As you may know, $87 billion is how much the Bush Administration has allocated for the continuing ocupation of Iraq. Recently, a study was done about how much energy $87 billion could generate if it was for windmills. The answer is about 25% of all US power consumption. And then last week Bush announced a return to the moon. But I’m afraid this new space effort will probably be the same costly, bureaucratic and unimaginative boondoggle we’ve come to expect from NASA. I seriously doubt, if this new expensive space program will actually do much to create a sustainable space enterprise. But what if we spent the $87 billion on a rational and sound space program whose purpose was to create an economically sustainable and wealth generating space program? Could it be done? I think the answer is yes, and here is my step by step plan on how to do it without requiring any major advance in technology, nanotechnology or otherwise.
1. Scrap NASA and create an entirely new agency whose only purpose is to manage the flow of $87 billion towards generating a private and commercial space enterprise.
2. The first objective of this agency would be to create the cheapest and safest space transportation system possible with the stated goal of reducing the dollar per pound as much as possible. All finalists would have to have a system that approaches or surpasses the safety of current air travel. The most likely candidate would be the space elevator. The basic technology is already available, and if the money was available a space elevator could be built with minimal R&D. Total cost for a working space elevator – about $20 billion. This would immediately bring the price per pound to less than $100, and after awhile below $10 per pound. So how does a trip to space for $2000 sound? Obviously with these price points it changes EVERYTHING, most specifically each dollar goes a lot further. So what was once a potential $10 billion project, now becomes only a billion dollar project using the space elevator. Imagine current space budgets giving us 10 times as much progress per dollar as it does now.
3. Once the space elevator was working reliably, I would spend the next $20 billion on kickstarting private enterprise to take up shop in GEO for a variety of industries – tourism, manufacturing, metallurgy, materials and energy. GEO is the perfect place to release super-advance communications satellites and better still Solar Power Satellites beaming gigawatts of pollution-free energy back to earth. With the necessary assembly plants up there, and $10 per pound transportation costs, a whole new era of economic growth would be started with space offering a nearly unlimited amount of energy and resources compared to Earth’s current limts. Already over 10,000 industrial, material and metullurgical processes have been indentified that could be done more efficienty, effecitively and cheaply in space than on earth. The first technology to benefit from zero-gravity manufacturing could be microprocessor development and carbon nanotube technology. Companies with sound business and technology plans developing such technologies could very quickly turn their space enterprises into large profit ventures. This in turn would generate more investment dollars into space development – meaning more space-based factories, more R&D zero-g laboratories, more mining of space-based resources and furher reducing dependence on Earth for its sustainability. Remember that each dollar goes a lot further because launch cost have been subtantially reduced.
3. I would take the next $20 billion and invest the money along with the existing space enterprise in establishing a permanent asteroid capturing infrastructure. The amount of materials from just a single 1km asteroid would supply the earth and its space colonies with enough material in excess of 50 years of current rate of global consumption. Bringing a near earth approaching asteroid into a stable orbit around the earth or into the L4 or L5 points would quickly pay for itself and turn a very tidy profit for everyone involved. These heft profits would further even more investment dollars into solar system space vehicals , space-based mining, and genuinely workable and stable biospherics (CELSS – Closed Ecological Life Support Systems). Eventually, we’d see a rather sizable population taking up residence in the Asteroid belt. Mostl likely real hardy pioneer types, a new wild west or great frontier – and for many… freedom.
4. I would take the last $27 billion to use this existing and stable space infrastructure to launch several new ambitious exploratory scientific and manned missions into the solar system and beyond. Promising contenders would be space and moon-based large-scale telescopes. A moon based telescope could be built on the far side that would have enough power to descern actual photographic images of earth sized planets around other star systems. If you are impressed with the Hubble, imagine images thousands of times more crisp and detailed! And for those planets that are the most promising and close by, develop new light unmanned probes capable of at at least a sizable fraction of c (speed of light) to those stars for closer investigation.
So imagine the $87 billion that we are about to spend on the Iraq occupation transforming the entire economy of the world into a space faring civilization. WOW. Now only if Bush’s new space program had even remotely similar goals and we’d be getting somewhere. Since the details have not been ironed out, I can only hope.