Europa off the Starboard Bow

When I was a young boy, I used to stand in my backyard and look at the moon.  There’s nothing unusual in that, of course.  I imagine that every young boy has done the same.  But I was a child steeped in the possibilities of the Space Age.  The moon was not an unreachable object.  I had met a man who had flown around it in orbit.  It was only a matter of time, I reckoned, until people were going up there to stay.  And I was firmly convinced that I would be one of them.  Going up to the moon to live and work, while taking vacations on Earth?  That should be possible by my old age, shouldn’t it?  When I would be thirty or so.

Thirty is just around the corner now, as far as the span of a lifetime is concerned.  And I am no closer to living on the moon.  Nor would I be if I were an astronaut of any country.  I never go into political issues on this blog – and I don’t intend to start now.  But I feel compelled at this point to mention a bipartisan complaint about the American government for surrendering control of the space race it was best equipped to lead, both by underfunding NASA and by forcing it to misappropriate the limited funds it does possess.  This is not a political issue.  It is instead a species imperative.  I consider it vital for humanity to colonize other bodies within our solar system as a first step toward exploring the stars and ensuring our long-term survival.

While I welcome the increased participation from the private sector in developing spaceflight technologies, it will take them some time to catch up.  But it seems increasingly probable that they will have to lead the way, especially because they possess a key advantage.  Many national governments have to answer to their citizens.  That is as it should be, but it also means that agendas shift with the prevailing political winds.  A company with a dedicated board of directors might be able to formulate and sustain an explorative agenda better than any government ever could.  This could lead to the restoration of what current space missions lack – an inspiring vision.

All of this is my way of setting the stage for this comment:  Look at this.  Wow.

I confess that I have no idea whether this is possible.  My heart wants to believe, but my head says that it’s always possible to draw up a realistic-looking set of blueprints and throw around a few scientific terms.  The question is whether a ship like that could be built in a twenty-year timeframe for a cost of around $1 trillion…or figures that are even close to that.  If it could, then we have a real possibility for the first feasible intra-system exploration vehicle, provided that Paramount is nice enough to not slap the development agencies with a massive lawsuit.

Even if this can’t be done for technological or financial reasons, though, it matters a great deal that someone is putting forth a positive scheme on a massive scale.  Here’s why.  In the process of detailing exactly why something is impossible, one shuts down useless avenues of exploration.  This leaves more time and more resources to be expended on the realistic alternatives.  Indeed, showing why Plan A is impossible might actually end up suggesting a workable Plan B.  If you look closely enough at the website, you’ll see that the author has incorporated that idea into his twenty-year plan.

Pay especially close attention to the most important feature:  the proposed initial slate of missions.  Were this ship to launch and were these missions to prove feasible, humanity could have permanent presences on the moon and on Mars within a decade.  In addition, we would have explored two other interplanetary bodies and turned our Enterprise into a tool for repelling asteroids.  These are the sorts of tasks we will need to set for ourselves as we move off this planetary surface and out onto our neighbors, and they’re ordered in a logical way.

Do I think this will become reality?  No.  Obviously I’m not a blind optimist.  But I wish it would.  And I hope the nation or corporation that eventually leads the way in the space race will take these ideas into account as they do.

Published in: on June 13, 2012 at 9:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

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