An Endless Frontier
Imagine a future without limits
a future where each tomorrow is greeted by hope, a future where the opportunity for a better life for each generation is no longer a question, and where a person's dreams are limited only by their own willingness to reach for them.
Imagine a future when Earth is freed from the pollution of fossil fuels and the fear of nuclear nightmares, where energy sources from space feed humanity's insatiable demand for clean unlimited power, and our resources are no longer torn from the heart of the Earth, but harvested from asteroids and comets.
Imagine a future when brave explorers spread out into deep space from a planet surrounded by bustling spaceports. A time when vacationers embark to Lunar resorts and space liners make the run to Mars filled with would be settlers who are putting it all on the line and taking the first steps to the greening of the Red Planet. A time when dozens of glorious crystal cities float between the worlds, housing tens of thousands of new solar citizens. This is the future in space Americans dream of, a powerful vision of a new civilization, spanning the solar system and beginning to reach out into the galaxy.
Once purely science fiction, thanks to the last forty years of work and exploration by NASA, we know these are not pie-in-the-sky fantasies. Through decades of research, much of it carried out by the people of our space agency, we know that these dreams are achievable. In fact, most of them could be created with technology already in hand or under development. I'll say it again. Thanks to the foundation created by our space agency in the last 40 years, these visions are possible. No magic elixirs are needed to make them happen. Forty years into our national space program we now know that we can do these things. What's more, in a world desperate for vision, hope and a better tomorrow for all its people, we cannot afford not to do them.
Yet, forty years into our space program you and I and our children have little more chance of being able to go into space and participate in creating this dream than we had at its beginning. After a glorious start, our people's opening of the frontier has now fallen victim to its own heroes, and a lack of a clear vision of the future on the part of our leaders. The space program that made these dreams possible can't deliver.
Going in Circles
This fall, America will be presented with two events that epitomize the state of our national space program. First, NASA will with great fanfare and self-congratulation launch an aging icon of its past glory to repeat his last performance orbiting the Earth. Then, with an embarrassed whisper, NASA will divulge yet another billion-dollar cost over run and another long delay in the construction of its alleged future, the International Space Station (ISS).
This counterpoint of events clearly illustrates the bankruptcy of our national space program, demonstrating its focus on reliving past glories as a substitute for real achievement. Once the greatest team of explorers in human history, today our space agency's actions belie its slogan of faster, better, cheaper, by spending a fortune to move as slowly as possible in an endless circular orbit.
To solve this problem, we must throw out our old model of space as a mere conduit for communications signals and occasional scientific playground for a few elite government employees and their chosen friends. In its stead, we should invoke our own history. We should look to the hard wrought partnership between the public and private sectors that made our nation great and allowed our ancestors to turn this "New World" into the incredible place it is, the home of history's freest and most dynamic civilization.
All of the Above!
There is a solution. One that makes the old debates about space moot. A solution that makes the false dichotomies of this vs. that destination or this vs. that project dissolve. We can send NASA to Mars and beyond and have space stations and cities on the moon and tourism and clean space energy all without raising our space budget by a single dollar. If we will simply apply the lessons of our society, wherein a clearly defined relationship between the government and free enterprise produces enormous wealth on a daily basis we can begin to open the space frontier now. Based on a common sense application of what works here on Earth to what we do in space, this is what I call the Space Frontier Agenda.
A New Division of Labor
The first task on the Space Frontier Agenda is to clear up a few basic misunderstandings regarding the appropriate jobs of the government and private sector. It is this mix of wrong jobs vs. wrong institutions vs. wrong expectations that has produced the current mess in space policy.
In America and free societies everywhere, the government's role is that of rule maker, supporter, and provider of infrastructure and realizing our collective vision and identity. For example, the government may open new roads to serve the economic needs of the people. It may explore the land and finance the surveying and acquisition of rights of way and it may regulate the speed and types of vehicles on the highways, but it doesn't build and operate the vehicles that use them and it certainly doesn't build the towns they serve.
Why should space be so different? Don't the same rules apply?
The Right People Wrong Job
NASA is in effect an institutionalized descendant of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, a federally chartered exploration and research project. Like Lewis and Clark, their primary activity should be to explore, survey and expand our knowledge of the frontier just beyond the borders of civilization. Unfortunately, in many cases, that is exactly what we have told them not to do.
The first decade and a half of its existence were characterized by stunning achievements in human exploration and planetary science. However, for the last 25 years NASA's human activities have been wrapped around two central projects operating the space shuttle fleet and building the International Space Station that are antithetical to what it was designed for, while all else has been starved into mediocrity.
Our leaders have ignored the evidence of history and saddled the members of the best exploration and science organization in history with exactly the chores they have neither the competence, passion, nor the cultural inclination to do - producing low cost and routine transportation and developing real estate. Ironically, due to its total failure to do these wrong jobs, the agency now doesn't have the ability or the credibility to do the right job: expanding our knowledge of the solar system and beyond and exploring Mars as a prelude to settlement.
The Division of Space
It is time to get things straight in space. When it comes down to the job description for our new space enterprise, let's keep it simple:
Near Frontier: Private Sector Leads
I believe that NASA's Lewis and Clark's have done their job here in the neighborhood of Earth. This area - the Near Frontier is comprised of the area from the Earth to the Moon, and the surprisingly large number of comets and asteroids that either inhabit or pass regularly through our neighborhood. From low Earth orbit, where Senator Glenn first flew almost 36 years ago and where Americans and Russians have lived for two decades, to geostationary orbit and its halo of communications satellites, it is the next step outward for our species, the next zone for expanded human activity. This area is unique in all the Solar system, since the costs of accessing it are far lower than other areas, much time has been spent exploring its potential and it is already home to early economic activity. NASA has done an excellent job exploring, surveying, characterizing and demonstrating the potential of this little piece of the universe, now it's time for the rest of the nation to do its job. The Near Frontier should be handed over to universities and private firms to explore and develop for human use as soon as possible.
Here, the government should create and apply laws and regulations that make space a safe place to live and work, just as it does here on Earth. At the same time, Congress and the White House should work together to streamline regulations, clearing the way for innovation and swift development.
Space should be declared an enterprise zone, and the widest possible range of tax incentives and regulatory relief should be applied to encourage the investment community to provide the capital needed by those trying to build new space businesses. The government should also learn to become a good customer, sticking with agreements, and avoiding sweetheart deals or picking market winners. NASA must also abandon acquisition practices that are process oriented rather than based on deliverables, a major cause of cost over runs. It simply doesn't matter where or how a particular project is built, or how needed information is acquired, as long as it is delivered on time and at the price agreed to.
Far Frontier: Public Sector Leads
The Far Frontier is currently defined as the rest of the Universe, including Mars and beyond. Of course it is a flexible border, moving ever outward as the private sector follows the paths blazed by our explorers, learns way to create new wealth from what they have discovered and turns these areas into the new edge of the human domain.
Our activities in this realm can be broken into two types; pure scientific inquiry such as that now carried on by the Hubble Space Telescope, and exploration for both science and as a precursor to human settlement or use. This is how we should approach Mars and the rest of the Solar system, and makes a joke out of the old argument regarding humans versus robots as explorers. (Once human settlement is the established goal, then bottom line considerations will usually dictate early robotic exploration, followed by people ASAP.)
On the far frontier pure science should be funded through grants to institutions such as universities, with projects such as Hubble handed to a university or consortium to operate. NASA should also work to create systems that place data as directly as possible into the hands of the people who need it, avoiding bureaucratic or funding based bottlenecks. One system in the works that would support this goal is the recent agency proposal to allow researchers to acquire information directly from probes by extending the internet into space.
NASA and other agencies should always seek to support the private sector in space, for example buying data for both scientific and settlement oriented exploration from private firms, or providing grants, and in some cases supporting mixed private and public sector missions.
The Government Role in Technology
The government has an important role in supporting the development of advanced technologies. NASA should support research that is beyond the financial scope of the private sector, including X-vehicles and technology demonstrations.
The difference between X-vehicles and operational systems is that X-vehicles are intended totally for use as technology test beds, are never intended to be operational and have no business plans attached to them. For example, the X-33, X-34 and X-38 are already providing useful information for those working on low cost space transportation in the private sector, and promise many more breakthroughs before they even fly. In the past the temptation (and to some extent the tradition) has been to let test series like these morph into development projects, as is the case with the X-33 and NASA's desire for this project to lead to a space shuttle follow on. Since the Space Frontier agenda calls for competition and open market purchase of these services to force costs down, this will be unacceptable. In all cases, once X-vehicle's test flights are completed, it is up to the private sector to apply the technologies they demonstrate to commercially viable products.
Technology demonstrations, such as the construction of a viable space solar power system, or a working terrestrial simulation and testbed for a Lunar/Mars base are also useful activities for the government to support. Working with industry partners NASA can focus brainpower and attention beyond the scope of any one firm to push back the technological frontier as it does the physical.
The government should offer prizes for specific and clearly defined breakthroughs. Prizes can be used as magnets to draw genius out of our society. Prizes have a life of their own that crosses traditional lines and jumps over the walls of academic specialty. However, to be effective, such prizes should be focused, concise, and limited in scope.
The International Space Station (ISS)
We should take the first steps to privatize the International Space Station now. Government has repeatedly shown it is incapable of taking on construction projects here on Earth. Why should space be any different? From federal housing to downtown office buildings, to super colliders, government management of such fiascoes always results in embarrassing cost over runs and delays. This is exactly what has happened with the construction of the International Space Station, and should be no surprise to anyone familiar with government.
When seen in combination with the inefficiencies and high costs already manifest in space shuttle operations it should be clear to all that managing such a facility is not the right job for the agency. We should take this as a clear warning of what is to come if we continue down this path. We must solve this problem now rather than later, as it will only get worse and cost taxpayers more if we wait. What's more, the solution offered here has the potential to turn this slow rolling disaster into an economic gold mine.
The private sector should take over ISS as soon as possible. The new landlords might take the form of a public and private institute or consortium. They would be free to negotiate deals and contracts for services, set prices based on real costs, collect rents and sign binding leases with paying tenants, including national governments. (Of course the founding station partners would be given long term renewable leases at no cost.) I believe the private sector is up to the task, and if given a clear and unambiguous go ahead, would not only perform the task well, it would turn the station into a catalyst for whole new industries.
Government Must Support the Recycling and Development of Space Real Estate
If we are to believe NASA's own hype that low Earth orbit is going to become the home to a wide variety of scientific and commercial activities, then we can expect the needs for viable space real estate to grow. In this light the current waste of such potential assets as the massive space shuttle external tanks that we routinely toss to burn up in space becomes obvious. Further, it should make us re-examine the extremely shortsighted decision to discard the Russian space station Mir.
According to almost every unbiased report, Mir is completely viable, dangerous to bring down and could for an amount of effort equal to or less than that required to de-orbit it be shut down and boosted into a high "sleeping" orbit. I can easily imagine some future private space flight company working with the Russians and a U.S./Japanese consortium to awaken the station, refurbish it and turn it into a private micro-gravity laboratory, hotel or resort.
Here on Earth, we have learned that it is never one single product that sustains the opening of frontiers or the creation of viable towns and cities, but the interaction of all types of human activities. The same is true in space. In previous testimony before this committee I laid out a means for ISS to support the development of the first human town in space "Alpha Town".
The "Alpha Town" idea is based on the historic role federal frontier outposts have served as the catalysts for civilian communities by acting as anchor tenants and early market makers. For thousands of years, nations have placed outposts and forts just beyond their borders in strategic locations. These facilities also became anchors for new transportation routes. Purchasing their goods and services from the local hunters and trappers, the outpost soon attracts others wishing to sell their goods to the government. These people soon begin to trade with each other, and to use the established transportation routes to export their goods back to the heartland. As time passes, the outpost or fort becomes an economic center, then a town, and often, comes to form the heart of a modern city. (Where the old fort sits downtown as a historic monument, its job done.)
As an example, as ISS utilization increases, the former federal space station and other commercial space facilities such as a privatized Mir, and recycled external tanks will not only feed their own markets, but those providing services to them will become markets for each other. More activity will drive the need for more transportation, more services and more volume within which to grow causing more competition among providers of these goods and services and lowering costs still further which drives more growth, and so on...
If the Space Frontier Agenda is adopted, transportation costs should drop sufficiently that low Earth orbit (LEO) will become a community of diverse economic activities, from Earth studies to energy production, satellite repair to processing and science to entertainment, with the ISS as its hub. Our first town in space, "Alpha Town" will be born.
Cheap Access to Space
The development of cheap, reliable and regular transportation to and from space is THE key requirement for opening the space frontier. Once again, there are strong mutual interests between the private and public sectors to be satisfied, once again, there is a chance for a partnership, and once again there is the chance to create new industries and jobs. And unfortunately, once again we are faced with a government monopoly this time operating the only human capable space transportation system in the United States.
Privatize the Shuttle Fleet
The era of national spaceships must end. The U.S. government must never again own and operate a national fleet of vehicles for civilian purposes. Deprived of market forces or meaningful competition, the shuttles were the created in the old government contracting system. Also, as a result of endless compromises between NASA's perceived needs and that of the military, the space shuttle fleet lost its original pedigree as a low cost space transportation system before it ever left the drawing board. However, it is the only U.S. system for carrying people to and from space currently flying. As both a symbol and a test case for the transition to commercially driven and operated human space transportation, the shuttle fleet can pave the way.
It is time to turn over the shuttle fleet to private operators and allow them to carry anything or anyone they like. Although NASA has, with its usual great fanfare created a thin veneer of privatization in shuttle processing, most of the activities it ostensibly gave away have already been taken back. This is unacceptable. We need real top to bottom privatization of the fleet and we need it now. The new operators of ISS can deal directly with the company running the shuttle fleet to cut whatever deals make the most economic sense, and NASA will finally be free to buy its rides on the shuttle or any other vehicle, rather than fulfilling artificial flight rates. True, the shuttle's operators will eventually have to compete against the new generation of space transpiration companies, including the potential descendants of the X-33 and X-34, but they will have several years to prepare and carve out their own market niche.
The transition to private operations will allow the shuttle fleet to perform one last great service for America. The space shuttles broke technological ground by allowing us to take the first steps towards reusable spaceships. Now they can blaze the regulatory, financial and economic trail to space by carrying the first U.S. paying passengers into space, setting standards for citizen training and access, and pioneering the transition from federal space transport to civilian space lines.
Support New Space Transportation Companies
The federal government must implement regulatory and investment incentives for the new space transportation industry and allow it to compete fairly for all government payloads, including those of the Department of Defense. One of the most exciting developments of the last few years is that several new space transportation companies crossed the threshold from being business plans to businesses, with capital, staffs and engineering either soon to begin or already under way. The Foundation is working to cut a path for these new companies, as we believe they hold our greatest hope in the quest for cheap access to space.
Unencumbered by traditions, bureaucracies and structures designed to siphon tax dollars rather than realize profits, these firms are where innovations and new ideas can be born and tested on the anvil of the market system. But they face enormous challenges on the road to success. Ironically, many of which were created by our own government.
We must create a favorable regulatory environment if new space transportation firms are to survive. Let me give you a recent example of what these companies are up against. Although we all know that reusable rockets are one of the near term keys to the opening of space, there were laws on the books which allowed rocket builders to launch their rockets, but banned them from bringing them back down. Imagine, its like someone from the FAA running alongside Orville Wright at Kitty Hawk and telling him he could not land. In this case congressional wisdom saved the day and the law was changed, proof that leadership by Washington can have a positive effect. It is time to review, revamp or remove our laws and policies regarding space transportation. Government must work with this new industry as a partner, to ensure safety and also to encourage innovation.
We must offer tax and investment incentives to those investing in space transportation. As I discussed earlier, one tool of government is the ability to support new industries through the offering of tax and investment incentives. Just as it supports the development of new "land" and companies that provide services to space facilities, the federal government should create a package of tax and investment incentives to encourage investment in space transportation.
We must avoid the market warping effects of loan guarantees. Federally subsidized loan guarantees are being promoted by one or two firms who's planned vehicles will require the most extreme outlays of cash, and are the most financially dubious of all the ideas being proposed, when costs vs. risk vs. returns are considered. All of the rest of the new space transportation firms agree that this concept is very bad for this fledgling new industry.
Loan guarantees may sound good on their face, but they are usually the last resort of those whose business plans have been rejected by Wall Street. It can also be expected that any criteria for their disbursement will be established by a few inside players, and will warp the market in favor of those firms with the most assets and best connected lobbyists, not the best ideas. If government payloads are offered in a fair and consistent manner to the market, and tax laws made favorable to investors, the best companies will have no trouble raising capital.
Privatize the Centers
The government should privatize the NASA centers so they can act as true research centers and incubators for new space industries. The development of commercial and other private sector activities in space will drive the growth of supporting industries here on Earth, industries that will cluster near space facilities. There will be a great need for test, training, processing and other specialized capabilities. This is where another legacy of our first forty years in space can provide a major kick-start to the opening of the frontier.
Designed to spread out political support for the early space program, and sometimes the result of what must be called pork barrel politics, the vast space center-based infrastructure developed by NASA is filled with redundancies and inefficiencies. It is dominated by turf grabbing and politics and has bred a culture of division that inhibits progress. We are too often faced with the specter of this or that politically powerful space center actually competing with or killing private sector ideas as a means to retain their own power and funding. The centers should be spun off to partner with local industries and universities wherever possible, as the cores of future space industrial and research parks, with the successful CalTech/JPL model as a minimum standard.
Spend the Money on Exploration
We must take the money saved from privatizing operations in the Near Frontier and apply it to a greatly expanded program to explore the Far Frontier including Mars, the rest of the Solar System and beyond. This is one of the most controversial elements of the Space Frontier Agenda, but it is also one of the most important. It is absolutely key to the Space Frontier Agenda that we not simply end our federal program of supporting exploration and discovery. In fact, the goal is to greatly expand this most inspirational and educational of human activities without spending more money.
By moving inappropriate activities such as operating the ISS and space shuttle to the private sector and lowering overhead burdens imposed by the current centers, billions of dollars will be freed up for areas of research and exploration starving for support. The new NASA this re-organization creates will be leaner, more focused and ready to take on the challenges it was designed for.
The role of the new NASA must be to send its robotic and human explorers over the next hill, to support those who would bring us visions of new worlds and investigate new ideas beyond the pale of industry and corporate investments. The national program, once it is cleanly separated in role and expectations from the private sector, will act as a flagship, telling the world, investors and those who would become pioneers that we are moving ahead into this new millennium in a strong and confident manner. New discoveries in our solar system will pull humanity outward, and new discoveries beyond our home system, such as other living worlds orbiting other suns will certainly act as an impetus for our expansion outward into his new domain.
In the past, any savings the space agency was able to create through increases in efficiencies or through deals with private firms have vanished into the overall federal budget. This obviously does not encourage the type of innovation we need to realize the Space Frontier Agenda. Laws must be changed and enacted that allow the new NASA to transfer all money saved by handing off operational activities into exploration, technology development and science.
The Settlement of Mars
We must greatly expand and accelerate the exploration of Mars, particularly as it enables the settlement of Mars and the rest of the solar system. Money's saved from space station shuttle and center operations should be used to fund the development and demonstration of pioneering technologies that will enable the exploration and settlement of Mars. And yes, humans should go to Mars, as humans should go everywhere that it makes technical, economic, scientific, environmental sense to go. That's what an open frontier means.
In fact, if the rest of the Space Frontier Agenda is followed, in the very near future it will be time for a new president to announce that we are going to Mars. Although this idea has been tried before, it was within the old paradigm, and was based on a massive infrastructure build up that would have had our Lewis and Clarks building a massive support infrastructure on their way to the frontier. These needs will now be filled by the private sector. When this approach is combined with new low cost ideas for missions that are based on developing the means to live off the land, the opening of Mars becomes a viable idea.
The drive to open Mars to human settlement will fire the imaginations of our youth in a way that the more routine operational aspects of settling the Near Frontier will not. It is a symbol that will have a positive effect on all space activities, if it is part of the agenda I have outlined here. It will be seen as a national endorsement of space as a frontier, and it will be the most visible aspect of the government's role in the new space partnership I suggest.
In frank political terms, human exploration of Mars also provides the carrot needed to pull NASA's management, human space flight centers, the astronaut corps and its cheerleaders away from the Near Frontier.
I do not support a dramatic increase of NASA's budget that could be used to fund a massive "flags and footprints" Apollo-style program, as I believe it is politically unworkable, and does not lead to widespread, cheap, and permanent human settlement soon enough. Also, keep in mind that someday Mars too will be a part of the Near Frontier and NASA will have to move on yet again to the edge.
Return to the Moon
We must return to the Moon, this time to stay. The Moon was the first and primary focus of NASA and our space program. Although for the wrong reasons, it has now been rightly dropped from its central position on the agency's agenda. NASA and the federal government have done their job on the Moon well, and it is time for them to move on. The next people stepping onto its surface will not be government employees. The Moon lies on the outer edge of the Near Frontier, both physically and in the sense that it represents a transition zone from the market driven economy of LEO to the more publicly supported explorations of the Far Frontier.
Luckily, as NASA considers itself to have "done" the Moon. Thus we are spared the usual battles over turf and fear of competition we see in the station, shuttle and other areas. We can use the Moon as a test case for new partnering arrangements between NASA and industry, as well as the first place beyond Earth that we can apply the concepts of data purchase to support the first commercial space exploration firms.
There are already many ideas for commercial lunar activities, ranging from entertainment to astronomy; mining to commercially operated Mars Base training simulators. With the recent discoveries of large ice deposits concepts for the first Lunar colony are already being put together. Our government should do all it can to encourage and support private sector activities on the lunar surface. From purchasing data and acting as a partner with private firms and institutions on early transition projects to fighting for the maximum freedom of property ownership and resource development rights, the government still has an important role to play on the Moon.
While NASA is being re-organized and major shifts in priorities and plans are made, a very small amount of support for small proposed NASA/commercial Lunar missions could go a long way to laying the groundwork for the rapid development of the first human outpost on another world.
Near Earth Objects
We must support the purchase of data and the private development of NEOs. The threat from asteroids and comets has been the focus of the media this year, highlighting the need for a greatly expanded search for these objects, which could wipe out life as we know it. This search, with its broad societal implications, is the proper domain for the government to provide support. Although private groups such as FINDS and the Space Frontier Foundation's Watch project are trying to raise private funds for this important work, more help is needed, so we may find and understand what is out there.
I believe that one of the most important benefits of this search will be to expand our understanding of their promise to our civilization. Many of these objects are literally floating gold mines, continuing amounts of gold platinum and other precious metals that would stagger the imagination. They offer us the chance to greatly increase our wealth while moving environmentally destructive mining operations from the living Earth to these dead rocks.
As with the moon, the new NASA should support transitional missions, with large commercial participation in the form of partnerships or outright purchases of data. And just as in the case of the Moon, there are firms already well on their way to begin the exploration and exploitation of these exciting resources.
A Frontier Partnership
With the roles well defined and the goal for all clear we can at last embark on the opening of the frontier. The robots, lenses and heroes of the new NASA will peer and travel over the far horizon and tell us what they find there, and we the people will follow, creating new wealth and new worlds from what we discover.
Resurrecting Family and Community
The effect of the space frontier on American families and sense of community will be profound. Prosperity will increase, optimism will rise and new leaders appear in response the endless challenge provided by its opening. Our pioneering past will at last have a direct link to our future. The path blazed by Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett will continue onward and upward across the stars. The spirit of family and community will be resurrected as the frontier ethics of hard work and familial support are re-enforced through the basic need to survive and prosper while facing the harshest frontier ever conquered by humanity.
A New Millennium A New Frontier
As we stand at the beginning of the millennium, it seems clear that we are a culture in transition. This century began with most of the world just beginning to break out of social, technological and economic systems that were unchanged for thousands of years. In a mere century we have totally reinvented our world. From horse powered transportation and communications based on word of mouth we have made it to the internet, space flight and a global community that has at one in the same time the ability to destroy itself or leap off the planet.
The opening of the frontier will mean a reversal of our seeming descent into the gray oblivion of limits. It will mean a reversal of all we know and understand about our relationship with each other, our world and our fellow life. Once the potential destroyers of our womb world we now stand at the heart of historical irony. We, the bringers of death to so many forms of life on this precious planet, may now have the capability to take life to worlds now dead.
...to take life to worlds now dead...
There is in this act divinity. There is in us purpose.
From killers to creators...
From destroyers to cultivators.
This is the choice we face.
If we make the right one then someday trees will grow on the Moon, flowers will bloom on Mars, and fish will swim the seas of Europa.
And out there somewhere, on a sea of grass in a bubble of life, a child born in the asteroid belt will chase a butterfly that calls the space between worlds its home... Looking at the pale blue dot in the night sky, that child will know the Earth is safe. Looking outwards at the rest of the universe, that child will know why we exist, the great promise our future holds, and smile.