All Astronautical Evolution posts in 2015:
“Drowning in Process” (Nov.)
SETI and Sanity (Oct.)
SpaceX, SpaceY, SpaceZ (Sept.)
Should We Phone ET? (March)
More Pluto Controversy (Feb.)
The Pluto Controversy (Jan.)
New in 2020:
2022: What’s to do on Mars?…
2021: New space company Planetopolis…
2020: Cruising in Space…
2019: The Doomsday Fallacy, SpaceX successes…
2018: I, Starship, atheism versus religion, the Copernican principle…
2017: Mars, Supercivilisations, METI…
2016: Stragegic goal for manned spaceflight…
2015: The Pluto Controversy, Mars, SETI…
2014: Skylon, the Great Space Debate, exponential growth, the Fermi “paradox”…
2013: Manned spaceflight, sustainability, the Singularity, Voyager 1, philosophy, ET…
2012: Bulgakov vs. Clarke, starships, the Doomsday Argument…
2011: Manned spaceflight, evolution, worldships, battle for the future…
2010: Views on progress, the Great Sociology Dust-Up…
Index to essays – including:
The Great Sociology Debate (2011)
Building Selenopolis (2008)
A Letter to Britain’s New Space Minister
Sent via my constituency MP, 1 June 2015
The greatest political dilemma of our age arises from the facts that a free, democratic society needs to be founded on continual economic growth, whereas planet Earth can only sustain a finite amount of material growth, and it is widely accepted that the limits to that growth are already being approached.
But since the beginning of the space age, new resources for growth have come within our reach, those of the other planets of our Solar System and its asteroids and comets, as well as the full power output of the Sun. These resources could in principle sustain extraterrestrial economic and population growth at current rates for over a millennium into the future. This will be a slow process, taking many centuries to mature. But the technological stimulus and the demonstration that humanity has an unbounded future will be of incalculable value back on Earth.
From a political point of view, therefore, the most important task of public space agencies is to develop the technologies that will enable human beings to live permanently and comfortably away from their planet of origin. It is to transfer these technologies to private industry in order to enable them to expand markets for spaceflight, thus ensuring a smooth and prompt transfer of exponential economic and population growth off Earth and out into the rest of the Solar System.
Unfortunately in recent decades the process has stalled due to the high cost of access to space, which remains orders of magnitude more expensive than required by the physics of flight alone. The European Space Agency operates on the assumption that such high costs will continue indefinitely. But the UK is a leader in the technologies required for a fully reusable spaceplane capable of expanding markets for access to space, improving reliability and lowering costs.
Continued support in particular for the SKYLON project, currently underway at Reaction Engines Ltd in Oxfordshire thanks to a partnership of private and public money, will therefore contribute to the long-term sustainable future of human civilisation.
A century ago, Britain’s strength was in building the steam locomotives and ships which unified the world with a network of trading and travel links. Later, Britain played an important role in the development of air transport, the jet engine and supersonic flight. It would therefore be entirely appropriate that British transport technology should now have a transformative effect as we move out into the rest of the Solar System.
I urge Britain’s Space Minister to give the UK and European Space Agencies the necessary political leadership by focusing their attention on programmes for economic use of space resources capable of exponential growth. Clearly, commercial applications of space already form part of Mr Johnson’s portfolio as one of the “eight great technologies” selected by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. But the most disruptive application in the near future will be orbital space tourism. The first pioneering private flight to orbit was in 2001. In order to develop this into a large-scale market, safe and economic transport to and from orbit, such as SKYLON, will be essential, as well as orbital space hotels building on the current International Space Station.
A meeting at the British Interplanetary Society ten years ago came to the conclusion that space tourism would be the key to economic access to space. Without the necessary direction from the top, the emergence of this new industry could be further delayed, which is why Mr Johnson’s role as Britain’s space minister is such an important one.
Industrial development of the space frontier should now be a matter of political priority. Industrial society cannot stabilise at its current level, therefore the long-term options are continued growth, or decline. The new opportunities for sustainable growth in space must be seized as soon as possible in order to refute the dangerous pessimism so often prevalent in discussions of the human future, and thus to secure the long-term expansion of our civilisation, the survival of its enlightened values and fulfilment of its creative potential.
Stephen Ashworth (Mr)
Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society
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