment, as virtually everyone in the know predicted the moment it was announced.

If you care that much about space, figure out what it will take and invest in it. If you don’t have the money to invest, make it elsewhere and then invest it in space. Or become a scientist or engineer in a field useful to space and pursue necessary technologies – if you can do it at all, you can start at any age. You don’t have to build a new spaceship – maybe your gig is software, or plumbing, or wiring, or whatever; just something that helps. Or become an innovator in business, and break new ground in entrepreneurial space either as an employee or by starting your own organization. Find new ways to raise money, new ways to make money back, new products and services to deliver, and new approaches to anything that yields progress, all with the net aim of being one step closer to the high frontier. Don’t be a schmuck and whine in a petition about things not happening – just make them happen. Your share of what the government could contribute to space is miniscule beside what you personally can contribute. If you care, you’ll do something; a petition like this is like two guys in a bar talking about what would be cool – it has no weight and no meaning. Just make things happen. You have far more control over yourself than over governments, and proportionally far more resources.

13. Michael Turner - April 17, 2008

I am 100% in favor of this petition. An obvious consequence of the goal it expresses is that nobody should be allowed to go into space until *everybody* can afford to go, pretty much whenever they want. There’s no way you can talk about equal access to space for everybody in any other terms. It’s the only way of looking at it that makes any sense. And because it’s the most egalitarian way of looking at it, and because I’m broke as hell, and probably always will be, I’m down with the idea. Totally down with it.

With a virtual consensus on this issue, we might completely revolutionize our whole approach to cheap space access. For example, we might ditch rockets and other fancy launch schemes, and decide that the best approach is to increase the Earth’s rotational rate until it’s possible to simply jump off the Earth’s surface from the equator. Then everybody will be able to go into space, using little more than the basic equipment God gave them. It becomes a simple matter of making sure that anybody can afford to travel to an equatorial region, which is a much easier problem to solve, economically, than figuring out how to get everyone affording a rocketplane flight to orbit, a particularly troubling obstacle for your average Ugandan, who probably can’t currently afford to travel to the equator on any given day even though if it’s only about 150 miles from his hovel.

I’m so glad we’re finally seeing real movement on this front. Maybe my recently diagnosed Alzheimer’s will progress slowly enough that I’ll actually get a chance to jump off the Earth myself before I’m too much of a potted plant to appreciate the experience. Even in the event of vegetation, I hope someone rolls my wheelchair eastward up to take-off speed and sends me up and out of the cradle of humanity, into an environment of hard vacuum, raw sunlight, and bone-withering microgravity — surely the most fitting destination for any truly mature member of our wonderful species.

14. Frank - April 17, 2008

And some people just see the glass half empty…I just listened to a replay of the interview with Frank Seitzen on the space show and all I can say is to those who doubt the importance of space go read the NASA spin offs books. Alot of people might ridicule or attack the spin off reasons for why do space but when I think of the lives saved, the injuries avoided, the health improved and the living standards of millions of people raised all directly because of the space program (just in the U.S) then I am proud to say I signed that petition.

I agree that a simple written statement by people that they “want” space won’t do much, but at the same time we need to always keep the door open for the public to express their attitudes about space. This is but one of those avenues.

As to the comment of ” hard vacuum, raw sunlight and bone withering microgravity” I’d like to add one myself- who here like the idea of having to crap into a vaccuum cleaner? Or worse? It’s not very appealling. But an aspirational statement looks beyond the current state of things to a time when such primitive technologies are gone. If I look at things from a cynical point of view should I say ” We want to see a 1% improvement in lowering space access costs over the next 20 years?” might that be more realistic?

So here’s a challenge for you all- Marsdrive will post up a new space petition according to whatever you guys advise and according to your conditions and we will give it the same publicity we gave our first flawed version and compare how many signatues we get in the same amount of time. And we will also compare WHO signs this next one.

One final comment about the “two guys in a bar” quip- Two guys in a bar talking about what would be cool is where alot of the public support actually begins or ends. If they are too busy discussing the next football game or whatever we have lost. But if they are at least discussing what is cool in regards to space then we have connected with them.

As to whining like a smuck vs doing something well we are. At MarsDrive I have met many great young people who were deciding on what to do with their lives who are now in aerospace engineering, science or business courses. We encourage them to pursue what is practical and to help them keep an eye on being a supporter of space, whatever they end up doing. We all do the best we can with what resources we have as you say.

15. Monte Davis - April 17, 2008

Monte, do you want this now or do you want to wait…

Hey, I’m a grownup, I have patience. I can wait until April 2010: if it hasn’t come through by then, I’ll transfer my hopes to the Singularity, or nanobots, or something.

Also, provide us with your detailed action plan…

People should build thousands (economies of scale) of every design (maximum innovation) and fly them all day every day (amortization, operational learning curve) at increasingly competitive fares for rapidly increasing numbers of passengers (magic of the market).

Q.E.D.; what besides lack of vision could possibly stand in the way?

16. Thomas Olson - April 17, 2008

Sayeth Jim Davis: “It’s remarkable how often phrases like “We need” … are used as thinly veiled euphemisms for “I want”.”

Keep in mind that most men’s wives also use that same euphemism – so we’re used to it. ;^)

17. Professor L - April 17, 2008

MarsDrive and everyone: Here is a model petition for you to use in venting your grievances that space costs are not where you wish them to be or where they should have been given the promises we were made and the entitlements we accepted:

Regulators Petition

Petition dated 17 October 2008
To The Speaker of The U.N. General Assembly and
The People of the World & All World Governments:
Humbly Showeth:
That the Province in General space cadet advocacy world under general grievances, and the western part thereof under particular ones; which we not only see, but very sensibly feel, being crouch’d beneath our sufferings and not withstanding our sacred privileges, have too long yielded ourselves slaves to remorseless oppression by being prevented our inalienable right of low cost space access. – Permit us to conceive it to be our inviolable right to make known our grievances, and to petition for redress as appears in the forthcoming Space Cadet Manifesto pass’d in the reign of President Bush of The Vision For Space Exploration, the first, as well as the Act of Settlement of the Moon, Mars, and even a NEO. We therefore beg leave at the Act of the Settlement of The Moon, Mars, or even a NEO. We therefore beg leave to lay before you a specimen thereof that your compassionate endeavors may tend to the relief of your injured Constituents, whose distressed condition call aloud for aid in getting to space at a lower cost than possible today, the difference being a ruthless public sector add-on of expenses and barriers, not to mention hidden technology taxes. The alarming cries of the oppressed possibly may reach your ears; but without your zeal how they shall ascend the DCX, the Saturn V, or some future throne – how relentless is the breast without sympathy, the heart that cannot bleed on a view of our calamity; to see tenderness removed, cruelty stepping in; and all our liberties and privileges invaded and abridg’d (by as it were) domestickes; who are conscious of their guilt and void of remorse. – O how darling! how relentless whilst impending Judgements loudly threaten and gaze upon them, with every emblem of merited destruction. A few of the many grievances are as follows, (viz’t)
1. That the poor inhabitants in general are much oppress’d by reason of the disproportionate high cost of space access and those of the western Countries in particular that are space-faring; as they are generally in mean circumstances.
2. That no method is prescribed by law for the establishment of low cost space access launchers, RLVs, or other means of getting us to space which is our right to avoid the Peoples great oppression.
3. That Lawyers, Clerks, Engineers, and other petitioners; in place of being obsequious Servants for the Country’s use, are become a nuisance, as the business of the people is often transacted without the least degree of fairness, the intention of the law evaded, exorbitant fees extorted, and the sufferers left to mourn under their oppressions.
4. That an Attorney should have it in his power, either for the sake of ease or interest, or to gratify their malevolence and spite, or commence suits to what courts he pleases, however inconvenient it may be to the Defendants; is a very great oppression.
5. That all unlawful fees taken in Indictment, where the Defendant is acquired by his Country (however customary it may be) is an oppression.
6. That Lawyers, Clerks, and others, extorting more fees than is intended by law; is also an oppression.
7. That the violation of the low cost to space access right by their artfulness in concealing the same from him; and the great injury the People thereby sustains: is a manifest oppression.
And for remedy whereof, we take the freedom to recommend the following mode of redress, not doubting audience and acceptance which will not only tend to our relief, but command prayers at a duty from your humble Petitioners.
1. That at all elections each suffrage be given by Ticket &
Ballot.
2. That the mode of launch access be altered, and each person ride in proportion to the profits arising from his Estate.
3. That no future tax be laid in Money, until a space-faring civilization is made.
4. That there may be established a Western as well as a Northern and Southern District, and a Treasurer for the same.
5. That when a currency is made it may be let out by a loan office (on land security) and a Treasurer for the same
6. That all debts above 60s (shillings) and under 10 pounds be tried and determined without lawyers, by a jury of six freeholders, impaneled by a Justice, and that their verdict be enter’d by the said Justice, and be a final judgment.
7. That the Chief Justice have no perquisites other than being a bonfire space cadet.
8. That Clerks be restricted in respect to fees, costs, and other things within the course of their office.
9. That Lawyers be effectively Barr’d from exacting and extorting fees.
10. That all doubts may be removed in respect to the payment of fees and costs on Indictments whereas the Defendant is not found guilty by the jury, and therefore acquired.
11. That the Assembly make known the Remonstrance to the Bush King, the conduct of the cruel and oppressive Receiver of the Quit Rents, for omitting the customary easie and effectual method of launching, and pursuing the expensive mode of commencing suits in the most distant Courts.
12. That al launch, tracking, and range fees be paid as in other launch sites, land or sea.
13. That every denomination of People may marry according to their respective mode Ceremony and customs after due publication or License issued by the AST on a world wide basis.
14. That MarsDrive or some other known patriot be appointed agent, to represent the unhappy state of this Province and to solicit the several Boards in Space Faring Nations:
15. We also hereby petition THE Bush that Mel should be given sufficient funds to pay off all student loans and to fund her PhD program. Funds for this earmark are to be derived from the first profits made in space commerce from the newly obtained low cost to space access resulting from this petition.
16. All provisions of this Petition are to be met and realized by all humanity no later than 2010 as that is the intended U.S. Space Shuttle Retirement Date.
Signed by…….:
Professor L
Missy Mel, Wishing to be PhD Candidate

18. Frank - April 18, 2008

Brings a smile to my face Professor L. Out here in Australia we have never felt that we were entitled to space, we never even had a space program. Most (non U.S)nations are like this. So in light of all the jesting and not so subtle messages that the petition is absurd I’d like to investigate a different angle. Some people here and on another blog mentioned it as a “warm and fuzzy” or “feelgood” petition. Is there any value in “feelings” when it comes to these sorts of subjects? From a public outreach point of view I think there is. Most people make decisions based on emotion- especially when it comes into buying into new ideas and you only have to see what is popular on the internet today to prove that.

Space is generally not an emotional subject for the great bulk of non space cadets, it isn’t even on their radar. This petition gives them a chance to speak their mind, nothing more. To express their feelings on the subject. I believe that unless space is a vital part of people’s emotional priorities it will never amount to much. There is value in that area. I have shown it to non space friends and they instantly liked it and signed it. At present it simply isn’t on anyone’s radar and I don’t think anything we say or do seems to rate much in the public mindset these days. But we keep plugging along anyway and as Hal said, if even one new person comes over to the space point of view it was worth it, and out of 161 names I am certain there are at least a couple dozen brand new people in there. So what of the emotional value of this petition? Or is emotion inappropriate in this subject area? Spock would be proud…

19. nick - April 18, 2008

The petition would be far more credible if each of the signatories pledged 10% or more of their personal income to the effort. Anybody can complain for free.

20. Starry-Eyed Space Nut - April 20, 2008

That’s a very good idea – pledging income like that. It would separate the men from the boys, so to speak, and yield serious money in aggregate. If even just 200 people in the whole country were willing to pledge that, and we imagine they average 50k per year, that would be a full million dollars PER YEAR – more than enough to make the difference between flying hardware and screwing around with viewgraphs for several firms at a time. Someone other than me should definitely look into this. Remember that ordinary people around the country do regularly pledge 10% to other causes, especially churches, so surely we good folks pursuing the future of all mankind can scrounge the scratch and be heroes ourselves. I would get right on it if I had a steady job, but I guess I’ll just have to wait and hope someone else gets things going. I can easily imagine the reward one would feel being invovled at that level, and seeing your money actually taking shape in the hangar, seeing it rising through air, and finally see it with the Earth’s limb in the background.

21. Frank - April 20, 2008

This brings up an important issue- Many space advocates might not have the money or time to do much about their passion for space except cheer and hope, but do we then tell such people to “get lost”? Not everyone can become an engineer or scientist, nor everyone is in the position to change their entire life around for space (though it really does require this type of committment).

It is true that many space advocates expect things which are unrealistic (to say the least) and many are not in a position to do much about it. It seems to me though that those who can’t contribute much in the way of funds or a career dedicated to space should at least join a space group of some kind, spread the word for space where they can and volunteer for whatever it is they can do, and I can tell you, all space groups would welcome working volunteers like gold. There is always something that can be done though, even by people with few resources. Take a book to your local school, print off a space related brochure or paper and distribute around your local area, participate in a local space conference. There’s always something that can be done.

Take the International Space University for example. We need to strengthen organizations like that as they work to educate and prepare the very researchers needed for things like cheap space access. Space isn’t just hard in the areas of the physics and technology barriers, it’s hard also on the lack of people front. But I have a question for the cynics here- Do you even want public support for space or are space advocates getting in the way with all their rhetoric and unreal expectations?

22. Matt Metcalf - April 21, 2008

A petition of this sort will have as little impact as all of the “space advocacy” groups out there. The people who agree with you already agree with you, and those who don’t aren’t going to change their minds because of 147 signatures (or even 14,700). Organizations that spend all of their resources advocating that someone else make a change are doomed to failure. If you want something done, do it yourself rather than trying to convince someone else to commit the resources.

23. Frank - April 22, 2008

Actually Matt, MarsDrive is one of the few advocate groups that advocates personal responsibility for space goals. Our philosophy is “if we want to go we must do it ourselves”. Unfortunately that philosophy (so far) has kept our numbers quite small. This petition, while asking for “others” to make things happen does not mean we abrogate our own responsibility as individuals to work towards our goals. Either way Matt, space is simply not that popular. It never was. I have seen petitions on far more frivolous issues get far more signatures than our petition so it simply bears testament to this sad reality. If we challenged 100 individuals to donate or devote their lives to space pursuits I doubt we’d get much of a response either.

24. Starry-Eyed Space Nut - April 23, 2008

I figure the reason it’s so hard to get people personally involved on any substantive level is that it’s all impersonal and abstract – personal sacrifice is hard when we’re not appreciated for it. But imagine you get people to pledge 10% of their yearly income *if* you can get a certain number of other people to do so, and they only have to pay when that number is surpassed and payment guaranteed. When that happens, you bring them all together at a luncheon, snow the hell out of them until they feel like Buck Rogers, and cement a bond between them so they feel like part of an elite group. Then their obligation no longer seems like some money they’re throwing away because they have nothing better to spend it on – instead, it becomes a personal mission, and they now have a set of people who regard them as special for engaging in it. Never underestimate the power of such social engineering chicanery.

25. Alfred Differ - April 26, 2008

10% is incredibly huge. You have to be pretty dedicated to put 10% of your income against anything. Look at the few things on your budget where you do this and ask if a space faring civilization is worth reducing the weights you place on those expenditures. 8) Most will answer with a resounding ‘NO!’ and with good reason.

26. Professor L - April 26, 2008

Al, good common sense. Throwing money at something that is poorly defined, not well targeted and likely to get lost in the ether is not a wise thing to do. I can understand wanting to help move forward to a true space-faring society but just putting money into something is not the answer. Look at US government entitlements. Look at the money the US alone has spent in aids relief in Africa. Have we ended world hunger, cured Aids, turned the African aids epidemic around so it no longer exists? Does anyone really think that putting more money into these programs, which are targeted by the way, will produce the desired or expected result? This is the same for most well meaning programs and for space, I see no difference, at least per the discussion within the framework of this Cynics article and the 24 or 25 comments.

For humanity to become space-fairing, I think we need first to be grounded in reality and understand what is needed, we need to look at realistic time tables for things, and we need to be educated in science, math, history, public policy, and more. Not to be experts, but to be knowledgeable so we don’t propagate lies and Kool Aid and spread fantasy myths that do no good for any of us or the industry. Then we need to tell the space story in a way that resonates with the public, with Congress and other decision making entities. This may not be what resonates as #1 with us, but maybe our reason is just that, our reason and not sufficient to command public money or substantial private investment, or the inspiration of the masses. We need to be objective here too.

One has to look carefully at arguments that very informed people such as Shubber Ali, Tom Olson, and the Old Space Cadet make on this blog. Space cadets, if we can’t realistically address the legitimate and very real concerns and problems these gentlemen post and write about, we got problems. And anyone who thinks wishful thinking and counting the future as now and as real, well, you have problems.

Let me direct you to an interesting Space Show program from this past Friday with Dr. Michio Kaku. Dr. Kaku was talking about his new book, “The Physics of the Impossible.” I direct you to this program because he discusses possibilities in science and engineering and more on a realistic set of time scales over three different classifications of what is impossible today. We talked space thorough-out the two hour program, integrating it with his time lines and realistic assessments of where we are now and how things progress. Dr. Kaku is open to space but he is not a space cadet like most of us that pay attention to this blog. I think listening to what this well known and respected scientist, professor and author has to say about some of these issues would be good medicine for us all. Here is the direct link to the show or of course you can get there by visiting http://www.thespaceshow.com and scroll down to the show for Friday, April 25, 2008. http://archived.thespaceshow.com/shows/933-BWB-2008-04-25.mp3

Ok, so throw 10% of your income at the petition or the effort to lower launch costs, hey, its your money, do what you want with it. If you do decide to do this, make sure you have a useful way of evaluating how effective your money was in accomplishing the goals you want to achieve. Be objective. If you do it, at least make it fun for you as that will compensate just a little for the depressing results you will soon encounter as your money gets gobbled up in the ether by planet and money eating renegade machines that are not compassionate to wish lists, desires, passion, and the like.

27. Frank - April 27, 2008

If 150,000 space advocates (say the entire memberships of The Planetary Society, NSS, MS and a few other space fans) devoted 1% of their yearly income I would think at the least you could create a space movement with some teeth (think about 50 million per year). The more powerful lobby groups have far more money than this at their disposal, so maybe it’s something we need to think more about. I’m not saying spend it all on lobbying,( in fact alot of that could be spent on small scale R&D projects) but you can see what I mean. I think waiting around for “magical” tech breakthroughs or for “someone else” to fulfill our space dreams is no strategy at all. Our petition is proof of that (179 signatures at last check).

28. accountingguy - April 28, 2008

All you need is a good decade of building up a solid trust. Of course you would have to get space nuts to agree on the aim of that trust, so that would be somewhat problematic.

1% of anybody’s annual income would be a good chunk, but one should shoot for an easier amount.

150,000 thousand people giving up $20 per month for 10 years, and with a decent, stable return of about 8% per year would net roughly $548 million. After 10 years, start distributing approximately 3% per year, and you could start a pretty decent endowment of about $16,000,000 per year and that endowment would continue to grow faster than inflation.

$16,000,000 per year could afford about 50 employees at $111k per year, leave about $10,000,000 per year for overhead and materials.

I might even know a guy who would manage the fund pretty cheaply, heh.

$100k-200k per year to manage a fund of hundreds of millions would be a total bargain, and beat the crap out of any mutual fund load. Figure one guy full time, with some small overhead and possibly a part-time assistant.

Getting humanity into space, one $20 tax-deductible donation at at time…

29. accountingguy - April 28, 2008

Oh, and by trust I mean this kind of trust:

http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/trust

This is partly the reason I went into accounting instead of physics.

There are tons of you guys out there that know a LOT about physics and other matters, so I will leave the specifics to you.

Leave the debits, credits, time value of money calculations, and cash flow planning to space nuts like me.

30. Thomas Olson - April 28, 2008

It’s a big stretch from 179 signatures to 150,000 people willing to dedicate even that little bit of money for a decade. But here’s my challenge to you: find those 150k, and I’ll set up and run a fund for you. (I have a bit of experience at this.)

tao

31. Frank - April 29, 2008

As of today we have 181 signatures so it’s advancing at a paltry 2 or 3 a day average. At that rate we’ll have the 150k in about 137 years 🙂 And the people signing that petition are people who “want” space travel cheap and now, not necessarily the people who would donate $20 per month. The reason for that? They have their own agendas for space- from obital hotels to space cities, the Moon, etc and would want the fund to address only their narrow points of focus. Even with well respected fund managers, the disagreements would kill it from the start. All I can say is that if space advocates pulled together and realized the severity of how long(if at all) their dreams will take to accomplish (which would involve no more kool aid drinks) they might then donate to such a fund.

For example, I’m an obvious Mars fan. I’d like to see it happen asap, but with so many missing pieces of the puzzle my focus has shifted to the more immediate steps we can take. A fund like this could address the immediate steps, R&D, etc required for any and all space dreams to stand a chance of happening. One thing I do know- If the space community keeps on fighting itself over all this, we will get nowhere fast.

As a final note- Yes Thomas, I’ll take you up on your offer, provided I can come up with 150k people to do it 🙂 Stay tuned…


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