From “spacimism” to private astronautics

Author: Ury Smirnov. Category: Smart world. Date:30.10.2012, 16:32.

It is unlikely that you remember the name of the first man who stood up for the first lever steam locomotive in the world and said, “Let’s go” – and waved his hand. Still, NASA chief historian Steven Dick definitely had a reason when a couple of years ago compared the two events, separated in time by one and a half of century: the beginning of the construction of the railway network – and the beginning of the space age. The first in that time led to a bloodless social revolution. Second – in the foreseeable future will produce even more outstanding changes. And where there is a change for business there will always be new profitable niches.

The historical parallel by Steven Dick, is absolutely devoid of pathos. First of all, the chief historian of NASA had in mind the dramatic fact that even after twenty years after the laying of railways in America, many people doubted that these investments had some sort of cost-effectiveness and someday would pay off. That’s why much more money was invested in the lining of ordinary roads and water channels in that time. Only fifty years after the construction of railways a new form of transport not only proved its competitiveness, but also began to produce unintended social and economic effects, which does not count its inventors: the integration of local markets into a single national market of the United States, the creation of a mobile labor market, rapid industrialization, the rapid growth of the economy.

Something similar happens with the space. After a bright and promising start the depression came in the industry: investment, public attention, and, most important, significant, global projects became less. We can say there was a long period of “spacimism”*. Which now, in many ways, ends.
* Spacimism is author’s neologism from the English words space and pessimism.

From cosmic optimism – to the “spacimism”

Remember: all started with the fact that the two hostile superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States, in order not to throw each other by hydrogen bombs wisely resorted to a technique known since the Stone Age – began to measure “phallic symbols” of technological power and efficiency.

Both sides did not spare money and resources. It is known, for example, that between 1962 and 1972 (year when last mission Apollo landed on the moon) United States has spent on its space program $ 176 billion, adjusted for inflation in 2009. During this period, the government directed for research and development of the space program 59% of total R & D budget, non-defense spending. In 1966, total funding of NASA reached the highest level in the history of this organization – 0.5% of U.S. GNP. In comparison, almost three decades later, in 2004, the U.S. spent on space 0.14% of GNP, Russia – 0.06%, Japan – 0.05%, the European Union and India – to 0.03%, China – 0,02%.

After a series of achievements in space both superpowers (and in spite of the accidents and catastrophes that also took place on both sides), a lot of people in the world believed that the cosmic expansion will continue at the same pace and in the decades the boldest stories of science fiction would come true. Sergey Korolev seriously planned to carry out landing a man at Mars in 1974 (unfortunately, this outstanding organizer and scientist died in 1966 at the age of 59 years).
However, following discussions that ended the American lunar program (considering that Soviet cosmonaut was not even sent on the moon) had unfavorable conclusions. The analytical report of scientists and specialists from both countries recognized that lunar mission was the limit of technological possibilities at the time. In particular, it was noted that in order to send a man to the other planets a completely new mathematical solutions, new launch vehicles, working and living modules were necessary. And even if the maximum national and international resources to send humans to Mars mobilize, the bottom line to a small degree will not be worth the cost.

But the point is probably not only in economy and technology. Here’s an interesting fact from the field of the “collective unconscious” of humanity. Even in the 1960s in the West science fiction began to decline in popularity and circulation. And at the end of 1960s – early 1970s, before the collapse of the space race superpowers, authors of the fantasy genre have begun to take the first prizes in competitions fiction “Nebula”, “Hugo” and other, surpassing the science fiction idols. One can only assume that the reason was in the subconscious discomfort of million readers: ahead they saw yawning chasm space with its limitless possibilities and unknown risks, and in the “rear” there was unreliable divided world, with its hot and cold wars, racial and social problems, the hypocrisy of politicians and fathers of families, the generation gap, the student revolts, etc. Is not it better, until the house is in disorder, to do its construction and put on long journeys? No wiser is it to understand the mysteries of the human microcosm before storming Great Space?

One can only wonder how many citizens at the time asked such questions. But some economists are still openly expressing the view that the space age has come, to say the least, prematurely. That it was necessary to spend resources on more immediate earthly task at that moment. For example, if the space program funds had been invested in the development of energy and environmental protection, the world oil crisis of the 1970s, may not had happened?

Defenders of space flights argue from their point of view. First, they say, space travel for the first time united all mankind, changed the way people thought about the universe and their place in it and it is equivalent to the change of the trajectory of civilization. Second, the space has become the driver of the economy, created new industries and technologies that have changed the world for the better.

There is also a measurement of the economic effect. For example, experts from the Strasbourg University have calculated more than 170 cases of so-called. Spin-off (re-use of space achievements in other sectors) that took place in the years 1964–1975s, and found that an average return of 2.7 times higher than the costs of developing (NASA usually transferred technology for free or for a symbolic one cent). Another study found that only four NASA programs: on development of integrated circuits, mathematical software, gas turbines and space insulation (which was used later in cryogenics), allowed to return until 1982 in the U.S. economy $7 billions

Space Foundation organization annually tracks thousands of new products and services in the field of manufacturing, logistics, transportation, energy, biotechnology, trade, tourism, management and finance, security, technology, education, entertainment and so on, which appeared due to space technologies. Herewith, most people do not even realize that many of the things around them are of “cosmic” origin. They are, for example, CD-ROMs, digital clocks and thermometers, electronic ignition and halogen lights for cars, braces for teeth, laser barcode scanners and aluminized bags for snacks. They are respiratory systems for climbers, divers and firefighters, water purification systems, helmets for baseball and pacemakers that can be recharged through the skin. They are pens, which can write over the head and under the water, sunglasses scratch-resistant and blocking 99% of ultraviolet radiation. They are dome sports arenas, the color-coding and clean sound systems for black-and-white film, corrosion resistant paint for bridges, ships, and the Statue of Liberty…

The list of “by-product” of astronautics is really huge. But he can not deny the obvious: in the early 1970s, the space industry by switching to a routine “near-earth space,” has lost its drive and no longer claim to be the main economic and civilization driver of the planet. Only occasionally bright projects like the Soviet-American mission “Union” – “Apollo” or in duration expedition to the station “Salyut-7” (duration 237 days) reminded of past ambitions.

The following fact says about how far behind the space industry is from its own initial promises and generated public expectations. In 1987, a group of well-known science fiction authors (Isaac Asimov, Roger Zhelyazny, Robert Silverberg, etc.) sent to descendants in the “time capsule” their forecasts for 2012. Most of them very exactly described the current social, economic and environmental issues, as well as developments in the separate “earthly” sciences and technologies. But only four of the 14 masters of Science fiction dare even speak one word of space.

However, it is interesting that all four forecasts, which were addressed to you and me, by these well informed people, were overestimate. It means that since those times the rate of cosmic expansion became even further behind public expectations… So, here’s what Roger Zhelyazny said about our 2012: “Industry is out of the planet, many people live in space, expanding the exploration of the solar system”. Gene Wolfe: “A number of people live in space and on the Moon”. Frederic Poll: “Space exploration is gaining momentum, as with human colonization, and by means of tip-robots”. Gregory Benford: “The bases on the moon, expeditions to Mars … all come true”.

Informational “space” as the new driver of the economy

The forecast authors from “time capsules” failed to predict explosive growth of computer, mobile and Internet market and their outstanding role in our day – though these events were at hand. But some predictions are not without insight. Gerald Feinberg: “Nanostructures can provide a huge density of information on a microscopic size. This will allow processing information much faster than in computers in 1987”. Gene Wolfe: “The schools will train to command a computer and follow the instructions. Computers will create characters and scenery of TV movies, indistinguishable from the real thing”. Jack Williamson: “I hope you will use computers and new electronic mass media to inform and release, not domination and oppression”.

We, the residents of the 2012, after the fact well understand why the information and communication technologies conquered the world so quickly. It is enough to remember our delight after the first run PC and the time when we select the first cell phone. And then remember how one day suddenly we came to realize our Internet addiction and habit to check whether we have forgotten our phone at home. And also the understanding of how much our career and earnings depend on the ability to stay in touch and quickly analyze data…

PC, mobile phone and other gadgets became goods, perfect ratio of demand and availability.

Recall that in the U.S. in 1983 was launched consumer lending (which eventually was cloned around the world, including the UIS). Of course, to realize it had to “string up” the Fed’s printing press. But, at least, freshly printed dollars were not leaving the program “Star Wars” (which, by and large, was a bluff) and not for gathering dust in the archives interplanetary passenger transport projects but for the “warming up” the most viable sectors of the economy and the radical expansion of the middle class.
Of course, not everyone can afford a spacious house with a pool or an expensive car – but almost everyone got the opportunity to buy (if not paid, the credit) PC, laptops, and handheld gadgets that change one’s life almost instantly and is no less than the same car. Therefore, investment in these sectors provided intelligent engineering and marketing solutions, quickly brought out (and many start computer business in garage and with donations of family and friends).

The results became far beyond the functional triangle “automatic working place – multimedia home center – Personal Communicator”. They changed many industries and areas of life. Moreover, the most significant results are still ahead.

Barely mastered the basic foundation of the “electronic government” (“one-stop”, etc.), many countries have started to introduce the concept of “electronic democracy” (the network, “cloud”, direct democracy). For example, a new constitution was written and Iceland and adopted in the Internet, and the parliaments of several countries of the world have begun to take a legislative initiative in favor of whom a certain number of Internet users voted. And this is just the beginning.

Business, having “primary school” of e-commerce and business process automation, creates an infrastructure that will reduce the excessive role of the financial sector and to build a flexible, mobile, innovative network economy. Crowd funding services that allow to collect money from users for the implementation of an interesting project, coupon services that from the other end achieve the same goal – to provide a reference for a real demand, services to find the team of developers and partners among manufacturers and sellers – all these elements will come together soon on one platform. This platform will enable rapid prototyping of new products, to provide them to the public and organize production on a real, paid-demand, limiting the dependence of innovative projects on the goodwill of banks and investors.

Ordinary people learning to communicate in the “Twitter” and “Face book”, create elements of the network society: they unite for fire fighting, search for missing children, rubbish removal in the forest belt, etc. And yet – for the sharing of goods, trade in services, the creation of local currencies when national falls into a crisis. With no formal leaders, they formulate a common agenda, act simultaneously to protect it and overcome deep differences with others to strengthen this synchronicity.

The world has not become safer and more comfortable than in 1960s. XXI century has brought many formidable challenges. But he also brought effective tools for reflection, discussion, solutions. Time to dream again about the space?

From “spacimism” to private astronautics

In recent years, some events began to happen that could return to cosmonautic the role of civilization and economic driver.

It’s not at all that big powers again started to put large projects in their plans.

Indeed, the “zero” years began a new race ambitions. China has already scheduled a cosmonaut landing on the moon (according to experts, it will take place no earlier than 2020). U.S. President George W. Bush in 2004 announced an ambitious program “Constellation”. However, in 2010, Obama has minimized the program and refused to build U.S. lunar base. And the amount of Martian programs Americans cutting back, focusing on the development of new technologies*. Instead, they discuss the possibility to study the Earth satellites with avatars (robots controlled by special suits worn on the earth at a time by geologists, physicists, etc.), as well as a creation of manned station outside the orbit of the moon and a manned mission to the nearest asteroids in the mid-2020s. The Russians, according to the “Russian Reporter”, in the years 2020-2024 will create an uninhabited moon station from the automatic modules. And Russia – like India – planned in 2030 sending an astronaut on the moon. As to Mars the European Union is going to send the man on the red planet to 2033, the U.S. – to 2037-th, Russia – in the first half of the XXI century, India – to 2050, China – not yet announced his ambitions.

*One example of a new technology – the concept of the survival suit, fixed outside the moon rover, astronaut can “enter” into the suit from inside of rover, undock and go hiking. There will be no need to connect to the gateway, and all the preparations to leave will take less than 10 minutes.
But we know from history, how the attempts to measure powers usually end. Or the mobilization of resources causes overvoltage in economy, or not on time the next crisis occurs, or less ambitious and more rational policies come to power.

In fact, two things provide the hope to rebirth of space expansion.

First, the space has become international: 40 countries now have regular space programs. This adds pragmatism to industry and facilitates the organization of mutually beneficial international projects. Not for nothing, according to the head of the space agency of Ukraine Oleg Fedorov, a list of “space” countries is almost identical to the list of countries that demonstrate growth.

Second, a private business began to bring in the main contribution to the development of space: according to the Space Foundation, nearly $290 billion of global industry turnover in 2011, the proceeds from the private and non-government sector was the lion’s share.

It should be noted that the first step in this direction was taken in 1965, when the U.S. and the European Community launched the first commercial communications satellite. In the 1970s, began to develop the market of space services (communications, digitizing, the commercial launch of satellites and so on). But in the “zero”, with the launch of private space vehicles – passenger Spaceship One (2004) and cargo Dragon (2012), a new stage began.

Recall: private companies were able in XIX century for a short time to link the United States to a country’s with the railway network. Maybe this story would repeat in space? Perhaps the creation of private space fleet and organization of payback business projects in the near-Earth space, which will allow companies to save money over time for self, without the participation of the state, missions in deep space is the path of humanity in space, most efficient and cost-effective, without further ambitions and unpredictable downturns?

We shall list some of the projects that are up to now by a private business.

U.S. company SpaceX, that created the first private cargo automatic Dragon (he docked to the ISS in May this year), will soon also intend to become the first private company that sent an astronaut into orbit.

At the end of 2013, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic plans to begin regular tourist flights: 8 passengers of private suborbital Space Ship Two rocket plane will be able to enjoy a few minutes of weightlessness and admire the Earth from a height of 140 km. Five hundred tickets have already been sold for $200,000 each. Ships will start from the first private spaceport “America” ​​in New Mexico. Branson plans to create a hotel at the moon.

Another entrepreneur, driven by a personal dream of space – a multimillionaire from Las Vegas, Robert Bigelow, has already invested $180 million of private funds to create a comfortable and safe hotel in orbit, and at the time of its launch in 2015, plans to invest another $500 million. But the ticket price will be $1 million per day.

Russian company “Orbital Technologies’ and RSC” Energy “are going in 2015–16 to launch the space station for space tourism and other commercial missions. Another Russian company “Atlas Aerospace” and the Consortium “Space Regatta” design a network of low-orbiting satellites for commercial, scientific, and industrial programs.

The leaders of Google, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, as well as the famous director James Cameron created in April of this year the company Planetary Resources, which plans for 10 years to start extraction water on asteroids (which will be useful for further manned missions), as well as rare metals of the platinum group including gold (one platinum-rich asteroid 500m in diameter is equivalent to the amount of platinum group metals mined in human history.) The fund I2BF Global Ventures with Russian participation is among investors of the project.

In this context, it is appropriate to recall the terraforming of Mars projects that several universities in the U.S develop (under investigation are possible methods of warming up the red planet, the use of the earth mountain pines to change the atmosphere, etc.) It is interesting also the draft of Chinese Tsinghua University to capture and retain a near-earth orbit asteroids flying around the planet. It is estimated that the development of metal-rich asteroid diameter of two kilometers will bring $25 trillion!

Can your business be next to the cash flow from space? It depends on you. Even if your company is not engaged in high-tech and you have nothing to offer the organizers of international scientific and commercial projects there is always a chance to find your niche in the business.

For example, using the established business connections, you can search in the UIS potential space tourists and offer them a specially designed program of recovery and preparation for flight.

When the space theme will again become fashionable (and this will happen as soon as humans will have new heroes, which goes beyond the near-Earth space), you can make space adaptation motifs in fashion design, accessories, cars, homes, etc. And also try your hand at fashion contests for residents and workers of space stations, depots, hotels.

And, for example, you can rent a robot avatar. Your customers without leaving the Earth could walk in suits on the moon or Mars, to direct the vehicles, to play with other clients in the space “paintball”, etc.

The more you can earn – the sooner the money intended for space exploration, will return to the earth’s economy – the faster the speed motors will be developed, based on new principles that will reduce the distances in the solar system and will allow people to go beyond it. As the NASA historian Steven Dick noted, human expansion, launched with the railway network on the surface of the Earth and the web of airlines in the thin shell of atmosphere, be sure to continue with interplanetary and interstellar highways.

Thank you for your comments and "likes"!

PS If you like this post - tell Google about it!