The Moonshot Business: Today's Space Race as an Industrial Revolution: (Dr. Launius Chat Part 2)
Part 2, continuing from the interview with Dr. Roger D. Launius , December 12, 2022
Reaching the Moon was once a race between the U.S. and Russia. Today, the Space race looks more like a domestic rivalry between governments and private sector operations.
In part 1, Better Futures recapped a discussion between Laine and Launius on the historical reality of the Apollo era. In part 2, we'll recap their discussion of today's commercial Space race and the new context kicked off by the Artemis launch era.
Moon Resources Usability is Subject To Debate
The Moon’s usefulness is a subject of some skepticism, even controversy, in today’s marketplace. While some argue the value of lunar ice mining for potential resources, others argue that Moon exploration is merely a status symbol quest.
There is one certainty to come from modern Space debates about the Lunar zone. The Moon remains front and center of all forward-seeking Space exploration. Because it is nearer and familiar to Space efforts, the Moon is most accessible to current innovation.
Government vs. Commercialized: The Real
The commercialization of Space has led to professional controversy. In January 2022, the Washington Post made note of the fact that government programs still dominate the Space race. Yet, Space advocates wonder, for how long?
The relevance of government programs stands in question alongside the progress of commercial efforts. Policy critics ponder why NASA and private ventures have yet to announce a cross-sector collaboration.
On the flip side, governments question the long-term viability of commercial Space. Leading commercial rocket producers advertise ambitious projects to make everyday people astronauts.
While NASA and commercial efforts have different logic behind their missions, the goal posts aren't that far apart. Efforts don’t diverge paths in terms of funding and interest.
Dr. Launius explained that, while many point to SpaceX as the pioneer, they sometimes forget about Orbital Sciences and earlier efforts to commercialize Space.
Why Include the Private Sector?
Doctor Launius highlighted the unique factors of the current Space race created by the presence of the private sector. Now, more than at any other time in Space exploration history, privately owned enterprises pursue Space technologies.
This, Dr. Launius recalled, has been the subject of controversy between NASA leaders and industry tycoons.
Despite the push back, NASA’s top talent realized that the sound economical way forward was to include the private sector.
Moon enterprises are expensive, often exceeding the budget of NASA funding. With the business case of the private sector grafted in, Space exploration has become democratized, and received a wider talent pool investment.
No Clear Divide in International Interests
This Space race comes with a high political context. With recent aggression between China and Taiwan, Western leaders have taken stiffer policies toward collaboration with China. Launius notes that modern Space advancement efforts are not as cut and dry as the Apollo-era Space politics.
“I’ve been pushing back on saying the Space race is with China,” said Dr. Launius.
“There used to be two budgets, two nations, one goal. Now there are thousands of companies, thousands of goals. So, I don’t really feel like we’re in the same type of Space race, but there is competition for sure.” he added.
The Artemis Era Sees Sustainable Rocketry Efforts Growing
Now that the commercial industry is on board, what will keep them afloat? The Artemis era poses that question in a way that the Apollo era was incapable of.
Now that commercial efforts have critically disrupted the path to the Moon, business models must reflect said disruption. Revenue models must yield tangible forecasts so that commercial enterprises can gain investor trust.
Business cases may level off. If not over the usability of Moon resources, then over the rocketry innovation Moon exploration efforts lead. Global space missions likewise seek to innovate reusable rockets. This would make space travel more affordable. With multiple national actors working on these concepts, Space exploration would eventually democratize to a whole-of-globe effort.
A Wild Frontier
In Dr. Launius’ view, the future of Space ventures will be collaborative. Governments and citizens will work together in Space. This will also be true of nation-to-nation efforts.
Because Space enterprise has become a universal effort, policies will need to be globalized. There is no clear starter gate or finish line in this Space race. It is a more Industrial Revolution and a pioneering effort to a wild frontier of untapped astral landscape.
Image credit license CCA 4.0.
Text credit: Rachel Brooks, Next Dawn
On December 12, Better Futures host Michael Laine sat down with Mars Society’s executive director and long-time volunteer James Burk. The two followed up an earlier conversation on the Dare Greatly show.
Burk broke down his early days as executive director, before talking shop on some of the future-forward projects the Mars Society has on the books.
“I’ve been a volunteer for about 25 years, until about a year ago when I was hired on to be the director,” Burk said.
He explained that over that last quarter century he had acted in volunteer roles, rising through the ranks to the society's webmaster. The society had many acting executive directors over the years, but all were volunteers before he took the full-time role.
On his blog, Burk writes in-depth about those 25 years of service. He highlights a life pursuit of “cutting-edge technology," and how it led him to where he is today.
As a high schooler, Burk went door to door championing environmental causes. From college, he got a job with Microsoft. He underscored that it was shortly after he took the Microsoft job that he found the Mars Society.
The mission objective of settling the Red Planet fascinated Burk. He became a founding volunteer member. In its early days, Burk was the advocate for the society’s web presence. Now, all these years later, Burk leads the society as the first-ever paid executive director.
“The board chose me. And I’m very grateful and thankful and I’m just trying to do a good job,” Burk said.
Over the years, the project has steadily increased its high-level of recognition as a Space community leader. Even as recently as Burk took the helm, Mars Society has grown.
Because the Mars Society is an entirely publicly funded organization, Burk said it is important to scale all projects based on fundraising successes.
Some years are better than others. With the pandemic's impact, the Mars Society faced some setbacks. Burk explained, however, that the funding status has returned to a normal situation.
"We try to keep things flat. We function on a shoestring budget in general. Our station in Utah–we've run that for 20 years," said Burk.
"We keep it up and running; we put a fresh coat of paint on it and new floors in it. But, in general, we're not hiring a professional company to come out and do that," he explained.
Burk then went over one of the highlights of recent Mars Society support.
“A year ago, we got a big donation from Blue Origin’s Club for the Future,” said Burk.
Mars Society, the largest non-profit focused on Mars exploration, was selected as one of 19 Space venture entities for the prestigious STEM donation from the Blue Origin rocket company's STEM club. The highly coveted Club for the Future grant is a wealth that Burk says is an honor he is grateful to receive.
“As they were deciding which nonprofits to give it to —when they got to us, they were meeting with Jeff Bezos. They said, ‘do we really want to give it to the Mars Society… we’re usually focused on the Moon. Jeff said, ‘Nope, give the Mars Society one of these. They’re part of the Space community and we don’t want to discriminate.’ So, yeah, we’re grateful for that,” said Burk.
Burk said that Club For the Future is also open to collaboration with the Mars Society. With 6,000 employees, Blue Origin is making steady headway in rocket innovation. The two entities are a natural hand-in-glove fit. Blue Origin has asked Mars Society to involve their employees in some of Mars Society's STEM promoting activities.
Mars Society is being careful about budgeting the Club for the Future grant, as the organization views it as an endowment. While they have big plans for the use of the funds, the Mars Society project budgets scale from donations.
The show's conversation then switched over to the recent Mars Society conference in Arizona.
Laine and Burk discussed Mongolia’s presence at the conference. Mongolia’s official Mars program is now also the recognized regional chapter of the Mars Society.
The Mongolian Mars mission is one of deep cultural significance for Mongolia. Together, Mongolia’s Mars project and the Mars Society are scaling an analog testing site project in the Gobi desert.
Burk spoke on Mongolia’s ancient nomadic and warrior society.
“A lot of that carries through to the modern Mongolia. They are very independent, hard-working people," said Burk, explaining the cultural significance of the country's Mars project.
“Robert was invited by them to come out and scout out analog stations in the Gobi desert,” said Burk, referring to Mars Society founder Dr. Robert Zubrin.
“They are essentially planning a nomadic Mars analog station that you could pack up and move to another part of the Gobi,” said Burk. He then gave details of the sophisticated greenhouse innovation the Gobi desert analog site will use.
The conversation also covered future goals. Burk confirmed new mission funding efforts are in the works. Mars Society plans to return to its Arctic test site in 2023. However, Burk explained that these new missions will be contingent on fundraiser outcomes.
Image credit: Gobi Desert, Mongolia.Date 8 August 2018, 17:00:42, Richard Mortel, CCA 2.0 Generic
Text feature created by Rachel Brooks, Next Dawn.
Better Futures host Michael Laine sat down with former NASA chief historian Dr. Roger D. Launius on December 7. They talked about the current state of Space advancement compared to the Cold War.
The Apollo “death struggle”
“Make no mistakes; it was a death struggle. There was going to be a winner and there was going to be a loser,” Dr. Launius said.
Political crises fueled the U.S.-Soviet space race that spanned the 1950s to 1970s. The U.S.-Korea war, the Berlin Wall building, and the Cuban missile crisis were major milestones. Historians point to these events as pressure points of the Space race.
Space innovation winners lead the social domination race. During the Cold War, Dr. Launius explained, a need to be first in innovation power drove the U.S.-Soviet Space race.
Launius explains that, compared with the 50s-70s era, the U.S. and other world powers are “not in a Cold War.” The key differences between the two eras are the goals. The first era sought to define dominance over innovation. This new Space era seeks to define resource accessibility. Launius explains that these fundamental differences change the Space race trajectory.
Space innovation will see both international cooperation and collaboration soon.
Loose legal text will go through refinement. As powers test limits, a clearer path emerges.
Today in Space
America won the 50s-70s Space race. Winning established America as the first Space presence builder. Industry leaders expect America to influence all Space futures.
“I think creating a permanent presence on the Moon will be a good thing. I don’t think it will be a strictly American thing,” said Dr. Launius.
International space presence gains are growing. Earlier this month, South Korea announced its national space strategy. Recent reports state that South Korea also launched a Space defense plan.
As international space efforts grow, key space defense capabilities rise to the fore. In November, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III highlighted the importance of the Space Force.
Space as a Wild Frontier
Artemis-era space exploration has plans for global research efforts. The Artemis Accords lays out a plan for "peaceful” use of Space bodies.
While today's Space race is not as urgent, there is still steep competition. The vague definition of Space terms makes Space a wild frontier.
Artemis details the use of Space law with sometimes vague legal text. This fact has been called out by historians as a repeat of Europe’s Age of Exploration, when explorers sought after the New World. Issues over property rights are expected to strain current Space legal terms.
Likewise, Space has legal gray areas over the use of resources. For example, legal and practical direction on lunar mining has yet to be perfectly defined. Territory claims and resource area contingencies are where rivalries may emerge.
Cooperation and Competition
Space policy includes plans for international cooperation. Yet, the political climate is changing. The trajectory of cooperation in Space is not yet clear because of this.
Dr. Launius compared the Apollo and Artemis space exploration rushes. Apollo’s rat race made rapid progress. Launius attributes this to strict deadlines. The Artemis era is more open with less strict goals. This changes the dynamic of the Space race, with political implications yet to be fully realized.
Text feature created by Rachel Brooks, Next Dawn News. Image Credit: Indomiteus, CC Attribution Share Alike 4.0, Wikimedia Commons
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