That’s right, there is no word, “conflictions!” I have hatched it from the root word conflict to apply to my own deep and troubling reactions to what is happening to our space programs.They are lumped into three broad areas. Space exploration, private sector development, and international cooperation. In my mind, and heart, things are quite jumbled and intense. They are jumbled because of the lack of clear national objectives, they are intense because of the strong feelings of the exploration advocates and the private sector advocates. Additionally these two conditions are further aggravated by calls for international cooperation that appear more as lip service than serious action. Let’s look at all three individually.
Space Exploration: In my humble opinion space exploration is a government investment on behalf of the advancement of all civilization. Making it inclusive of all civilization mandates that these exploration efforts should be internationally conceived and supported. These are the efforts that layout pathways to both our ongoing scientific knowledge of our solar system and beyond, and the identification of eventual areas of opportunity for private sector programs.
These exploratory activities are financially unprofitable, but highly profitable scientifically as we learn more about all that surrounds us. They are high risk, they require careful design and development of methods of transport, and they are intended to open our eyes wider about the universe. In the process, space exploration may uncover many opportunities for private sector development, and this should be encouraged, but with careful monitoring and regulation.
Private Sector Space Operations: First of all, I am for it 100%. I envision the development and utilization of space elevators, orbiting resorts, asteroid mining, space tourism, and even possible settlements on the Moon or other planets. I see all of this, including the forthcoming private sector LEO support of the ISS, as having strong potential profit realizations. This is good, this is an economy engine that can raise the standards of living for many. It is also good, because it brings forth new innovations, new industries and new opportunities for each citizen. Most importantly, the successful growth of private sector space programs is directly affected and enhanced by successful space exploration.
International Cooperation/Consortium. As mentioned above, space exploration is viewed as a government funded and sponsored program. The bottom line here is that we are finding out that no one country is going to be able to fully afford the level of development and mission activities needed for an aggressive exploration program of our solar system and eventually beyond. Shared technology, shared costs, shared staffing are mandatory. Additionally shared or mutual goal setting is also a requirement.Well, we are not there yet. We have a good start with the ISS, but that concept needs to be expanded into a full-fledged international space exploration program with well defined goals. One of the key impediments to this, is national ego, including our own. Right now, each of us wants to be the lead space science nation. This is a definite barrier to a fully cooperative international program.
Well what about UNOOSA? This is the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. It is a great idea with grand objectives and motives, but suffers, as does most of the UN, from fickle and seriously unsteadfast international support. We must internationally decide to support UNOOSA and make it work as an International Space Consortium, or abandon it all together and start something different. I vote for supporting UNOOSA!
The Conflictions: Okay, okay so where are these conflictions? Well, first the private sector like all of our business communities reacts to oversights and controls. The “get out of my way, I am free enterprise” is both an invective and a solid philosophy. This must be assuaged both internally and by the oversight and control organizations.
Secondly, as we have learned over the past couple of years as well as from our histories, governments are prone to look the other way, under certain $$$ influences or are quick to say,”let’s make a deal.” The success of a truly well defined and joint (government, private sector, and international) space program just cannot exist when there are individuals or organizations who seek to undermine the requirements of the overall program.
Lastly, the international organization that essentially masterminds the entire global space exploration and development program must be wide awake! It must be strong, active and fully capable of taking direct global action to keep the program in line and weed out those groups that seek to break away from or break down the international program. I see UNOOSA as being the root source for this, but in a vastly improved and very active configuration backed by ALL member nations. The absence of this latter requirement is one of the most crippling factors that weakens the current United Nations. That must change.
So, here we are, tons of exciting and challenging opportunities for the sciences, for private industry, and for the citizens of planet Earth. As I have said before, this is an evolutionary threshold. We must cross it or dwindle away into yet another lost civilization of the universe. If we cross it, my conflictions, and possibly yours will fade from both mind and heart. Come on, lets get started.