Get In Now or Be Left Behind?
If you don't get into space resources now, in the emerging years, then your prospects for the ability to compete well and longterm profitability may be cast in doubt.
Why now? The short answer to the question is this:
The plan for the Artemis Program is that the governments help in supporting the establishment of key infrastructure and then the private sector takes over in commercial development of lunar south pole areas. However, actually, we are kind've reaching a point where the private sector could possibly do all this on its own, and some entity(s) might do so to win "the commercial space race".
I've seen nothing even close to this since Apollo, which Nixon killed in the early 1970s. (I was a teenager back then.) Lunar resources now reminds me of the view of internet in the 1980s -- created by the US government, only a tiny percent of Americans knew about it, and many people and companies failed to see its potential. People thought that the way to make money was selling bandwidth and log in accounts, and that the main beneficiaries would be the big establishment companies of the time. However, many of the establishment CEOs and companies, including Bill Gates, were very slow to take the internet very seriously, and entirely new entities were created and rushed to the forefront.
Things changed radically, thanks to small private sector entrepreneurs who acted quickly.
This will happen in the new private sector space race. The mega companies of tomorrow in the space sector have yet to emerge, but they are COMING SOON!
Two things covered below:
A Very Brief History
If you're new to this field, or too young to have experienced much history, below is a very, very short condensation as regards human expansion into space, which puts this into context. I also meet a lot of space settment enthusiasts who don't know about history and their place in the grand scheme of things in our Universe.
The serious concepts of rockets going to the Moon and human space settlement don't go very far back into human history.
The greatest early pioneer was the Russian teacher Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky, a brilliant theoretical scientist, who in the late 1800s and early 1900s laid a lot of the theoretical scientific groundwork and designs for rockets in great detail mathematically and practically, and promoted human settlement of space. He lived and worked in a small town but his publications eventually got noticed by some scientists who "got it". Tsiolkovsky inspired key Russian engineers who built upon his work to start the Russian space program. However, his work was not translated and distributed beyond Russia. Tsiolkovsky died in 1935 at the age of 78.
American engineer and physicist Robert Goddard independently theorized about rockets, coming up with matching analyses to Tsiolkovsky, but Goddard actually built the first liquid fueled rocket in 1926, followed by 33 more. This turned out to be the foundation of the American space program. Goddard died in 1945 at the age of 63.
German physicist and engineer Hermann Julius Oberth had his 1922 doctoral dissertation on rocketry rejected as "utopian", so he went private and turned it into a book, while also starting a small "Spaceflight Society". A teenage member joined, Wernher von Braun, who would eventually become a great rocket scientist for Nazi Germany and then NASA and a key to the success of the Apollo Program. Others worked with Oberth in the late 1920s and also later became key to the German rocketry program, such as the V2 rockets fired from Europe into Britain. In the late 1920s, a film group made a science fiction movie called "Woman In The Moon" whereby Oberth started to build his first liquid fueled rocket in 1929 as a publicity stunt. That was the start of many experiments. However, it was the rise of the Nazi German war machine which eventually supported the development of rocketry in Germany, led by Oberth, von Braun, et al.
After World War 2 ended, the Russians and Americans entered into a space race with very long range intercontinental missiles, carrying nuclear warheads. Most of the key Germans who had worked on the V2 program had been recruited by the Americans and taken to the USA.
In 1957, the Russians put the first satellite into orbit, Sputnik. American society was alarmed. The space race was officially started. Both sides pursued manned space programs, too. A race to the Moon was started, and the Americans won, landing Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon in 1969 and returning them safely to Earth on Apollo 11. Additional trips were made with diverse lunar samples returned to earth, ending with Apollo 17, when subsequent missions had been cancelled by President Nixon. The last mission was in 1972.
The Russians, having lost the race to the Moon, tried to save face by claiming they never tried to win or even send humans there, and stopped pursuing the Moon for second place.
Due to Apollo, there were various designs for lunar bases, mining, and manufacturing, but it was all ended except for trickles of funding for mainly paper studies. The US-Russia human space race was over, and government support for lunar development evaporated.
Thus, the human expansion into space ended in the early 1970s. NASA changed its focus to the Space Shuttle and unmanned scientific probes. (Temporary missions to very low Earth orbit, and space stations in low Earth orbit, with no plans for humans to go beyond there, and no self-sufficiency and independence from Earth, do not qualify as human expansion into space.)
(I was born in 1959 so saw the Apollo Program as a kid.)
There was a great movie released in 1968 which included a rotating space station in orbit around Earth to produce artificial gravity, 2001 A Space Odyssey, by Stanley Kubrick and the great science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, and which also depicted major lunar operations, and an interplanetary mission with another rotating habitat for artificial gravity. (There was also the Star Trek TV series which developed a huge fan base in the 1960s, though it did not use rotation, and didn't try to explain how there was a gravity equivalent in the spaceship.)
In 1969, Princeton physics professor Dr. Gerard K. O'Neill, who had previously applied to be a NASA astronaut and underwent some testing but was not accepted, was teaching a freshman physics class and asked his students to address the issue of "Is the surface of a planet really the right place for an expanding technological civilization?" The responses from the students in summary was "no". However, this event started a process of creating designs for large space habitats in orbit around Earth or anywhere, rotating to produce artificial gravity, with ecosystems similar to Earth. These could be made from lunar and/or asteroidal materials, and independent of Earth.
Dr. O'Neill, thankful to his students, further developed the concepts in great deal and professionally published many articles. Dr. O'Neill was successful in getting NASA funding for workshops in 1975-1977, resulting in detailed designs, and published a landmark book for laymen, "The High Frontier", in 1977.
This started a big popular movement, thanks also to O'Neill's diligent publicity efforts. Some members of Congress were enthusiastic, there were Congressional hearings, TV programs started to showcase the concepts, and there continued to be lots of articles in the printed mass media.
However, in reaction, Senator William Proxmire, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee which was responsible for NASA's budget, said "It's the best argument yet for chopping NASA's funding to the bone .... I say not a penny for this nutty fantasy". Proxmire was successful in eliminating spending on space settlement research from the NASA budget in the late 1970s.
NASA also had establishment contractors with competing interests already fighting over a limited budget. Further, there was some paranoia among establishment blockhead technocrats about the "giggle factor" of space settlements.
Before that, O'Neill had already realized the limitations of government funding and thought that development of space resources and space settlement would best and most practically be realized by the private sector. O'Neill founded the nonprofit Space Studies Institute (SSI) in Princeton in 1977, which funded core research and development.
A very important activity of SSI was its biannual space development conferences in Princeton which were well attended by professional engineers and scientists, as well as lawyers, economists, and others, including layman advocates. The first was in 1975. These became the main focal point for professional work on space resources and space settlements.
O'Neill was able to raise some donations for research and development, but it was quite insufficient for a quick return to the Moon, nowhere close. O'Neill had a private sector commercial business plan to bootstrap to the Moon which he had promoted, with fuel propellant for satellite orbit transfers and other applications being one of the products, but got no serious biters. The cost was comparable to a lot of Earth based projects such as oil exploration and development and mining in remote places on Earth.
O'Neill started a company called GeoStar which was supposed to provide an early commercial GPS navigation system based on private satellites, and invested a lot of time and effort into this company. The plan was for GeoStar's profits to help fund pursuit of space resources afterwards. However, a launch failure of the first satellite, and a second satellite dying suddenly in orbit after successful deployment and early testing, meant that GeoStar lost the market to a key competitor, and the company failed.
(Notably, PERMANENT was contacted by somebody who had worked with GeoStar's main competitor. They told me that the reason they won was because they just captured the market more quickly using more basic and proven technology, whereas SSI wasted time trying to perfect the best cutting edge technology. Lesson learned for the wise. Thank you!)
O'Neill was diagnosed with leukemia in 1985 and died in 1992. SSI hasn't been the same since, but continues to this day. SSI eventually went fairly dormant in the 1990s but has undergone somewhat of a revival recently.
(A lot of the work on space resources development shifted from Princeton to the Colorado School of Mines, whose leaders were previous participants in SSI conferences. But this did not have major funding. The Colorado School of Mines has run the Space Resources Roundtable (SRR), which basically took over as the main meeting place after the SSI conferences wound down.)
Notably, Jeff Bezos was inspired by O'Neill's work long before he started Amazon.
Another important legacy of SSI was stirring up theoretical interest in permanently shadowed craters at the lunar poles, as possible sources of volatiles on the otherwise dry Moon. Up to that time, many people (including myself) had thought we might need to mine asteroids near Earth for the quantity of volatiles needed, but we all held out hope for the lunar poles, which were still unexplored for volatiles at the time. This interest carried into the 1990s with key people eventually being instrumental in getting lunar polar probes funded which did find abundant volatiles in those craters. Read on ... but it's important to mention before stopping the coverage of SSI here that interest in the lunar poles was largely a result of the community close to SSI.
(I discovered O'Neill's work in the late 1970s while a university student in engineering looking at a career in energy production, which was during the oil crises of the 1970s due to Middle East unrest. I was reviewing Solar Power Satellites when I came across studies of building them from lunar materials. I followed some technical publications for awhile before seeing references to O'Neill. Eventually, I switched to be a physics major, whereby I got a B.Sc., with a minor in political science. However, I also did some technical research for SSI into candidate power systems for their "mass driver" electromagnetic launch concept from the Moon. SSI had built prototypes, but my work was theoretical, and included a visit to a major electromagnetic gun R&D center in Texas which was funded by the military. I also attended SSI conferences and presented a research paper at one.)
(I worked in advanced planning in the Pentagon space program in 1985-1987 but there was practically no interest in space resources. Indeed, discussing it irritated a lot of people, like "get outta here" as one professional in advanced planning said to me. You mainly stayed on the straight and narrow, as is typically part of military culture and its monetary culture. The same applied to discussion of potential biological warfare and superpathogens at that time. Though many space enthusiasts would have considered my job a dream job for my age, working for a glamorous Pentagon think tank, I felt very frustrated and alarmed at times, and decided to jump ship for a career in I.T. instead with a focus on internet communications, which I had learned while trying to promote PERMANENT online. A spin-off in my own career.)
President George Bush revived interest in a return to the Moon during his presidency of 1989-1992, as a "Space Exploration Initiative", which called for the establishment of a "Space Station Freedom" and then a return to the Moon "to stay". Space Station Freedom had already been started by President Reagan in 1984 (when Bush was Reagan's Vice President) and gone thru design phases, but under Bush there was pressure to actually start manufacturing and building, and to redesign it for a return to the Moon. However, Bush continued to delegate things to "the experts" of the government establishment, and those NASA bureaucrats and contractors came up with a typically greedy and mushroomed massive budget, as the groupthink of the insider advocates grossly overestimated possible political support for getting money for the vision. There were some good small scale studies implemented regarding lunar resources utilization, but much of the money was wasted.
The work on designing Space Station Freedom was hugely expensive over the years, continuing on and on with countless redesigns. Nothing was ever launched.
Bush lost the election to Bill Clinton in 1992, who basically killed the Space Exploration Initiative. In 1993, Space Station Freedom was very unpopular in Congress. Many people said it was unneeded. Clinton did not support any of the pared down alternatives. In 1993, an amendment to remove space station funding entirely from NASA's budget failed by just 1 vote in the House or Representatives.
The Soviet Union had recently collapsed. That space race seemed over completely. The Clinton Administration eventually engaged the Russians into co-developing the space station with other international partners, albeit a much scaled down station. There was no design for it to be used as a steppingstone to the Moon. This was the beginning of the International Space Station (ISS). The first part launched in 1998. The first long term crew arrived in 2000. It has been greatly expanded and is still very active today.
Notably, during this time, in 1994 a tiny probe was launched called Clementine 1, an ongoing project funded by both NASA and the Defense Department with a primary mission of testing sensors. It went into a polar orbit around the Moon and detected large amounts of ice at the lunar poles. This was a key to making the Moon more economical for human settlement and industrial activities.
President Clinton singled out the follow up Clementine 2 probe to visit asteroids near Earth as one of the very small number of items deleted from a government budget as part of the "line item veto", with political ridicule of the idea coming from the Clinton Administration, despite support from Congress. It was a very cheap probe at $125 million. However, it gives you an idea of the mentality of the Clinton Administration led by the pander bear. There isn't much of a political constituency thinking about space settlement and survival of life from Earth, actually.
However, the NASA Lunar Prospector mission, a new kind of very small probe, got increased interest and support and launched in 1998. It confirmed Clementine's discovery and greatly refined and mapped the distribution of hydrogen and ice deposits on the Moon, which were found to be massive. The mission ended in 1999. The orbiter was deliberately crashed into the Moon at its end of life.
The results of the Lunar Prospector mission greatly increased interest in the Moon for space settlement and industrialization, especially the lunar south pole where there are great ice deposits in a large number of locations, which are in permanently shadowed craters. This is covered in much more detail elsewhere on this website, so I will just continue with the history.
George W. Bush was elected President in the year 2000 so took over in 2001. President Bush Jr. had another focus off the bat, due to the September 11, 2001 terrorist airplane crashes into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon. However, in 2004, President Bush announced that humans would return to the Moon to stay, and started to lay out what would become the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE), a redirection for NASA.
Studies ramped up on lunar resources utilization and designs for human habitation.
It had been decided to phase out the expensive Space Shuttle, so the US needed a replacement for launching humans, as well as heavy cargo lift capabilities, which the VSE focused on. However, importantly, NASA under Bush ramped up encouragement of private sector companies to sell rockets to NASA, a program called Commercial Orbital Transport Services (COTS), starting in 2006.
Meanwhile, Elon Musk, starting on a shoestring budget and a ragtag group, going back to 2002, had been designing and building rockets privately by a company he founded called SpaceX. Attempts to launch to orbit in 2006-2008 failed, but they finally achieved orbit in 2009 on their last try (as they had run out of self-funding). This revived investment into the company. The rest is history ... SpaceX eventually developed man rated rockets, has been ferrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station, and has developed heavy lift rockets. In a revolutionary development, SpaceX has developed reusable rockets, which soft land after each launch, thereby greatly reducing the cost of rocketry, and is developing Starship for sending people and large condos beyond Earth orbit.
Barack Obama won the election in 2008. When Obama became president, he cancelled the lunar program altogether, quipping that we had been there already, and we should go to Mars instead. There was also a controversial asteroid retrieval mission being discussed which eventually went nowhere. Obama changed Bush's government funded rocket program ... which to this day has turned out to be incredibly expensive and slow.
Donald Trump won the election in 2016, and in 2017 reversed Obama's policy, switching NASA focus back to the Moon, for humans to return and stay in settlements, but also with the goal of eventually turning it all over to the private sector for utilization of lunar resources. This started as Space Policy Directive 1 but eventually became the Artemis Program.
An important part of the Artemis Program is the Artemis Accords which creates agreements with international partners to work together on this program. This helps create continuity, as well as distributing costs. As of May 2022, these countries have signed on: United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, Luxembourg, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, South Korea, New Zealand, Brazil, Mexico, Israel, Romania, and Colombia.
Joe Biden won the election in 2020, and in February 2021 announced its "support [for] this effort and endeavor" which was followed up with real action. There was no major change in NASA's direction in this administration, unlike in many previous times when a president of the opposing political party came to power and changed NASA's direction.
Notably, the Chinese have been left out of partnerships with the US for many years, for political reasons, and especially over fears that China may try to maximize its acquisition of western technologies and then use those against its adversaries. The US blocked China's participation in the International Space Station (ISS).
As a result of this ostracization, the Chinese have been forced to go it alone, sometimes with the help of Russia. The Chinese have created their own human launch capability, space station, heavy lift capability, lunar orbiters for science, lunar landers, and lunar surface rovers. The Chinese have also now ramped up their plans to send humans to the lunar south pole.
A new space race is on with China.
Before moving on to the next section, I want to quickly note that this condensed history covers the main players, but leaves out a lot of details on other significant people, organizations, companies, and events. If I was to include all that, it would become an encyclopedia instead of a short article. Sometimes people contact me and ask why I left out so-and-so in an article. It's usually not out of ignorance nor bias, it's usually to try to maintain focus and not explode the size of an article. If I add A, then I should also add B, C, D, and so on.
How Can You Get Involved
This is the kind of question I like to answer. You can just send me your information and I may give you a custom answer. However, generally, there at least these options:
I would recommend that you may also get in contact with Rick Tumlinson and his team at Space Fund. Rick is one of those from the O'Neill school of thought in the 1980s, who has persevered with space resources during thick and thin, and importantly has vast knowledge and helps startups. Actually, there are many people like this. However, what makes Rick exceptional is that he gets involved in many different startup projects as his profession, not just a few special interest projects. Rick focuses on any "frontier enabling technologies".
However, only serious people need contact either of us. Veterans of the space industry have seen countless people and many entities come and go over the decades. Many apparently paper-qualified people flake off very quickly if there's not a routine 8-5 Monday-Friday job, not much quick money to be made, and if the ride isn't easy. Some are in it for personal status / ego and can be time wasters as they clamor for attention on ideas and talking the talk but don't walk the walk with the hard work and perseverance, often thankless, required for success. (Some of the big talkers don't actually have the breadth of experience, depth of knowledge, and contacts required to make an organization successful.)
On the other hand are the long timers. These are people with experience working in the trenches for years or decades, a real track record. These people have persevered thru the many periods of dry spells in funding for space resources when so many others quit, and have taken risks and experienced successes and failures and learned from them. Rick is one of these.
Rick has also traveled the world making contacts and developing relationships over the decades.
Rick is one of the proven people you can count on, the real deal, and his Space Fund, at SpaceFund.com, is well geared as a practical and highly capable organization to channel funding and talent with high efficiency and effectiveness.
Rick also sees a need for a separate "movement" and has a second, nonprofit organization called the Earthlight Foundation, at EarthLightFoundation.ORG.
In my experience, I have seen many promising companies and organizations go into prominence and then fade, such as SSI, Planetary Resources, and many others.
I would not be surprised if Blue Origin falters, falls far behind, and continues to lag on. Hopefully, SpaceX will stay healthy, but sometimes I worry about Elon Musk, who sometimes doesn't seem to be handling his recent great financial and sociopolitical success so well or very wisely. Musk sure knows how to get attention in the headlines, sometimes provocatively... Wish Musk would stick to engineering, and Bezos would spend far more of his time focused on Blue Origin. However, where in the forest does the biggest grizzly bear sleep? Anywhere it wants. We should not rely too much on these entities for human settlement of space and survival of our species. They also apparently are not working on many of the key "enabling technologies" of space resources.
PERMANENT clearly has not had great successes. Many people have gotten into space resources professionally because of PERMANENT, but PERMANENT is not nearly where I want it to be yet, so criticisms apply to PERMANENT, too.
I like to see a diversity of companies and organizations, so if some falter, then others may carry our species onwards.
I also own SpaceSettlement.com but haven't done anything with it. I may be open to others doing something with it. You may feel free to contact me about that.
I am sticking with PERMANENT, as the purpose and brand are clear -- making the survival of life from Earth permanent, with the issues of super pathogens and synthetic biology pressing.
Everybody please stay healthy, both physically and mentally, don't get sucked into petty politics and diversions, and stay focused on our purpose in life in this generation. We need to budget our limited time and energy carefully. Many of us must carefully budget our money, too. For the super rich, money doesn't always buy further success. Indeed, I've seen many overconfident wealthy people start to really stagnate and even degenerate ... Everybody please try to do something yourselves, either with us or on your own.
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