At the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Guadalajara in September 2016, Elon Musk revealed an Earth-Mars transportation system under design and early development at SpaceX. Attendance for his talk was standing room only with lots of people who would not normally attend an IAC. After finishing his prepared material, Musk took many questions. Given the non-traditional audience, about half of these questions were asked by space enthusiasts who were neither professional engineers nor scientists. These questions didn’t sound professional, but they were relevant and earnest.

The next morning, while I was having breakfast in the executive lounge of the Hilton across the street from the IAC venue, I overheard a conversation among two representatives of a major aerospace company and a member of JPL. The three were belittling the non-professional attendees, the questions they asked, and Musk’s willingness to answer.

Musk came to rocket science through science fiction, which makes him a traditionalist. The people having breakfast in the Hilton executive lounge were members of the rocket-science priesthood, or RSP. Musk knows the popular basis that could underpin space exploration. The RSP knows government appropriations, space agency contracts, and research grants. This made for fine theatre, but the path to Mars is in the subtext, not the players – and the path isn’t rocket science.

Okay, that was a little harsh. Rocket science is clearly involved along the path to Mars. It’s just that rocket science isn’t what’s most in need. Rocket science is up to the task of placing humanity at Mars. What’s missing is the connection between the millions of people who’d value humanity at Mars and the financing and governance of a path to Mars. And it’s here that the Cult of Rocket Science has been as a spanner in the works.

Sarah P. of Adelaide lives many aspects of her life knowing that if something interests her and she has the means to connect with that interest, then she can gain value from her interest. That works for food, clothing, education, community engagement, vacations, all manner of hobbies, … an interesting life. Suppose Sarah P. is a space-exploration enthusiast, but not a member of the RSP. Well … that’s a bummer for Sarah, because, you see, space exploration is Rocket Science, and, Sarah, your choices are limited to spectatorship and fiction/fantasy.

How to say this and not offend the genteel reader … Horse Hockey!

The Founding Postulate of The Martian Trust:

There are enough space-exploration enthusiasts to pay for space exploration if the suppliers of space exploration are responsive to the interests of space-exploration enthusiasts and there is a means to connect enthusiasts and suppliers.

Replace the words space exploration with football, organic produce, or hot yoga and all you have is a definition of commerce. Put space exploration back in and The Martian Trust is a means to connect enthusiasts and suppliers.

 

Charles Polk

General Manager, The Martian Trust