Status Report

Testimony of Rick Tumlinson at Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Hearings: “Future of NASA” (part 2)

By SpaceRef Editor
October 29, 2003
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Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Why space?

“We choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too…”

Standing in Houston, Texas in the early 1960s, a young and vibrant President named John F. Kennedy looked skyward and offered a new and hopeful future to his generation. In the middle of a Cold War, in the heart of a time when the threat of total annihilation loomed over the heads of everyone, he dared to challenge those listening to take on a higher goal. Rather than succumb to the darkness, he held out light, and rather than cast what was in reality a technological face off into the mix of that shadow war, he held it aloft, a beacon to all who could hear and understand what he meant. At just the time when it seemed there was no choice but the continuation of a pointless global wrestling match which at any moment could result in the end for all, he spoke of choices.


Today we must ask ourselves again. What kind of tomorrow do we want to give to our kids? The choice is ours. You might say we have three possible futures we can give them – less, the same and more.

Our first possible choice, and the one lots of folks sometimes seem to believe is inevitable, is the worst. It’s what might happen if we keep on rolling along and do nothing about conserving our natural resources or accessing new. The characterization we see in popular culture and films such as the Matrix, the Terminator series, and other dark dystopian images. It is an apocalyptic vision, the result of a time when all the world’s cultures rush to create consumer societies such as those in Europe, Japan and the USA. Eventually our excesses exceed our limits and we end up with a polluted and stripped world whose environment collapses, bringing down whole societies, leading to war, famine, the end of global culture, and the dawn of a new dark age.

Our second choice is to attempt to sustain the human race on this one world through rationing of resources – at the cost of personal freedom – as we anesthetize ourselves with virtual realities and sensory distortions… Under the heavy hand of global Big Brother, our lives, actions, and even our very thoughts will be monitored and controlled. Imagination and innovation will be seen as threats to order and safety. Risk will be avoided at all cost. Perhaps we will eventually become so physically and intellectually passive that we finally load ourselves into banks of virtual electronic realities and pass the eons in a bliss of pretend adventures and paradises uncounted, until some global catastrophe such as an asteroid strike sends us into oblivion.

Or there’s the third choice, opening the High Frontier of space and breaking out into the galaxy. Celebrating the spirit of exploration and individuality, we begin to truly explore and open the space around us to human settlement. Turning debates between free enterprise technologists and protectors of the Earth on their heads, we unleash the power of human imagination to create ways to harvest the resources of space, not only saving this precious planet, but also blazing a path to the stars. This is a tomorrow where life is exciting, new possibilities open up each day, and humanity spreads outwards, as the harbinger of life to worlds now dead. This future is characterized by new ideas and cultures spreading every where, the entire human race engaged in spreading life to the stars and a future that is ever expanding and hopeful.

Opening the space frontier will also change what it means to be an American. The effect of the space frontier on America will be profound. Our pioneering past will at last have a direct link to our future. Our heritage will be connected with our tomorrow in a visible and exciting way. The paths blazed by Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett and Lewis and Clark will continue onward and upward across the stars. The spirit of family will be resurrected as the frontier ethics of hard work and familial support are reinforced through the simple need to survive and prosper in a hostile environment. Our relationship to the rest of the world will change, as we throw open the doors to a better tomorrow for all, and as we always do, offer to hold those doors open for all and everyone to follow. Opening the frontier will change what it means to be a human being. We will become a multi-planet species, assuring our survival, and that of the life forms for which we are responsible. And a child living in such times will know why they are alive, and be able to see an unending and ever opening panorama of possibility stretching out before them

A Human Need

The simplicity of the needs which are fulfilled by opening this frontier is what makes it all so compelling and at once so elusive. We always want to make things seem more practical. In conversations and talk we speak of the need for “down to Earth” answers to such questions as those the frontier poses. But the real needs are often much more spiritual, much more about the core issues of life, and those of us who speak of the frontier often do ourselves a disservice by trying to dress down our Vision. We want to answer engineers and accountants with numbers, politicians with political reasons, environmentalists with new fixes for the seemingly intractable challenges we face in resource utilization and pollution.

The reasons we must open the frontier are as varied as the people who want to see it opened. And almost all of the reasons are good ones, although some, to me begin to rise above the rest. But in the end, most either enable or lead to a few basic and very core rationales.

We must open the frontier to expand this grand experiment called freedom, because without an arena to feed and nurture the ideals of liberty, individual choice and the right to do and be whatever you want they may well perish from the Earth. We must open the frontier because without an edge to our packed culture of individuals, nurturing and then bringing in new ideas and giving release to bad ones, the center comes apart. We must open the frontier to find and create new wealth for humanity, because everyone in the world deserves the chance to have the same fine house, fine cars, and good life you can potentially have, and this planet alone simply cannot provide support that, unless you give up yours (and someone, sometime will try and make you do so). We open the frontier to help save the planet we love from the ravages caused by our ever growing numbers and our hunger for new forms of energy, materials and products. Finally, and most importantly, we must open the frontier as humans to survive as a species and to protect our precious biosphere from destruction by the forces of the universe or ourselves by making it redundant.

As you can see, there are “Big” reasons, such as species survival and the need to provide new choices to future generations. For example, to those who must look into the eyes of a child who carries their immortality, we must open the frontier because our children deserve a future of more and better, not the drab and boring and potentially scary place we hold before them now. As Kennedy was pointing out, we must offer them more choices, not fewer.

Yet, many of the real reasons we reach outwards aren’t easily quantifiable, often boiling down to the examination of history, the faith we have in what is possible in any new arena of human endeavour, and in fact, down to a deep, almost mystical belief that this is the “right” thing to do. And then, just below the surface of all of these lies something that is simply genetic – the drive for any species to expand its domain.

I believe that the human species is pioneering creature, that for us to be at our best we must always be pushing out from the center into new realms, that we must always be expanding outwards or we turn on ourselves. I believe it is the destiny of the human race to open the Frontier of space, and that if we do not we shall be doomed to the long slow spiraling decay of stagnation. Our move into space must be irreversible before this occurs, or society will turn inwards and our destiny in the stars will be forgotten for decades, if not centuries.

These aren’t all the reasons, but they should give you the flavor of what this important movement is all about, for as you can see, they touch on the central issues of our time, of all times.

How are we doing in relation to these goals?

We aren’t.
As driving, important and exciting as the possibilities offered by the frontier are, we aren’t trying to open it. We are wandering around and around in circles at the edge of this new ocean, going nowhere and doing nothing of importance. It’s no mystery why our space efforts are in trouble. As currently structured the US national space program not only cannot open space, but has no intention of ever doing so!


Any belief amongst those in the space community that opening the space frontier to wide spread participation, development and settlement is national policy is self delusion. A delusion well fed by those promoting projects originated by our space agency and its totally dependent contractors, who’s rhetoric is often sprinkled with references to the space frontier and the inevitability of its settlement. Using loaded terms, such as “the next logical step,” the public has been repeatedly sold lavish and expensive projects. The goal we are supposedly “stepping” towards is illustrated by beautiful propaganda art and simulations portraying the great and glorious frontier on which we are supposedly putting our multi-billion dollar down payment. Yet the projects and programs promoted actually have no connection to the opening of a frontier in a historical sense and there is no “logical” progression from today’s program to an open frontier in space. Such “future fluff” is actually verbal and visual candy, cynically used to excite and titillate those whose support is needed for constant budget battles in Congress.

Even if one does not buy the idea that space is a frontier for human settlement, the current human space program is a failure. It will perhaps surprise you to hear me say this, but if NASA’s charter in space is purely to expand our scientific understanding of the universe, then we should cancel our human space flight program right now. If the question is phrased that way, I find myself agreeing with a large portion of the scientific community who say it is neither the most effective nor cost efficient way of doing this type of work. Cancel it now and spend the money on probes and robotic spacecraft.

But for me that is not the reason to have a human space program. It is all those I listed above. The expansion of the human species beyond planet Earth. The creation of a better future with more choices for our children. The opening of a new and endless frontier. Unfortunately when judged by these criteria as well, the current US space program is a failure.

If the job of NASA’s human space flight program is to support the exploration of space in terms of the pure quest for knowledge and to prepare the way for others to follow as we expand the human domain, then they have failed. In other words, if the agency’s job is to explore and survey the unknown “lands” of space for both scientific and economic benefit in the same way that James cook explored the then unknown world of the Pacific for his nation, or the way Lewis and Clark explored the west for ours, they have not succeeded. And if the agency is to be judged on how well it has trail blazed, opened new paths and created a route to the frontier for the rest of America to travel, it has been an utter, expensive and embarrassing disaster.

The Space Frontier Principles

To date our national human space flight program has been elitist, exclusive and a dead end. It has never included the people for whom it was allegedly created, and who foot the bills. Our space leaders to date have also ignored at their own peril several essential truths. And, although the propaganda and imagery they put forth as they seek more and more taxpayer funds may seem to indicate other wise, most people would be shocked to learn, it is NOT their intention to open space to human settlement. Our space programs are just that – programs – they are not part of any larger cohesive or visionary agenda. These programs are a hodge-podge of activities that just happen to use space to achieve their short-term goals. Composed of projects with no long term unifying agenda there is no over arching and transformational goal, and no plan to blaze a path the rest of us can follow into space. The low level goals they do have include technology development, military domination, enhancing national pride, indirectly inspiring education, supporting terrestrial industries, and at times advancing science. Nowhere is it written in their operational guiding documents or principles that space is a place to be pioneered or opened to permanent human habitation.

Foundationers see space as a place, as the next frontier for humans to explore, utilize and settle as their home. This to us is the real goal of any national or international human space flight agenda, and we are working to make it the goal of our activities in space, both public and private. Although it may seem academic, this difference is key, and completely changes the type of space activities we undertake, how we spend our money and what investments we make.

We also believe that the ideals of free enterprise based democracy should be extended into space. Democracies consist of free peoples bound together by the belief that the people have primacy over the state, and that individuals should have the power to create new wealth unimpeded by that state. The settlement of the American western frontier was a result of the application (often by default) of these core concepts.

Extended and applied to space, they add up to what I call the Space Frontier Principles. I believe that unless these ideas underlie our future space plans they are doomed to failure. After all, space is a frontier then we should treat it as one, including our government space policy leaders.

* Without low cost, reliable and regular access to space there can be no Frontier.

* Space is a Frontier, not a Program

* If space is a frontier then the government should treat it as one.

* In free societies opportunities are exploited by individuals or groups in the form of companies and private institutions.

* Frontiers are not opened by governments for the people – but by the people – supported by or in spite of their government. Put another way, our federal space program must be designed to help the American people open the frontier. It must not attempt to open the frontier for us.

* A Frontier based space agenda must focus on creating technologies and infrastructure that are long term in nature, re-usable, build a foundation for those who follow, are low cost to build and operate, and supportable over time by the wealth they create.

I believe that unless these ideas underlie our future space plans they are doomed to failure.

Part 1|2|3

SpaceRef staff editor.