§ 7.4.1 Government History and Issues
Much technological progress has come as a result of government investing in areas which the private sector did not develop much. The reason the private sector may not perform well is:
It is an issue of debate whether the private sector will industrialize space on a large scale, or bring us space colonization, without initial government assistance in one form or another.
However, two things are clear:
The space program has its roots in government investment, doing things that the private sector simply did not fund. This includes development of rockets for lifting payloads to orbit, and basic space satellite technology, which of course was later picked up by the private sector. Communications satellites have transformed our world dramatically. Besides space development, another example of a government seed project is the internet itself, a result of the US government's Advanced Research Projects Agency's (ARPA) groundwork into a decentralized data communications system that would be robust during war.
In the 1980s, U.S. President Ronald Reagan began "Star Wars", formally called SDI, the Strategic Defense Initiative, which proceeded to spend tens of billions of dollars on developing missile defense technologies. It's not hard to imagine a President similarly launching a PERMANENT program, especially since it would cost less than we've already spent on Star Wars, would give us returns on our investment, and would be turned over to the purely private sector in short time. (Also, the asteroids and Moon are not working against us in turn...)
Missile defense technologies received marginal funding for about 20 years before SDI, and would have continued slow progress along those lines had it not been for the success of retired General Daniel O. Graham (now deceased) in getting his agenda beyond the palace guard and into the mind of President Reagan.
The government response PERMANENT related concepts is best described as spread thin -- no single source of large support, but widespread cells of marginal funding from the lower ranks, and increasingly justified by claiming it supports a Mars mission. The main source of funding is by a group in the NASA Johnson Space Center which has grown out of studying the Apollo samples and focuses on lunar materials utilization. Some asteroidal materials utilization projects came out of the Defense Dept. as a result of SDI/"Star Wars".
The main barrier to a new project is competition with entrenched interests in the bureaucracy, especially in the current government climate of spending reductions. As the pie shrinks, competition for money gets fiercer. One should also not underestimate the inertia of the existing bureaucracy to support their own pet programs and those of their close associates. In a government route for funding, one could involve entrenched contractors, i.e., expand their traditional consulting into this new field. So far, this has not been tried to any significant extent, and bending existing programmatics is not easy.
Historically, the concept of utilization of lunar and asteroidal materials for space industrialization was first supported by the U.S. government with small funding for initial work led by Dr. Gerard K. O'Neill. This covered a few studies by Dr. O'Neill and his colleagues into space colonies from lunar and asteroidal material, in the form of two workshops in 1976 and 1977 at the Ames Research Laboratory. However, with the advent of the Space Shuttle's consumption of NASA spending and cutbacks in other popular traditional programs, and a lot of hostile politicking, support for this work was cut off. (Dr. O'Neill in response wisely founded the private Space Studies Institute to continue this work regardless of the politics in NASA and the government. The Space Studies Institute relies on private donations, memberships, and joint private research with others, as covered in the section on private research.)
Some of the best government successes have come from the Star Wars program (aka SDI). Because it received new funding from a strong Presidential mandate and had an infusion of new bureaucratic blood, there was room for new concepts. However, SDI was not into designing missions for economic return, just defense returns, e.g., using asteroidal and lunar material for bulk shielding for satellites ("foxholes in orbit") and fuel propellants.
The Pentagon's Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) funded the Clementine Mission to the Moon and a near Earth asteroid, largely due to the efforts of Dr. Stewart Nozette and Col. Pete Worden. The mission discovered ice in a lunar polar crater but the probe failed enroute to the asteroid Geographos when a software bug on the spacecraft caused it to suddenly burn away all its maneuvering fuel. This mission was manufactured and launched after considerable political maneuvering and on a shoestring budget.
Other people had more moderate management successes, e.g., organizing workshops on lunar and asteroidal material utilization for Star Wars/SDI. Notable were the exceptional efforts of some of the retired or retiring visionaries who went out of their way to push for lunar and/or asteroidal materials utilization - former NASA administrator Dr. James Fletcher who briefly shifted his focus to SDI; retiring ARPA Director Dr. Roger Cliff; and Lawrence Livermore Labs' Dr. Edward Teller (inventor of the hydrogen bomb) and his top protege Dr. Lowell Wood who pushed "The Columbus Project", a return to the Moon with a largely self-sufficient lunar base.
On the 2Oth anniversary of the landing of Apollo 11, President Bush stated that the United States should go "...back to the Moon, back to the future, and this time, back to stay ...And then a journey into tomorrow, a journey to another planet, a manned mission to Mars." While Bush was a heartfelt supporter of the space program (though not a strong, charismatic leader), this small speech was written by one of his speechwriters based on text handed to him from others ultimately supported by NASA. It didn't get much press attention as it was seen as just another parroting of an old NASA report by a speechwriter, though it got used within NASA by the lunar base promoters to get more funding. There was certainly no financial commitment from the Executive Branch. Bush's speech was certainly not the caliber of JFK's resounding speech to Congress committing America to landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.
Many key political operatives think that going back to the Moon again just doesn't strike the majority of American taxpayers as worth the expense, in spite of the enthusiasm within the Moon-Mars community. A more likely response by the American taxpayers to such a proposal is believed to be "Been there, done that already." Hence, the Bush thrust did not go far beyond diverting a small additional amount of taxpayer money to the Johnson Space Center's lunar researchers and in turn a few others around the country. (Notably, this government site is in President Bush's home state, Texas, and in fact is in his main city of residence and where the oil company where he made his riches became based, Houston. I mention this because it is unfortunate that someone in his home turf didn't persuade President Bush to go further with his speech and commitment, e.g., large scale space development by the private sector using lunar materials. Apparently the people at JSC who support that do not circulate in President Bush's local social circles of businessmen, industrialists and magnates. It was an opportunity lost. But President Bush's son is now Governor of Texas and a leading candidate for President in the year 2000, plus another son is Governor of Florida, another space state.)
Other reasons why none of these initiatives have taken off in the public's eyes or gained outstanding support:
A few years before Bush became President, the American people had already become restless with the lack of vision for the space program despite its high expense. In 1986, a response to pressures to come up with something visionary that is space-related, the political process produced the National Commission on Space, formed under a presidential directive. Unfortunately, this group was not characterized by strong leadership and did not paint a vision of large scale space industrialization and colonization. Indeed, it did not rise up much beyond current NASA programmatics at the time, and mainly just bolstered existing concepts from within the bureaucracy and contractor community.
It's final report did have a chapter recommending utilization of nonterrestrial materials for supporting human settlements on the Moon and on Mars, but not for colonies in orbital space or for the private sector to use in space industrialization. There wasn't significant coverage of making economically useful products from nonterrestrial materials, and the ultimate focus was on support for going to Mars. The front cover, which gives the first impression, pictured a rocket blasting off of Mars amidst a human colony, including astronauts in the foreground jumping up in the air in glee by firing their rocket backpacks. Few people outside the space community took the report seriously, and indeed it received sometimes harsh criticism from both outside the space community and from some entrenched interests within the space program. Outside the space enthusiast community, it got scant political or general public attention, understandably. The push to go to Mars is older than Texan Vice President Spiro Agnew's call at the end of Apollo, as noted by journalists who bothered to cover the report. Like countless other committee reports, it was put on the shelf to collect dust.
Understand, many inside the space community think the report is wonderful, but they are often careless and inconsiderate about the wants of the voting taxpayer or others outside their special interest group.
One thing I don't understand is why there was no significant discussion of colonies in orbital space, e.g., rotating for artificial gravity and with all the advantages over colonies on the Moon and Mars, and why there was no significant mention of making products and services so the space program pays something back. Not even in the long term section. This despite the fact that certain organizations knowledgeable about these concepts were claiming to be making their own inputs to the development of the report, and urging others not to make such inputs because they were already being made... My advice to readers is to not depend on others to be successful, and not to be deterred by that kind of talk by the clique. Insist on finding out details, and don't settle for any need for secrecy from the taxpayer during the draft.
An extract from the final report: "Exploring and prospecting the Moon, learning to use lunar resources and work within lunar constraints, would provide the experience and expertise necessary for further human exploration [and to] find out if life once existed [elsewhere in] the solar system." Forget selling products and services to Earth as a result of lunar development... Further, "There is no doubt that exploring, prospecting, and settling Mars should be the ultimate objectives of human exploration." Again, no mention of space colonies in the economically productive area of high Earth orbit, as pictured in the old picture of the wheel colony I use.
They had no excuse. PERMANENT made an official submission to the National Commission on Space, and participated in a public hearing. The paper submission had a big copy of the space colony artwork from the first page of this website, together with some concise briefs on using asteroidal and lunar materials for building valuable products in space around Earth for a self sufficient space program. I also addressed a few of the commission members (most positively and diplomatically, of course) who showed up at one of their scheduled public hearings (they didn't all show up…). However, knowing Washington, D.C., I doubt if any of the big name people on the Commission ever read the PERMANENT submission on paper, despite all that was said in public in response to the presidential directive to listen to the public. I didn't see much come from that process except bigtime consulting money for the commission members, and I'm sure they had fun and ego massages … and deserved the negative press response they received. Indeed, at some of the public hearings including my own (the one in Washington, D.C.), not only were some of the Commission members absent, but you could see certain others frequently and rudely speaking to each other during the course of peoples' well prepared addresses to the commission when such conversations should have come between testimonials or other times. Some of their eyes were glazing over, too.
While they were paid well to be on the commission, it is said that the final report was not a group effort but was written by just a few with the help of staffers. I didn't bother to try to confirm that. Maybe someone who reads this can clear up the facts.
The final report was one that just promotes paying the same old NASA bureaucrats and contractors to do the same old things at taxpayer expense, with no end in sight for the space program's dependence on the taxpayer. It seems endemic to the system, and the more I see, the more I am led to think that reform is not the solution to NASA -- a revolutionary shakeup is. This is in agreement with many other people with similar experience.
There was another report in 1987, which was initiated due to the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, combined with the perception that America's space program had weak leadership. The report was titled "Leadership and America's Future in Space", but was more commonly referred to as The Ride Report, after the popular female Space Shuttle mission specialist Dr. Sally Ride who was thrust into the position of being a chief architect of the report. (Notably, there's a common misconception by the public that good Space Shuttle mission specialists are also good generalists or know everything that goes on in other parts of the space program besides their own...) This turned out to be a more technocratic report than the National Commission on Space report, and was still based on NASA's current programmatics rather than rising up and proposing something bold and visionary. The Ride Report is most noted for its Mission to Planet Earth, for expanding remote sensing and studies of Earth from space (which began with LandSat in 1972 and already led by the French by the mid-1980s).
When Bush became President and made his speech about going back to the Moon and then to Mars, referenced above, the result was the "Space Exploration Initiative (SEI)" (which sounds akin to the Strategic Defense Initiative but of course is not, and funding was many orders of magnitude less) and a NASA Office of Exploration to run it. NASA was tasked to determine what was necessary to achieve the President's vision. What NASA came up with was a 30-year, $400 billion program that was the epitome of bureaucratic arrogance and lack of sociopolitical realism. There were practically no paybacks, just another government porkbarrel project, this time to put humans onto the moon permanently to live (100% dependent upon government support) and then on Mars.
The SEI proponents made their pitch to Congress with an initial $309 million request for funding in Fiscal Year 1991. The House overwhelmingly rejected it from the budget, 355 to 48. A $37 million FY 1993 request was also rejected. The SEI and the Office of Exploration failed to be effective at all, and in some ways caused more political damage than good.
When the Clinton Administration came in, one of the first things to get cut in the budget was Star Wars/SDI. Indeed, SDIO was reorganized and demoted to a lower level office, renamed BMDO (Ballistic Missile Defence Office). In addition, the NASA Office of Exploration was eliminated entirely. SEI was officially pronounced dead.
As the Star Wars/SDI budget shrank and competing interests battled it out for a shrinking pie, the best the advocates of lunar and asteroidal materials utilization could get was the already-funded Clementine Mission, albeit no small feat.
An interesting fact is that many large NASA projects start with small budgets in the initial years, and then the yearly budget for each project increases as the project matures. Sometimes, this foot-in-the-door technique is just the initial tactic used by NASA and its incestuous contractors to line up porkbarrel money for their special interest groups over the long term. That's why Congress is reluctant to let a project get started even when the initial budgets are low, e.g., $37 million for SEI for FY1993. As the former Director of the NASA Johnson Space Center, Aaron Cohen, put it: "Congress was very much against starting the exploration program, because they felt from experience that once industry got their foot in the door they could not stop it. That is why they stopped the entire project or anything that had to do with exploration". (ref: Cohen's telefax to Marshall) This is referring to the lobbying and politicking power of large private aerospace government contractors. They will use some of the money they get in the initial studies to build up their power base by political contributions and lobby for more money, but they won't push anything if they don't get some money first, i.e., they won't push many things at their own expense, but will with part of the initial millions they get from the taxpayer in order to squeeze more out of the taxpayer.
Indeed, when you look at the actual approved NASA budgets for FY 1989-96, you see that if we just complete the projects already started and entrenched then the NASA budget will have to double. Before leaving NASA in 1992 (when Bush was leaving and Clinton was about to come in), the head of NASA under President Bush complained that NASA would not be able to continue its current programs without substantial budget increases.
This is largely why initiatives for new things like asteroidal materials utilization is met with outright hostility by NASA and its entrenched supporters. They counter that we can't afford it because we can't even find enough money for "vital" existing programs. It's rejected out of hand.
Still another study group around 1990 to make recommendations regarding NASA was the Augustine Commission, which produced the Augustine Report. The result was pretty much the same (and requested that NASA funding be increased at 10% per year, which compounds quickly into a doubling of the NASA budget…). As the late Dr. Gerard K. O'Neill, an exceptionally visionary member of the Augustine Commission, said at an SSI/AIAA conference shortly before his death:
Indeed, some scientists who have been promoted high up in the space program due to their scientific credentials care little about the needs and interests of the taxpayer who is a lowly nonscientist in their eyes, or commercial space development. It's often sheer arrogance.
Presently, NASA alone gets about fifteen billion dollars per year, manna from heaven. That's the standard way (a congressional appropriation) that money comes to a Federal agency; as a pure drain on the taxpayers. Unfortunately, NASA really is doing almost nothing concrete for the economic well-being of this country and for the environment of the world. It is hard to find exceptions to that statement and especially exceptions with a significant amount of funding.
Despite NASA's high spending level, there is practically nothing in the NASA budget for industrializing and colonizing space using asteroidal materials, the ultimate value and interest of the American taxpayer. NASA has become an incestuous porkbarrel government body.
To quote one of the NASA JSC group's documents on their website:
There were some smaller groups at other NASA branches a long time ago, but they disbanded due to lack of funding. The vast majority of the published work of value to date has come with support from NASA.
Some of the technologies and probes funded by NASA JSC will be very useful for space industrialization by the private sector, but that will be outside their intended scope. One thing is for sure, though: the old Mars mission goal will continue to pay bureaucrats in NASA and their favorite contractors to perform leisurely research and be the uninspiring official leaders for as long as they are around, but they appear unlikely to lead the rest of humanity and business into space, realistically. It will just pay for their personal lifestyles, and not yield much outside accomplishment. Just lots of paper reports on the shelves.
There's also a question of how much of this taxpayer-funded technology development will be in the public domain. There are some advantages to government funding of basic technology for private industry to use (i.e., nonproprietary), when the taxpayer gets access to what they are paying for. But getting access via contractors is often not easy at all.
From my experience dealing in government circles, new initiatives usually come from the top, not the bottom. Go to a contractor or in-house government group with an initiative and you will usually get a response of "Where does this fit into what we are getting money for or what we've been given the directive to do? Who in government is giving away money for this?", even if it fits with their ultimate vision very well. If there's not money already up for grabs, they aren't going to do anything. They're not proactive.
There are some exceptions and exceptional leaders, but the vast majority maintain this stance. They have a secure government or contractor job and just want to stay on the established gravy train, not work much harder than the minimum to perform their narrowly defined job regardless of whether it lacks realism, and certainly not rock the boat. Even when an individual leader or group takes up a new grassroots initiative, it must be sold and pushed up through the ranks in order to compete for funding or gain new funding, and there are plenty of people who will try to shoot down competitors. Indeed, a good way to lose your job with a contractor is to propose a better alternative than one's currently secured project.
It seems clear that any major government effort will need to come from the top, e.g., the President or Vice President, who are not entrenched in an established, traditional space development group. It is hoped that President Clinton or Vice President Gore would do something bold for a change in the last years of their leadership. They've got nothing to lose, and everything to gain historically.
The only way to change NASA is by truly reinventing the agency - revolution. That must come as a Presidential Directive, with strong leadership to stand up to pandering.
An objective of PERMANENT is to provide a thorough set of materials which administrators, policymakers and speechwriters can use to compose their own policies and programs, and to link up with the necessary people in the field for mutual support.
The following is a 1995 quote by longtime Washington, D.C., space activist Jim Muncy (firstname.lastname@example.org), via the Space Frontier Foundation mailing list:
It's up to us to pioneer the space frontier, not the government.
As Dr. John S. Lewis put it at an SSI/AIAA conference:
It is likely that we must either get through to the very top government leadership of this country such as the President of a major country or those running for top office (not anyone who has risen up through NASA), or else we must forget government and put together a private sector venture.
An excellent paper by Matthew Fisk Marshall covers government events very well from 1989 to mid-1996 from the viewpoint of using lunar and asteroidal materials for space industrialization and colonization. (Paper ref.)
In the same publication is an interesting psychological and sociopolitical analysis of proponents, both professionals who have been successful in rising up inside the space program and trying to lead it now, and their followers. Arthur M. Hingerty: "A new approach to the policy question can be realized by critically examining the fundamental assumptions and beliefs of the space proponents. The theory of myth-systems provides a means to examine these principles ... The political myth is defined as the entity that embodies the fundamental assumptions, which may or may not be true, about political matters. Three elements are identified that comprise the political myth and that make explicit demands on the political system's constituents ...  the political doctrine [i.e., things to be believed, and why you should be compelled to their authority, e.g., that Mars is the next place to go] ...  the miranda [i.e., admired and established entities, e.g., an ex-Apollo astronaut] ...  the formula [i.e., the programs to support, e.g., the SEI] ... Adhering to a myth, without regard to changing external realities and the problems and opportunities they present, can result in the "bondage of tradition" ... Thus, the group can be blinded to alternative and beneficial courses of action ... As a result, the space proponents project any blame for not being able to carry out the vision onto external forces. The projection releases the space proponents from the responsibility of questioning and changing their narrow perspective on how to carry out the vision" (Paper ref.) The myth also relieves them of acknowledging responsibility for their failures to lead successfully at the peak of their careers by blaming others, and sometimes may give them a myth basis for trying to impede alternative leaders by not completely acknowleging or understanding the changing political realities beyond the traditional peer group they're immersed within, rather than adapting positively to the changing realities and opportunities presented, and coming up with a successful new kind of formula.