When I was growing up my friends and I took it as a matter of fact – not faith – that by the time we reached adulthood things would be booming. These were the days of the Gemini space flights, and the beginning of the Apollo series. There were setbacks, yes, but we took them in stride. After all, every frontier had dangers, and you couldn’t let them stop you, could you?
Well, yes they could, as it turned out. We had a very unpopular war going on then, and the current president wanted Congress to declare war on poverty, or on the poor, as it turned out. And suddenly the budget allotted for space endeavors was cut back – waaaaay! back. Meanwhile the budget for social services expanded nearly exponentially. And real progress became a retreat.
Understand, I grew up with the idea that you helped your neighbor. Next time, it might be you needing a hand up. But President Johnson’s war on poverty soon became a siege, then just another bureaucracy needing feeding. And the space budget shrank.
There were compromises along the way; Single Stage to Orbit was shelved and the space shuttle took its place, with a billion dollars a pop for each launch. And well meaning ‘scientists’ pushed robotic exploration as a cheaper scheme than manned flights. Yes, they were cheaper; but new frontiers aren’t claimed by machines. Unless you’re a Borg.
And the promises of space receded even farther into the background.
Of all human endeavors, the two most successful economically has been Columbus’ voyage to the Indies and mankind’s quest for space. Columbus never realized just how MASSIVELY profitable opening up the New World would be. And while we have an inkling on the profits possible in space exploration, the concept frankly paralyses our imaginations. Columbus opened up a new hemisphere. We’re talking about opening up entire WORLDS.
Businesses experiencing slowdowns know you must develop new products in order to compete successfully. But the investment is in new products, not infrastructure alone. Yes, sometimes that is needed; but if your infrastructure is sound, any improvements are a waste of resources when they are needed elsewhere. Repave the parking lot AFTER the customers start coming back, not before.
At present space exploration and development resides in the hands of a few visionaries. I promise you, they will become massively, even enormously wealthy. You see, while they are looking for profits, they haven’t lost the dream. And it’s the dream that counts.
My dream has changed over the years; I won’t be making any long trips. Hopefully my descendants will, but it looks like they’ll take those trips in vessels owned by businesses instead of governments. At least they’ll get to make the trip.