§ 7.4.2 PERMANENT 1986 address to the US Government
I made both a verbal address and a written disposition to the U.S. National Commission on Space in 1986. The following excerpts have been edited a bit to due to changes in the political climate over the past ten years. I add it here because it may contain a few points not made elsewhere. Most of the deposition is not quoted here since it's now irrelevant.
In some of the following, I use the old acronym NTMU for NonTerrestrial Materials Utilization.
This is not way out stuff. Seriously, we could and should start doing this now.
We could do all of the above things without any major technological breakthroughs, by applying essentially current techniques to a new set of tasks (e.g., lunar mineral processing by conventional Earth techniques, Earth slushers for Moon mining, etc.).
However, it may be greatly advantageous to develop entirely new industrial techniques adapted to orbital space (e.g., materials processing using solar ovens) in order to make industrial techniques more productive and cheaper. Whoever develops these patents first will be well positioned for the future.
What new technology is needed is less challenging fundamentally than many other past hi-tech ventures in the military and the private sector. The technology needed is certainly not comparable to the space-based defense technology required to make nuclear missiles substantially impotent and obsolete, and to be a survivable defense, not even addressing countermeasures by the opponent. Notably, the Moon is not "against us", like the superpower militaries are against each other, and hence lunar materials utilization is much more accomplishable. However, the arms race benefits from institutional inertia.
Utilizing nonterrestrial materials in the near future is also much less of a technological challenge than landing and returning men from the Moon would have appeared before Sputnik in 1957, or aircraft would have appeared in 1900. It was little more than a decade between the time the Wright brothers flew the first airplane in 1904 and we had dramatic aerial combat during World War I. Shortly thereafter, we had transatlantic flight. If these events had been accurately predicted, the predicter would not have been taken seriously, and scoffed at. History is full of examples of notorious pooh-poohs from highly reputable but overly conservative authorities.
NASA won't initiate commercial space resource utilization concepts. It will require outside leadership from the President, who has tasked you to advise him…
What about Congress and journalists ? Senator Jones and reporter Mary, upon receiving a request from one organization to promote NTMU and looking for a second opinion, immediately call upper level NASA people. Typically, they find one who has heard of NTMU awhile back, sometimes secondhand or worse, and this person thinks that going to mine the asteroids and Moon must be just another of those numerous farfetched, unpractical ideas that come to NASA. After all, they say, they have a hard enough time funding the Space Shuttle and a space station, so a big NTMU project would have little chance. The space station costs billions and takes a decade. Maybe after that will they start to seriously consider NTMU. Besides, solar power satellites were judged years ago to be too expensive ... assuming they are launched from Earth and not using lunar or asteroidal material, the latter of which isn't mentioned. So Senator Jones and reporter Mary go on to other tasks, having formed a not very positive first impression of NTMU, based on an uninformed, busy authority. The lesson is that when an R&D program such as this is proposed, one must point out the proper authorities to contact and do a complete campaign.
… NASA leaders fail to see that an NTMU program would add public support to their Space Station by turning it into a steppingstone to much more visionary things. The Space Station should not be treated like an end, but as a means. This is all consistent with NASA's 15 year drift to being an engineering organization instead of a visionary institution that presents alternatives.
That's why an independent National Commission on Space was formed entirely independent of NASA.
A top NASA administrator was asked in the early 1980s to estimate how long it would take to go back to the Moon if it were determined that we should, in a Return to the Moon crash program. NASA replied that such a program would take at least 14 years. JFK had it done in 8 years a quarter of a century ago, from scratch using technology that did not exist back then!
The influential nature of space products and services mandates serious programs to develop them. Superpower military competition increasingly has relatively less influence in global sociopolitical evolution since the advent of more open-door socioeconomic exchanges between countries worldwide since World War 2, and the communications and hi-tech products period of this century, increasingly supplied by multinationals.
Defense only protects us so that we might build stronger, lasting foundations in nonforceful and grassroots ways, such as communications. Hollywood is a big power in the world, moreso than many Western governments. Interdependence is the strongest force. We need to approach defense more wholistically.
President Kennedy was right in calling for the Moon landing in order to bolster America's world leadership, and PERMANENT is the logical next step -- utilizing lunar materials for capitalistic development of the high frontier. Space development is a means to substantially strengthen the Free World's stability and security in nonmilitary, socioeconomic evolutionary ways, such as communications and other space resources to benefit economies and operations on Earth.
Importantly, space development could be a quantum leap in transcending the "only one Earth" mentality that narrowmindedly perpetuates competitive conflicts over `limited' resources on Earth, not only by solar power satellites and asteroid-derived strategic metals, but also by spread of societies and freedom into space.
That's why I propose a "PERMANENT" program. The longer we wait to start a substantial program of projects, the later we will benefit, and the more we will lose.
Now is as good a time as any to commit ourselves to these goals in the interests of the United States of America, for the Free World, and for all of mankind. It's not a question of whether we can afford it. It's a question of whether we can afford not to. Problems are solved not by austerity, but by transcendental growth and progress.
We can fund the basic R&D for a fraction of the NASA budget, or a trivial amount of the defense budget, for just a few years, then hand it over to the private sector 100%. It could easily cost much less, according to reasonable accounts of more specialized missions, especially with the further development of robotics, teleoperation, and automation (note: more spinoffs and patents for America's economy), and private sector involvement. If allies joined us, we could split the costs further.
We want our tax dollars to pay us back something substantial in return. And, by reaching out to friendly Free World nations to get involved by contributing hardware to put into space for this program, we can share the costs and benefits. We can strengthen world peace this way.
It's a question of leadership. History will judge. We need bold leadership and true vision in this nation, and there is no better time to start than right now.
It is clear that we should begin implementing the Lunar and Asteroids Near Earth (LANE) route into the near-term planning of our space development strategy. We can set Kennedy-style goals for 1992, the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage to America, and for the year 2000.
I suggest a space station in low Earth orbit but scaled down and designed to be primarily a steppingstone to the Moon, asteroids, and industrial facilities in high Earth orbit, by 1992, and by the year 2000 the delivery of a cultural icon made of asteroidal platinum.
From then on, the private sector can take over from the taxpayer permanently, taking the majority of the US space program off the backs of the taxpayers, too, finally. Space exploration should not be a purely government funded area of work for the indefinite future.
Any government-funded project shouldn't and won't be able to make this solid decision for only one special interest group, for example the community who wants to spend lots of money to go to Mars and set up an expensive colony with no way of earning their keep.
Any government-funded project should serve a great variety of interests and needs, by working in concert with the private sector to establish the initial infrastructure for space industrialization, and to make space development self-sufficient.