Status Report

Remarks for Bill Bruner – The Future of Freedom in Space – Robert A. Heinlein Centennial

By SpaceRef Editor
July 8, 2007
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July 7, 2007

Thank you for that welcome. I’d also like to thank my good friend Tim Kyger for organizing this event and inviting me to share a few thoughts with you here this morning.

This is a real pleasure – joining with all of you in saluting a great writer and visionary – a man whom we honor here this weekend for using the power of words to inspire, to shape values and attitudes – and yes, to make a buck or two (those us here who have ever tried to sell a manuscript honor him especially for that).

As a testimony to the power of his ideas, I’d like to share my personal story with you.

The first real novel I ever read was Rocketship Galileo. After that, I read as much Heinlein as I could find. I can honestly say that, as a young black male raised by a single mom, RAH shaped my views on many subjects from race – to politics – to the nobility of military service – to the equality of the sexes – to the future of humankind on the space frontier.

Many times, the reader would not know that a major character in a Heinlein narrative was black – and always, there was passionate advocacy for freedom over tyranny woven into every storyline.

Heinlein wrote a lot of memorable words. But there’s one line that I found especially striking in preparing for today’s talk. It was his declaration that, “[a] generation which ignores history has no past and no future.”

If we are to talk about the future of freedom – and especially freedom on the space frontier – we need to look at the history of exploration here on Earth. And, in that context, it makes sense to talk about a frontier town called Kansas City. This city used to be known as Westport. It was a source of supplies and a port of departure for wagons headed west. Coincidentally, I was at another port of departure called Cape Canaveral a few weeks ago to watch supplies headed outward to humankind’s outpost on the space frontier.

The settlers who came through here brought more than hopes and aspirations. They also brought a set of values. They were Americans, heirs to the Enlightenment and the Western tradition of thought. They were bound to the Constitution and the freedoms it represents.

Even after the close of the frontier, those values remained. They were the unseen, but essential foundation for the civilization that these men and women built. This centennial and this city are living testimonies to the values of those pioneers who once paused here before reaching out farther onto the frontier.

Their record was scarcely unsullied. All of us would consider some of their beliefs unthinkable today, and properly so. Yet they also brought with them free markets, the rule of law, majority rule with the protection of minority rights, freedom of worship and of conscience – and many of the other basic cultural values that we hold dear. Not bad for folks who had no running water and no electricity. They set an example of freedom worth following.

We’d like to think that kind of freedom on the frontier is guaranteed.

Sadly, it is not.

For if we look elsewhere, we see that other explorers have also brought their values with them. At least one frontier here on Earth was developed, in part, through the forced labor of the Gulag.

Freedom can be fragile, even on the frontier.

Those who open the frontier of space will take their values and their political systems with them, whether it be a belief in liberty and majority rule under the law – or something else.

As NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has said, “Humans will colonize the solar system and one day go beyond. And it is important for me that humans who carry . . . Western values – are there with them.”

It is important for me too. That is why I wanted to work for Mike Griffin – and that’s part of the reason why I believe that America needs to continue to lead in space.

The Congress and the President have given us at NASA the charge of opening a way of exploration to the Moon, Mars and beyond. It’s an audacious challenge. But fulfilling it means more than reaching new destinations or fulfilling what Heinlein foresaw.

Rather, by working with our international partners to set up outposts beyond low earth orbit, we’re also establishing outposts of freedom. We’re creating new places for free people to explore and work, places where they will live by the values they bring with them.

That’s our challenge. That’s my hope.

Scarcely a week after the Challenger accident, President Reagan gave his State of the Union. And to a nation still in mourning he declared, “The future belongs to the free.”

The future still does – if we will it, and if we work for it.

Step by step and launch by launch, America’s space agency is transforming Heinlein’s science fiction into hard fact. We can, and I hope we will keep doing so.

Beating the odds, I was the first in my family to earn a college degree – a Bachelor’s in Astronomy. Now, I am a retired Air Force fighter aviator & colonel working for America’s space agency – in large part because RAH told me that race doesn’t matter, military service is honorable, freedom is better than tyranny and humankind’s destiny lies among the stars.

In my current job, acting as the head of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs for NASA, I am proud to try to represent these bipartisan values to the people’s Congress.

As President Kennedy said at a dedication ceremony in San Antonio, Texas on November 21, 1963, “For more than three years I have spoken about the New Frontier. This is not a partisan term, and it is not the exclusive property of Republicans or Democrats. It refers, instead, to this Nation’s place in history, to the fact that we do stand on the edge of a great new era, filled with both crisis and opportunity, an era to be characterized by achievement and by challenge. It is an era which calls for action and for the best efforts of all those who would test the unknown.”

So – as a child of Rocketship Galileo, Starship Troopers, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Free Men, Farnham’s Freehold and all the others, I ask you to remember the crumbling prison camps on former frontiers. But as we remember, let us also move forward together to build a brighter future, one where the new frontier of space is truly free.

Thank you.

SpaceRef staff editor.