War hijacked Space. Don’t get me wrong, humanity’s first steps beyond Earth were hastened by WWII and the Cold War, but the motives for that hastening had nothing to do with the fascinations of millions of space enthusiasts. The last time a beating heart was beyond low-Earth orbit, Star Wars hadn’t left Lucas’ dreams, Klingon wasn’t a language, and Carl Sagan hadn’t visited Johnny Carson. Space enthusiasm hasn’t been stalled, space exploration has been. Why the disparity? It’s simple: Enthusiasm doesn’t drive exploration.

Hermann Oberth grew up in Hermannstadt, Transylvania – that’s when Austria-Hungary was a thing. In adulthood, Oberth would become one of the founders of rocket science, joining a schoolteacher from Imperial Russia and an inventor-academic from New England. As a boy, Oberth enjoyed reading Jules Verne (Tsiolkovsky was a Verne fan, Goddard favoured H. G. Wells).

Between the world wars, Oberth helped found the VfR (Verein für Raumschiffahrt), mentored Wernher von Braun, and advised Fritz Lang on his film Frau im Mond. When war came, the VfR moved to Peenemünde and the path from V-2 to Saturn V began. Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and many others remained relevant to millions of enthusiasts, but Space belonged to national interests (though the Frau im Mond logo adorned the first V-2 launched successfully from Peenemünde).

The Space Race was an extension of the global-dominance rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union. The success of the Apollo programme signaled victory for the United States, and so it ended, as Apollo hadn’t been about science or exploration.

In the United States, the institutional infrastructure that survived Apollo has been used to channel public monies to specific regions and companies – inertia has replaced vital national interest. True, a bit of this inertia has funded the robots that help keep hopes of human exploration alive. Beyond the United States, this traditional national path has also been followed. We have come to call the traditional path Old Space.

And so we come to New Space. It ends up that you can supply the basics of space exploration – access to Earth orbit – at a fraction of the price charged by Old Space. That’s not surprising given how we got to Old Space. You can probably supply all the parts of an exploration program at a fraction of Old Space prices. Problem is, that doesn’t mean there’s demand to pay for the now less expensive supply – remember, very little of the money spent on Old Space has been spent to satisfy demand for exploration.

It’s time for space enthusiasts to come home, to remember why we care, and then to build an expression of that care that can pay for exploration. We are the demand for human space exploration and if we can’t pay for it, then it probably won’t happen.

This blog and the organisation it will chronicle are dedicated to charting a course toward space exploration paid for and directed by space enthusiasts.

 

Charles Polk

General Manager, The Martian Trust