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Preaching Settlement

a porthole to the future
The Spacefaring Web 3.06
by John Carter McKnight
Scottsdale - Mar 17, 2003
There is a way to change the space agenda now, while we hold the world's attention in the wake of Columbia's loss. The lever for that change is not a new hardware program, legislative package or business plan. Rather, it is a clear, comprehensible goal explained in simple and compelling language at every opportunity. That goal is the opening of space to human habitation and settlement.

Of all the possible reasons for going to space (see 3.05, Why Space? ), why should settlement be the key? Most generally, settlement is an enabler of other reasons: curiosity, adventure and construction are better pursued from permanent beachheads than by starting afresh from the ground each time. But beyond that, settlement offers unique benefits that can be readily explained in the sort of simple, direct language best suited to changing minds. These benefits include:

Personal Economic Opportunity: Sustained new technological frontiers generate opportunities for wealth at every level, from the robber baron to the small businessman to the skilled laborer (See 1.15, Space Pirates in the archives). Just like with the American West or the Internet, real growth comes only from an opening to the masses. The alternative an open frontier is the expedition. Expeditions are small, with opportunities only for very few. With settlement, everyone has a niche with the chance to prosper.

Cultural Synthesis: Frontiers are places where the world comes together in a mix of backgrounds to create new forms of arts, fashions, tastes, values. As an antidote to the expansion of bland, corporate-media globalized sameness, dynamic space settlements (see 1.14, Martian Dynamism, in the archives) offer the prospect of assembling a diverse world's talents and energies to unleash new creative syntheses in every area of human endeavor.

Sociopolitical Innovation: On a larger scale, new social forms cannot grow and flourish when they have to begin by breaking through the iron eggshell of the old, established order. Democracy had its theoretical beginnings in the Old World, but needed the open political space of a distant New World to flourish, from there to inspire the transformation of the Old. Likewise, only in the distant realms of space settlements will new experiments in social organization, offering a better life for us all, have a chance to grow, flourish, and spread back to a politically stagnant Earth.

Egg Baskets: Our species is threatened by environmental dangers both natural and human-made, and the myriad consequences of too many of us in too small a space. Space can offer protection against these dangers only to the extent that our species is genuinely spread out across many habitats and worlds - small-scale efforts can at best be only a lifeboat for a resented elite, not a promise of safety and salvation for us all. Of course, the hope is always that new lessons from the frontier can be applied to end the dangers back on Earth.

Lebensraum: While this German term ("living room") is as fraught with horrible overtones as so many that we blithely use, the notion that life, by its nature, expands and needs a lack of density to flourish, has broad appeal. We are too crowded; there is now the sense that each generation will have a lower quality of life due to that crowding and our consumption of non-renewable resources. The promise of open spaces, both physically and socially, is a powerful driver for parents to offer their children, and for the young hungering for a life out from under the thumbs of older generations.

Curiosity and Adventure: These are primary reasons for exploring space, but they hold true at a deeper level for settlement. At a certain level of passion, the tourist becomes the �migr�, the expeditionary scientist the lifelong observer. Some will find the superficial visit unsatisfying and will devote their lives to the experience of the unknown.

God's Will: Of the several reasons (including national strategic advantage and defense of the Earth) that I overlooked for 3.05, Why Space?, this was the most intriguing omission. There is an immense opportunity to advocate the settlement of space to religious communities, particularly within those faiths with a tradition of diaspora and terraforming, such as the Jewish and Mormon communities. Many religious traditions hold that it is necessary or proper for people to spread their communities and beliefs widely, and the universe is a wide place indeed.

The Cost of Not Settling: Who are we if we don't settle space? What will our grandchildren's lives look like when there are 15 or 20 billion people on Earth and no one anywhere else? When they live in a civilization that has made an affirmative choice not to seek answers to humanity's problems by venturing away from home? When they live in a culture of timidity, safety-obsession and introversion? When lack of privacy is taken for granted by cheek-by-jowl billions under the control of overprotective, invasive governments? Is this the world we want to leave to them?

But these reasons alone are the lesser part of what we need to change the direction of current efforts in space. The critical component is one that we have used hardly at all, and almost never well, in the generation since Wehrner von Braun died and progress in human spaceflight ended. That component is clear, effective communication to ordinary people.

For most of us, the reasons we choose for "why space" are secondary to the desire itself, an after-the-fact rationalization. Former Shuttle commander Rick Searfoss traced his passion in a recent speech to seeing the movie "Robinson Crusoe on Mars" as a kid. For me, it was coming upon Apollo 11, Star Trek and Robert Heinlein's Rocket Ship Galileo all in one memorable week when I was six. Ask around at any space conference and you'll hear stories much the same.

Yet ask those selfsame people what they need to realize their agendas in space, however visionary those agendas might be. Chances are they'll respond either with eye-glazing engineering or policy trivia, or, worse yet, with hapless pleas to recreate the Camelot of their youth through some vague exhortations of sympathetic magic. Precious few recognize that the very first prerequisite is simple faith: broad public acceptance of the reasonableness of the general idea, a matter of perception rather than of fact.

Politicians and investors alike have an innate understanding of the way ideas rise to the level of attention, and then to funding. The response of any politician and most financiers to calls for space settlement is, "nobody's talking about that." Not, "it's not possible," or "it's not affordable," or "you need an alternate mission architecture." Just, "nobody's talking about that."

Space advocates have been hearing this message for a generation. Still, we refuse to listen, to learn, and to change our behaviors to those more likely to achieve our ends. An old saw defines insanity as "doing what you always did and expecting different results." That makes us crazier than our worst pointed-ears caricatures.

Meanwhile, advocates of a host of ideas considered much more marginal in, say, 1969, have pushed their views well into the mainstream. Environmentalism has gone from a fringe movement to a cause we all pay lip service to. Our views on smoking, sexuality, the role of governments and churches in our lives, methods of child-rearing, have all changed dramatically, often in response to the diligent work of advocacy groups who sought to change the social consensus. The Sierra Club, the National Rifle Association, groups in the Christian Right and the anti-technological Left, have utterly transformed the status quo in their areas of advocacy.

But the space groups? We have learned nothing and changed no minds.

It's for lack of trying.

Many in the space community still reject the notion that talking about dreams, passions and possibilities to ordinary people is worthwhile, let alone critical. Perhaps this is because most members of the community are engineers or scientists, without the inclination or the training to communicate with the public. Perhaps it's because we've been marginalized, lumped in with people who expect to be lifted up with the space brothers, or who wear Star Trek uniforms to jury duty - with all the others who have yet to push their ideas to consensus. Wary of looking silly, we keep ourselves on the outside, perpetuating just the condition we fear.

Even those who see the need for actually advocating our beliefs have chosen to be willfully ignorant of the themes and images which currently resonate with general audiences. There is a widespread unwillingness to see that the cultural icons of the 1950s and early 1960s hold little positive resonance today. Yet the same Wild West vocabulary (2.12, Barsoom's Legacy, and 2.13 Spirit of Mars) or "next President Kennedy" foolishness is trotted out again and again, further marginalizing us among audiences who moved on a generation ago.

We started with passion. What we want is action. The bridge between the two is a simple, ancient, proven one: evangelizing. Preaching the word to ordinary people in ordinary language until the community of believers is big enough to wield power to change the culture. Do just this and see your passions realized. Fail to do it, and we all will endlessly repeat the insanity of policies, programs and plans.

The Spacefaring Web is a biweekly column � 2002 by John Carter McKnight, an Advocate of the Space Frontier Foundation (http://www.space-frontier.org/Projects/Spacefaring ) Views expressed herein are strictly the author's and do not necessarily represent Foundation policy. Contact the author at [email protected]

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