I mentioned in my last post that the human race now has the ability to create our own future, for good or for bad. That means we have to decide the kind of world we want in the years to come and figure out what needs to be done to make that world come about.

It was ten years ago this week (October 4, 2004) that SpaceShipOne, manufactured by Scaled Composites, LLC made its second flight within two weeks to the edge of space to claim the $10 million Ansari X Prize. In my future world, travel beyond the Earth’s atmosphere is virtually routine. Sure, I wanted to be a space cowboy as a kid (with all the poise and composure of Buzz Lightyear, no doubt) but the adult in me can justify it in lots of rational ways. The biggest reason is that, in a universe with planet-killing asteroids and globe-scorching weapons of our own devising, we don’t dare entrust all the forms of life that we know about to one vulnerable planet. We owe it to Life to spread its eggs beyond this basket, whether that means terraforming Mars or building space arks to other solar systems.

There’s also abundant free energy out there. It may not be possible to safely transfer it to the surface of the Earth, but we should at least be taking advantage of it to perform manufacturing tasks that are energy-intensive and use huge quantities of finite and polluting energy resources when carried out down here. The same argument goes for resources of other kinds: minerals and rare earths that we know are available in asteroids and moons, and can be mined without despoiling the environment of the Earth.

It may take significantly more time to accomplish, but the ability to colonize other planets, near and far, would relieve a lot of the pressure on our home world all by itself, as well as providing opportunities we can’t yet imagine on whole new frontiers. Individually and collectively, humans have always been inspired to improve our lot by pushing against boundaries and seeking greener pastures.

To do all of these things we need spaceflight to become cheap and routine. How do we do that?

Government programs aren’t the answer. There is a place for public money to support technological innovation, but bureaucracies and shifting political winds are the enemies of real progress. That leaves private ventures or publicly-traded companies, of which there are now many that are directly involved in space exploration and exploitation (see these lists thanks to The Space Settlement Institute). Among the highest profile examples are SpaceX (with a number of successful supply missions to the International Space Station) and Virgin Galactic (more than five hundred people have booked their sub-orbital flight aboard SpaceShipTwo, hopefully beginning next year). But many of the other players are serious, well-staffed, and well-organized. If you want to do your part to bring about routine spaceflight in your lifetime, consider investing in these companies, either by buying stock or making a donation. Some may invite you to volunteer your time and talent. All would appreciate you urging governments to smooth their path with friendly legislation or funding or both.

Maybe you and I will never get to be space cowboys, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help to put things in motion. Onward and upward, that is.


When the subject of space exploration comes up many people roll their eyes. Others complain outright about the waste of money. All too often people ask: what’s it for? What are we going to do out there anyway?

The answer to that would be a whole science and science fiction library in itself, so I decided to point out what space exploration efforts are doing for all of us right now, right here on Earth.

Most of us recognize that our whole system of modern communications depends on satellites in Earth orbit, from global phone and cell phone networks, to satellite TV, radio communications, GPS and more. If you think a while you might also remember that observer satellites help predict weather, crop yields, and pest infestations, not to mention giving warning of natural disasters like tornados and hurricanes (and yes, climate change). They can also locate mineral and fossil fuels deposits.

If you’re of a certain age you might remember that the NASA space program gave us Tang, Space Food Sticks, and dehydrated ice cream. But there’ve also been a few spin off benefits you might not know about:

- digital imaging technology created for the Moon landings is used in CT and MRI scanners.

- data storage software created to handle the reams of data from NASA satellites is now used by hospitals and businesses.

- material invented for the parachute shrouds of the Mars Viking landers is the heart of modern radial tires.

- the Jaws Of Life that save people trapped in car wrecks came from the system created to separate the space shuttle from its booster rockets.

- special metal alloys and micro-miniature components produced in space are helping to revolutionize medicine.

Even American speed skater Chris Witty, an Olympic record holder, owes her performance, in part, to skate blades sharpened by a tool created for the optics of the Hubble Space Telescope.

And believe me, those are only a few examples.

It isn’t simply that the mysterious black void of space, sprinkled with pretty sparkling lights has called to us since our cave-dwelling days. It’s the human capacity to look outward: to look beyond our small lives and communities to something larger, which has produced so many benefits we can also enjoy in our regular day-to-day lives.

I hope that never changes.