A recent article in The Economistmagazine, titled “The End of the Space Age,” states that “the fantasy-made-reality of human space flight will return to fantasy. It is likely that the Space Age is over.”
Proposing these conclusions, the article takes on nearly all the sacred assumptions and aspirations within the greater space sphere. It says that despite the lofty talk and equally expansive ambitions, we are essentially dead in the water of Earth orbit. Its conclusions blast the prevailing rhetoric of the “new space” story, the story of a destiny for humankind evolving off Earth, into a bold and uplifting future.
With all that, the article is less a call to battle than a reasonable call for the space community to explain its future. It presents a challenge to move beyond visions that leapfrog generations of the unknown and focus on what will reasonably happen in the next 50 or so years.
Our response, a new and concrete vision, must have the character of an algorithm of how we intend to get from here to there. It must present, with greater clarity than has ever existed among us, a coordinated vision, a suggested roadmap, a robust model that has the feel of being substantive, comprehensive and concrete. It must reflect that we see, feel and responsibly believe the way forward to the near/medium future for space.
Space Exploration Technologies founder Elon Musk, following the successful flight of the Falcon 9, said that now begins the long and hard work. At present there is an open-ended gap between the reality of that long and hard work and our more expansive and broad aspirations for the future. We need to bind that gap in time, with clarity, specificity and linearity of vision. What we have today is a disjointed, fragmented and fuzzy amalgam of hard work, hope and hype. What we need is a consensus vision, a meeting of minds on the near/medium future we are pursuing.
As one who enjoys a good glass of Kool-Aid as much as anyone, I experience the Economist article as a bubble-busting wake-up call, a call to unite and solidify our vision so that it can be expressed clearly for others to see and invest in (emotionally, intellectually and financially.) Given The Economist’s gravitas and power to influence important opinion, we need to answer its challenge. We need to take on the specific task of proving to ourselves, and readers of The Economist, that the Space Age is not over.
William M. Boland Jr.