If all goes as planned, May 19 will see the SpaceX ship blast off to resupply the International Space Station, marking NASA’s official opening of space to private enterprise. In SpaceX’s wake, several private corporations are entering this mercantile space race—all to compete initially both for NASA’s business and for the satellite trade. But it also marks mankind’s serious entry into space.
Throughout the history of Europe’s expansion over the globe, government funding might have spurred and defended advances into new territories, but trading companies secured the trade routes, settled them, established the infrastructure those regions now enjoy, and brought back the profits that made further expansion possible and necessary. A host of private spaceflight outfits like SpaceX are poised to play the same role in cislunar space.
Most of these companies will fail. But for those that succeed, the profits shall in time be enormous—and essential for the rest of us. It is not just the technological benefits although, in its history, NASA has produced some 30,000 technological innovations that we use in everything from advanced medical care to everyday life. This expansion is absolutely necessary if the current global economy is to survive.
This may sound overly dramatic. But the sad truth is that the mountains of debt under which we labor here and abroad cannot be paid off, no matter how austere the world’s governments attempt to become—and as the French and Greek elections show, few populations inured to an artificially high level of government-sponsored living are willing to relinquish it. This leaves their masters stuck with the Hobson’s choice of runaway inflation or depression and unemployment. In the developed world, demographic meltdown further complicates the mess.
What is required if our current standard of living in the West is to be maintained is the creation of new and real wealth, plus equally new and real demand to absorb excess productivity. The prospect of such creation as things stand is low, and no amount of redistribution can accomplish it. We need a breakthrough, and the only peaceful one on the horizon is beyond our atmosphere. (A new World War might do the trick but would bring other problems.)
Ferrying goods, services, and personnel for the current level of government space programs will not be sufficient. Moon bases, missions to Mars, and all the rest will be necessary if the Earth’s economy is to benefit—not merely in terms of chewing up products here, but providing both new sources of raw materials and new technologies. These in turn will create all sorts of unsettling changes here. An end to the necessity of fossil fuel, for example, would radically alter the terrestrial economic and power structure.
It will lie with government to lead the way in translunar exploration. NASA is hoping to use the money saved on those tasks farmed out to private enterprise to do just that. But it takes a long time using modern rocket technology to get to, say, Mars—and 24 months in space will wreak havoc with human bones and human psychology. A more realistic and shorter way to do the job would probably be using atomic energy à la the late lamented Project Orion or some other energy scheme such as the so-called MagBeam Propulsion, whose advocates claim would allow a manned team to reach the Red Planet in 90 days.
Funding for these schemes would be horribly expensive—probably beyond any one nation’s exchequers, including our own. The politicking required would be nearly superhuman. But if the IST’s current governmental sponsors (Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia, and the United States) continue to cooperate, they might be able to swing it—especially if they can pick up one or two more partners such as China and India.
But from a purely material aspect the alternatives are far worse, whether or not a World War is included among them. It may well be that economic and social collapse are what we need, spiritually speaking—as with the fall of Babel. The sea of stars awaits.
Copyright 2013 TakiMag.com and the author. This copy is for your personal, noncommercial use only. You can order reprints for distribution by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org.