Space is the Answer
Historians often find events in their research that did not seem to be that significant when they happened, but when later viewed in context, can gain a significant role in the pageant of history. The decision to build the space shuttle, for instance, may come to be seen as one of the great errors of space development, instead of continuing to improve the Saturn V rocket for heavy lift and develop a lighter space plane for astronauts and later, passengers. Efforts to revive the Saturn V have recently been abandoned and its replacement, the Space Shuttle, is now being canned permanently. How many times must the wheel be reinvented?
Few people knew about the death of Sergei Korolev in 1966, as the Soviets had kept the identity of their chief rocket scientist a secret. His passing, however, may come to be seen as a much more significant event in the progress of human civilization than we now appreciate.
Korolev delivered many successes for the Soviet space program, including the first satellite in space and the first man to rise above Earth's atmosphere. These successes left the United States reeling and sparked the 1961 challenge by President John F. Kennedy for a race to the Moon. The Soviets picked up the gauntlet and set Korolev to work on their Moon program and his work may have trumped the Americans once again, had he lived to see it through. As if the hand of the artist behind the vision was critical for its success, all attempts to launch his giant N-1 Moon rocket subsequently failed in giant fireballs.
A testament to the success of Korolev’s work is that the descendents of his rockets are still in service, where the extraordinary work of Wernher von Braun and his team in developing the Apollo Moon rocket is now in the rust-pit of discarded technology. If Korolev had lived a little longer and delivered another winning stroke for the Soviets with a Moon race victory, Superpower competition may then have seen a push for dominance in space that resulted in permanent human activity beyond low Earth orbit, on the Moon and even Mars. Human technology would have greatly advanced beyond all that we have achieved and Earth's main power source could have become the Sun, with solar energy collected directly in space and beamed to receiving stations on Earth. We may even have avoided global warming and the current prospect of dangerous climate and ocean change, by not needing to burn all that coal and oil. The rare commodity of fossil fuels could have remained fossils and been preserved for more important uses.
If the Soviet Union had won the Moon race, the United States would have quickly followed, delivering a permanent human presence on the Moon and beyond through Superpower competition. When Gerard K O'Neill presented his vision for space settlement in 1976, especially in the light of the oil crisis that was still current, his vision may have swiftly translated into reality, which included selling space based solar power to Earth markets. Factories in space may now be producing products for Earth and space markets, using resources gathered from the Moon, the asteroids and planets and processed with the unlimited energy of the Sun. But that is not our story. Korolev died, the Soviets lost the Moon race and the United States lost interest in the opportunities that had been opened to begin building a Solar civilization.
Where are we Now?
Our last remaining human foothold in space may soon be lost, when the International Space Station is retired in a few years. With no replacement on the horizon and the current global economic meltdown threatening to dive deeper beneath the fiscal waves, any serious space development could be at risk, including our current cutting edge with space technology. Should dangerous climate change deliver a body blow to our global civilization, we could be trapped on spaceship Earth turning into a desert hulk in space. Is this a risk worth taking?
Compared with the loss of all that we have gained, securing a sustainable presence beyond Earth may be the only option that we should be entertaining and the survival insurance policy that we cannot afford to live without. By investing in a confident survival position beyond Earth, we would be able to deal with all Earth's problems, human and natural. If we become trapped on Earth without hope for the future, we may find ourselves sliding toward a new Stone Age, or worse.
What are the Options?
Without survival, there is no other activity available. To ensure our survival on Earth, our primary objective should be to secure a sustainable presence beyond Earth, where no further resources will be needed from Earth. I describe this as the Liberty Line. Beyond the Liberty Line all further space development is essentially free and we will not be at risk of falling back to Earth. Once the decision is made to secure the Liberty Line, humanity will find a new survival confidence, where all problems can be solved and we will have a greater vision to work with, where the way to the stars will be open.
It is a simple choice, but the time available to act may be short, as our civilization sails into the perfect storm of catastrophe now rising up before us. It is not only climate change that we have to worry about, though the seriousness of this is increasing as scientists gain a clearer view of what is happening. A legacy of earlier inaction on space development is that we now need 1.4 Earths to maintain current lifestyle demands and as the developing world catches up, this unsustainable situation increases. It was sometime in the 1980s that human society moved into the ecological red and began demanding more of the Earth than the planet could continue to supply. To keep going in this direction is dangerous terrain. Environmentalists believe that we must shrink our demands or face collapse.
We face a drastic dilemma that appears to be beyond solution. The supertanker of our global civilization cannot be turned around very quickly as we continue to sail on with a momentum that will deliver outcomes that we may not like to live with, that may even overwhelm and sink the ship. Our failure to act on serious space development after the success of Apollo may now come home to roost, unless we find a way to lift our game.
A Plan for Action!
We can dust off O’Neill’s vision for space settlement in the light of our current knowledge and generate interest in space with a plan to build an Earth-gravity Star City. This would be a stepping-stone across the Solar System and toward the stars. The momentum to build a Star City will drive the need for space industry, much of which can be automated, also using robots and remote control systems. A huge human presence is not needed in space to get the ball rolling, but to ensure that we do lift our game toward a confident survival position beyond Earth, we may need to consider making a giant leap into the future. To achieve this, we will need to shape a vision that will appeal to a billion people, as that level of support may be critical at this late hour.
With a view to the Liberty Line, beyond which building our civilization across the Solar System will be essentially free, we will be able to describe a Solar economy, including Earth, where poverty is history. We will be able to look toward a mature and cultured society that allows a healthy life with unlimited creative opportunities for all Earth’s children. With such a vision we may win peace on Earth and maximize security in space. If we attempt to expand the ways of Earth into the celestial realm, we may find the gates to space locked against us by conflict and or terrorism and we could be trapped on a dying Earth in an evolutionary dead-end.
If we can learn to successfully fly beyond the Earthly nest, we will be in a position to also work toward delivering a healthier Earthly environment for human society, where evolution is able to continue indefinitely into the future. A spin-off of space development could see Earth’s main energy supply being delivered from solar power stations in space, an adjustable sunshade constructed to help cool the Earth and mirrors built to help warm the Earth if the cooling is too successful and another Ice Age threatens to arrive. We would be in a position to deal with any asteroid that may threaten a catastrophe on Earth, simply by mining the object into oblivion.
International Cooperation Essential
It may only take ten seriously keen people to get a ball rolling to sell the vision. Their effective action could attract a thousand people in support, which could in turn inspire a million people to join the movement. Such numbers could hope to win the support of a billion people who seek a healthy and creative future for their children. Business as usual on Earth alone may be a dangerous gamble. The only game could be to build a future beyond Earth. While we remain prisoners of Earth, we will be the victims of any catastrophe that befalls this planet, whether caused by Nature, or at our own hands.
Let's not let Korolev's untimely death be in vain, because one Superpower did not act without the competition that Korolev's vision and skill may have delivered for the Soviet Union. The Cold War is gone, but the future of human civilization beyond Earth is still waiting to be realized. We have all to lose if we delay and the whole Universe to gain if we act now and open the way to the stars. The future is in our hands. It is our choice. Will we act?
About Kim Peart
Kim is a visual artist now living in Queensland, Australia, who first became involved in space advocacy with the L5 Society in 1976. He has researched and been active with environmental issues and returned to space advocacy in 2006 after realizing that our future survival depended on securing a sustainable presence beyond Earth and now with global warming, this concern has increased. In 2009 Kim and his partner, Dr Jennifer A. Bolton, launched the Island Earth organization to bring a focus to Earth and space issues and the amazing future that is waiting to happen, if we act in time.
‘The High Frontier’ by Gerard K. O’Neill, 1976
‘Dr Space – the life of Wernher von Braun’ by Bob Ward, Naval Institute Press, 2005
‘Space Race’ by Deborah Cadbury, Fourth Estate, 2005
‘Creating A Solar Civilization’ by Kim Peart, 2006, found at: http://www.tdf.it/2006/2/peart_eng.htm
‘Storms of My Grandchildren’ by James Hansen, Bloomsbury, 2009
‘Eaarth – making a life on a tough new planet’ by Bill McKibben, Black Ink, 2010