Over the last months, the space field has witnessed one of the most brutal and hard fought battles in its history. In the space equivalent of a guerrilla war, those trying to change this nation's program into an effective and frontier opening enterprise have been fighting almost cubicle by cubicle -- and vote by vote -- to stop those in the space establishment more interested in looking busy while feeding on your tax dollars from killing the dream of opening space.
And although it may not be of as much public interest as Lindsey Lohan's latest scandal, or the number of illegal Guatemalan gardeners in your neighbour's yard, this battle for the Frontier and its implications are of the sort that may well ripple down through history and affect the future not only of this nation, but humanity itself.
"Grandiose language, Mr. Tumlinson!" you might say. Indeed, and I stand by my words. As this is the time in which history is made or denied. And as is so often the case in such moments, the spotlight of public opinion is focused on what may seem to be the critical debates of the day, yet which in the breadth of time are seen as merely blips on the radar screens of yesteryear.
In the battle for the Frontier, what is at stake is whether the United States will lead the world into space using its most important and powerful tool, or relinquish itself to second or third world status by repeating the failed policies of the past.
And what is this amazing tool that can transform the future of an entire nation? Simple. It is you, the people. The imagination and drive of the American people is a force of nature, and until recently, one that was not applied to the challenge of opening space. Instead of creating access to space for the people by building off of its taxpayer funded programs and infrastructure, our space program has instead fed on our funding and locked us out of the process. Contrast this with the internet: largely created by government agencies and the military, the technologies and the net itself were thrown open to the people, in effect subsidized by the government, and look at what has happened. (Oh, you are, as you are reading my words on it.)
Since the glory of Apollo, our space program has been run as a socialized central command system. It employs select personnel to design and build expensive, single-purpose systems that meet limited objectives at maximum possible cost -- operating in a system of contracts and patronage that rewarded activity, redundant job creation and cash flow more than successful achievement of its goals.
Working with a new generation of leaders in NASA and D.C., President Obama -- in blaze of vision and comprehension -- put forward a new vision for our space program that would change this system. His plan introduced the idea that by combining the genius and cost-lowering capabilities of the US private sector in the realm of now routine jobs, like shuttling supplies and personnel to the edge of space. We could save billions of dollars.
Handing the job of ferrying cargo and astronauts into low Earth orbit over to the new commercial space companies beginning to fly from locations all over the US will accelerate the time when regular people will have access to the new frontier, be they business people, industrial researchers, entrepreneurs, or even tourists -- you know, those people who spend billions all over the world and fund several national economies here on Earth. This will catalyze a whole new commercial space industry -- a first step towards at last turning space into a new human frontier with actual communities and expanding commerce reaching beyond the Earth.
The new program is a long-needed course correction. Not only will it lead to a lot more NASA astronauts going to places no one has ever been, it directly increases NASA science and budgets to develop new technologies needed for trips to the Moon, Mars, asteroids and beyond. Dozens of Noble Prize winners and other major scientists and former astronauts and space leaders have endorsed this new way forward. Now its your turn to weigh in.
This week in the House of Representatives there will be a vote on whether or not to pass a new NASA Authorization Bill (#S3729). This bill, already approved by the Senate, represents a compromise between those who would support the innovative and visionary new space policies of President Obama (among them such unlikely allies as Newt Gingrich and former Republican House Leader Robert Walker) and those trying to protect the failed Constellation program put in place under the disastrous leadership of Mike Griffin, former NASA Administrator.
The House, infiltrated by old aerospace money and propaganda, had eviscerated plans for NASA to off load its relatively routine transportation needs to the commercial NewSpace firms and turn itself towards developing new technologies for exploration. Their bill virtually wiped out funding for commercial contracts -- money that they want to waste on the old Constellation system, a discredited and dinosaurian space project based on the failed approaches of the past.
The Senate, on the other hand, although filling its own bill with as much pork as possible and keeping many of the obviously dead end programs started in the last administration alive, at least allows our NewSpace industry a shot at proving itself, and gives NASA marching orders at a time when many of its people are facing uncertainty and chaos. After all, the good people at the agency do great work, and usually have only been led to failure by so called leaders whose ego, political and turf based interests out weighed the dream of opening space.
Those trying to keep the old pork flowing thought they could just roll over the president and NASA's new leaders on this and gut his program, keeping the money flowing to companies and space centers long known for their failures to launch. They were totally surprised when in the last few months a strong, and very vocal group of citizens stood up to their scam and has fought them to a near standstill in the name of opening the frontier, stopping the House's juggernaut in its tracks.
Be it on these pages, in local papers or websites across the nation, people who believe space should be open to the people have let their voices be heard. And more, many have actually engaged for the first time in the political process, calling and visiting their representatives and making it clear that it is time for change in our space program.
So now we the question you should ask yourself is whether you should do anything. You can't fix Lindsay Lohan, and you probably aren't going to have much success fixing the immigration problem this week, but you could help open space.
Ironic, isn't it? Because so little attention is being paid to this issue, those who do lift a finger can make a difference. And because the stakes are so large, the difference you make is greater than those issues so many see as important today and you can do little about. Think about it, what will you say to your kids about those lights in the sky at night as spaceships ply the shores of the solar system... did you participate in the greatest human activity of all time, or simply change the channel? Make the call.
Call 202.225.3121 and tell the nice person on the Congressional switchboard you want to talk to your representative.