This year's International Space Development Conference in Los Angeles was the largest ever gathering of space advocacy organizations, companies, and activists. Space entrepreneur Elon Musk, SpaceShipOne designer Burt Rutan, and X-Prize founder Peter Diamandis, among many others, represented the new space business scene. Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye (the Science Guy), and many less well-known scientists came to speak about space exploration and the importance of the scientific vigor spurred by the challengesspace represents. Astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Rusty Schweickert and science fiction authors Gregory Benford and Larry Niven were among the many others speaking about our space future.
The amazing optimistic tone of the conference was evident on every side; out of the limelight I joined a small group meeting to discuss the potential on a wider scale: a meeting of the "Council for a Positive Future."
This formed in late 2005 from a mix of space advocates and futurists: representatives of the National Space Society, the Mars Society and the Space Frontier Foundation met with Barbara Marx Hubbard and her Center for Conscious Evolution, and with Steven Wolfe who has written on settling space as the "conscious evolutionary choice". The council came up with a rather Worldchanging statement of purpose:
"The purpose of the Council for a Positive Future is to create a positive and hopeful future for humanity based upon world development, scientific, technological, social, and spiritual progress, the
liberation of human capacities, and the expansion of creative opportunity throughout the Earth and outward into space. We seek an open future, of unlimited possibilities and unlimited frontiers, which will truly fulfill the potential of human life and the human spirit. It has been said that only in a universe of unlimited resources can all people live together in peace and friendship. We seek to create that universe through the encouragement of an integrated program of development of both Earth and space which, by maximizing human potential, human creativity, and human opportunity, rejects all limits to the continued advance of the human condition and the expansion of our species' capacity for ever greater progress."
The discussion here at the ISDC meeting ranged from the space potentialities to the need for inspiration through art and music, to religious and political implications. The council is not intended to be its own organization, but rather a cross-organizational "initiative" that helps gather and inspire others. The council is looking for additional organizational partners now. In particular they're planning "focusing" conferences in the near future to bring together cross-sections of expertise to inspire and help enable the kind of synergy needed to make a positive future a reality.
It's easy to understand that in the long run, the vastness of the universe has enormous potential for our future, if only we can figure out how to make it a part of human civilization and life as a whole. What's less obvious is that even small steps in space can enable and expand our view of what's possible. One of these is something Frank White has called "The Overview Effect". Just as the Grand Canyon on Earth can only be experienced in person - photographs and videos simply do not compare to actually being there - the same is reportedly true of voyaging into space. The photographs have given us a glimpse of what space travel means - arguably, the view of planet Earth as a small sphere in the blackness of space as seen by Apollo 8 in large part inspired the environmental movement.
Almost all astronauts attest to the wonder of seeing the Earth in full detailed reality, against that black backdrop. The new space entrepreneurs promise to take thousands of ordinary people into that realm as space tourists, perhaps starting as early as next year. How many will come back changed and inspired, ready to make a positive difference for the future?
Developing sustainable space settlements requires the most stringent recycling requirements imaginable, to minimize the need to keep importing materials from Earth, or the waste of energy within the colony. The people here working on space elevators are inspiring developments in nanotechnology, robotics, and wireless power transmission. Solar power gathered directly in space has long held enormous promise, if we could get launch costs, solar panel costs, and those wireless transmission costs down to reasonable levels. Each of these developments promises vast benefits well beyond the immediate application.
And, as astronomer Neil Tyson argued in his dinner talk, expanding human activities in space are the greatest inspiration possible for young people thinking of working in the sciences, that they themselves have a positive view of their own potential futures.
Space activism typically has attracted engineering types and others of technical ilk; one interesting thing at this ISDC meeting is the number of artists who have come, showing paintings and other work inspired by space exploration and settlement. Communicating this positive view of the future, not only through space development but the potentials of technology on all levels to expand human capabilities, is going to take far more than the nerd-oriented talk of yesteryear. I'm inspired and excited to see the developments here; it'll be very interesting to see how this Council and the whole philosophy it represents developments, in this time when there are also so many reasons to worry about where we're headed. May the positive view prevail!
The link to continue reading this article is broken.
I knew I was going to regret not going but had prior commitments.
"Council for a Positive Future." - Arthur how does one get involved? I am wildly over comitted now but I'm interested.
I think the person to contact would probably be Steven Wolfe - WolfeSM at AOL is the address I have, though I'm not sure that's current. If that doesn't work, send me an email with your address and I'll forward - Arthur.Smith at nss.org
I was born 1963 and grew up in the Seventies. I remember the minarchist character of some space advocacy back then. That was one of the reason why I joined the Planetary Society, it didn't have that political character. Anyway, I hope a few things have changed since then.
I believe it's necessary for the long term survival, and by "long term" I mean hundreds of thousands or millions of years, of our culture to migrate into space. I'm just not so sure the majority of us will be homo sapiens sapiens by then. Seems easier to radically modify our own biology to thrive in space than to try to terraform worlds, something like Pohl's ManPlus.
SpaceOne and the X-Prize are getting a lot of buzz let's hope something comes of it.
But I'm most definitely looking forward to space elevators! That is a good idea!