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A New Year's Resolution for a Spacefaring Civilization
By Bob Werb, for The Houston Chronicle, December 30, 2006 I'm the Chairman of the Board of a pro-space not-for-profit and I don't give a damn about space.
I rather like the nice pictures Hubble sends back. I admit that Rutan's Spaceship One is totally cool. And, I guess I use weather and communications satellites as often as most folks. But frankly, none of this gets me terribly excited.
I'm just not one of those people who really, really, really loves space. Even if I had the money, I wouldn't take a trip to the International Space Station. I'm not saving up for a suborbital joyride. The idea of actually living in space, deprived of routine interactions with nature, sounds awful.
Still, I volunteer a large part of my time in an effort to create a spacefaring civilization. I do this because of two things I truly love: Human Civilization and the Earth.
I can spend hours entranced by Mayan monuments, Chinese porcelain or impressionist paintings. I'm fascinated by our religions, music, history, science, architecture, literature and film. I consider the sound of a Human voice, even when speaking a language I don't understand, one of the most beautiful things imaginable. We really do stand on the shoulders of giants, heirs to a great civilization.
I also love nature. A walk in the woods is revitalizing, an afternoon on a boat invigorating. The sight of a strip mine brings tears to my eyes, the sight of a great vista joy to my heart. I mourn the loss of each extinct species and celebrate the preservation of even a small corner of nature.
Sadly, like many people, I've become convinced that the civilization I love is on a collision course with the planet I love.
To me, debates about the environment sound like an argument between those who want to sacrifice freedom and prosperity in favor of the environment and those who want to sacrifice the environment in favor of freedom and prosperity. Both sides simply assume that it is a zero sum game with no conceivable win-win solutions. They act like we are locked in a room with limited resources and no way out.
Long ago, in another century, seemingly in another reality, when the Club of Rome's Limits to Growth was still a bestseller and disco was king, I fell under the influence of a great man named Gerard K. O'Neill and stopped thinking of our Earth as a closed system. I realized that we could use the nearly unlimited energy and material resources of our Solar System to both protect Earth's fragile biosphere and to create a freer and more prosperous life for each succeeding generation.
Over the years nothing has happened to change my mind; many things have happened to distract my attention, career, marriage, kids and such. Slowly, incrementally, my passion has abated. Slowly, incrementally, other things have filled the void.
Maybe it was just the optimism of youth that made me expect cities in space by 2007. Instead I find us making plans to repeat Apollo, only this time it will take much longer cost lots more and be dramatically less certain. Maybe it's just the cynicism of middle age that makes me feel we could do so much better.
My New Year's resolution is to rededicate myself to the cause I embraced as a young man.
Americans can open the space frontier. We can unleash the power of free enterprise and lead a united Humanity into the Solar System. I'm going to do my small part to help make it happen.
A slightly shorter version of this editorial was published in The Houston Chronicle, December 30, 2006, under the title, For the love of Earth, it's back to the final frontier One man's New Year's resolution to rededicate himself to the cause of space.
Bob Werb is Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board of the Space Frontier Foundation.