Why Get Off This Rock (Part Two)
[This is the second part of my interview with Jeff Greason, fellow Heinlein child™ and space advocate. The first part (which gives his credentials) is here.]
I will note in passing that like me, Jeff is a “child of the lunar age.” His date of birth is not on any public sites, but I remember we’ve talked about it and he’s some years younger than I, so he might have been born after the moon landing (or as Rep. Sheila Jackson, in a parallel universe all of her own, would have us believe, the Mars landing) . I remember watching the moon landing on TV at my aunt’s house (one of two privately owned TVs in the village) and thinking that living in space was just around the corner. My six-year-old self, locked somewhere inside of me, still can’t believe I haven’t managed to even visit another planet by now. Come on, I was supposed to be able to take my honeymoon on the moon.
On the serious side, I have a list of reasons why I believe we should go to space and stay this time. I’ve given you some of them right here, in my first post on the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Conference (where I met Jeff most recently, in his role as chairman of the board of Tau Zero). But mine are the opinions of a dreamer, a writer, someone who prizes the frontier for its freedom-bestowing abilities.
For Jeff, on the other hand, going to space is a more hands-on endeavor, and his reasons are more grounded and practical, and I think it would be interesting to listen to them.
Ever since I’ve been aware of your existence, you’ve been a devoted, not to say a single-minded advocate of space colonization. Would you mind telling people – more eloquently than I could – why “we must get off this rock?”
Like all truly fundamental questions, that ultimately is a question of values, so there are some people for whom no answer will suffice. As has been said about jazz, “If you have to ask, you ain’t ever gonna understand”
There are many reasons which are true, but I find secondary, though others find them compelling. For example, the industrial and economic development of space is going to require both machines and people – just as has been the case in all past economic development efforts. And that economic development will drive some significant features of life on Earth. For example, raising the standard of living of everyone on the planet to “first world” levels is going to require something like 30% increase in the energy use of human civilization, and space is about the only place to get that (if you didn’t know, the solar system has about a billion Earths' worth of energy available). Furthermore, there’s no avoiding the fact that if an unfriendly nation had a significant space presence and access to materials in space from Lunar or asteroidal sources, and the United States did not, we would no longer be able to effectively operate in space. Therefore, only by ensuring that we maintain a lead in those capabilities can we maintain the current “global commons” of open access to space. These are quite true, and urgent, and pragmatic reasons to desire a greater human presence in space.