26 May 2009
- Tourism (Good)
Hopes for the Augustine Review
Come on, Norm - we know you know!
by Patrick Collins
A "Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans" chaired by Norman Augustine has recently been anounced, to report at the end of August or later. A potentially important piece of good news is that "stimulating commercial space flight capability" is one of the subjects to be addressed by the review.

Assuming this to include passenger space flight, this is surely the first time this topic has been put explicitly on the US space policy agenda. This itself is major progress: clear evidence that it is finally recognised that it is too important to be ignored any longer. Remembering also that Nasa is required by law to

". . seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space . ."
this offers a unique opportunity for the Augustine review to get it right, and make recommendations that could finally propel America into space - after decades of unnecessary delay.

Some commentators, referring to the results of a 1990 report on space policy also chaired by Augustine, predict that the new review will favour space science and downgrade human space flight. However, that could be fine, so long as Augustine sticks to his guns . . .

Ex-CEO of Lockheed Martin, Augustine is very experienced in the government-aerospace industry - but he's also an American patriot. Among other causes, he has worked long and hard trying to improve both science and engineering education and research in the USA. For example, he was a major contributor to the "Gathering Storm" report on the urgent need to improve U.S. engineering education in order to preserve the American economy.

(Significantly, a key criticism of the "Gathering Storm" report was that it concentrated too much on the supply of engineers. But in the face of a major lack of new industries, there is inadequate demand for the engineers already being produced. Curing the log-jam requires creating new industries that will employ loads of engineers at good salaries. Then kids will pile into science and engineering courses.)

This January Augustine told a congressional committee that government spending tends to create short-term jobs, but what is needed is long-term job creation. This chimes with what we here at Space Future often stress: THE KEY NEED OF THE WORLD ECONOMY IS NEW INDUSTRIES - specifically to replace the huge number of jobs being lost from older industries in the rich countries.

On this topic, Augustine has noted that barely 10% of American science teachers have a science degree, and argued that the USA needs "a complete overhaul of our schools, and a renewal of science and technology in the classroom". The problem is that, though this may well be true, just saying so is hardly a recipe for success - particularly at a time when federal and state governments are cutting spending across the board!

Something else is needed. In particular, while young people can see engineers being sacked left and right from the computer industry, the automobile industry, the aircraft industry, etc, etc, they understandably lose interest in studying engineering and science.

So what could this "something else" be?

Well, we can get a hint from this graph prepared by the late Richard Smalley, Nobel-winning co-discoverer of C60 fullerenes, and inspired campaigner for US energy independence:

This figure shows that when young Americans believed that they might actually get to fly to space for themselves, they piled into studying physics and other sciences - with the result, among others, that the USA won the race to the Moon hands down. And when the continuation of the Apollo project was cancelled (largely due to the escalating costs of the Vietnam war, which cost many times more than Apollo) so young Americans realised they were NOT going to get to fly to space, they abandoned physics - and have never returned . . .

So it is a piece of amazing good fortune that Norm Augustine is one of very few people at his level in the USA who are capable of suggesting exactly what that "something else" should be. This is because, back in January 2000, 4 years before SpaceShipOne, in an Aviation Week article entitled " The Wright Brothers Meet Adam Smith" (Vol 152, No 1, pp 48-9), Augustine wrote:

". . the most important space development will be the advent of a burgeoning tourist industry to near-Earth orbit during the middle of the next century".
(This article led off Aviation Week's "The Next Century of Flight" series, to which the author also made an invited contribution: "Space Tourism: A Remedy for 'Crisis in Aerospace'", Vol 155, No 24, p 98.)

In having such insight, Augustine joined other luminaries such as Tom Rogers, Ivan Bekey, Bob Bigelow and Buzz Aldrin who all "get it" about the importance of space tourism for reducing space travel costs and thereby opening space up to many other commercial activities. These people have all championed the idea that passenger space travel is now a realistic and desirable objective for the space industry, and that orbital travel and accommodation could and should become the largest commercial activity in space during the 21st Century - and will itself enable innumerable other business opportunities in space.

Famous for his insightful and entertaining "Augustine's Laws" about the crazy ways of the government-funded US aerospace industry, Norman Augustine's duty as a patriotic American at the present time of genuine crisis for the USA is clear: he must stick to his guns, and insist on investment to achieve this wonderful goal as rapidly as possible.

That is, he must lead his committee-members to recommend what is good for the American people - not a continuation of what is good for the sclerotic vested interests that have continued to drive Nasa's agenda ever since the end of the cold war 20 years ago.

Three simple steps are all it will take:

1 Scrap the very idea of another mission to the Moon using expendable rockets.

2 Set up a deep FAA-Nasa collaboration, with lots of outside participation, including from the general public, to brainstorm how to realise the fastest possible growth of passenger space travel, both sub-orbital and orbital, and its spinoffs.*

3 Devote 10% of Nasa's annual budget to this activity - (thereby still leaving 90% for those who do whatever it is that Nasa spends money on: they can hardly complain at a 10% cut in the present economic environment).

Then just sit back and watch the BOOOOM! :-)

(*: NB this is not to suggest a "Nasa project" to develop passenger space travel. The FAA has enormous experience in aiding the development of a successful commercial air travel industry. With more funding the FAA could greatly accelerate the growth of a successful space travel industry, which is currently held back primarily by a drastic shortage of investment. U.S. civil aviation turns over hundreds of $billions/year, and Nasa spends $16 billion/year, so it would obviously be easy to provide $1 billion/year to develop the new industry of passenger space travel.

Even $1 billion/year spent on developing space travel will generate more economic growth than the remaining $15 billion spent by Nasa - you can bet on it. (That's why they don't want to allow it.) Just giving $50 million each to half-a-dozen companies to develop sub-orbital passenger-carrying prototypes would trigger a nation-wide boom. And spending the rest on getting reusable orbital passenger vehicle development under way - both VTOL and HTOL - would help reset the trajectory of the US economy. In the current dire state of the US economy and economic policy there is no honest argument against this: it would clearly be good for the country.)

If this was done, does anyone doubt that recruiters for the resulting projects would have the pick of the true cream of American youth? . . . that is, of the uniquely ambitious, energetic, hard-working, enthusiastic, confident, law-abiding young people who originally built the USA . . . exactly as Nasa had during the boom years of the early 1960s, when its staff grew from 3,000 to 30,000 - leading to an average age of 27!

Just think about it. What couldn't they do?

Is there any other project that could possibly motivate young Americans more? - including to study science and engineering?
Or that could, at a stroke, do more to revive America's traditional role as a magnet for ambitious young people everywhere?
Furthermore, this would ensure that when Americans next walk on the Moon they will be going there to stay, because the reusable orbital passenger vehicles that will be developed will have such low costs.

So come on, Norm. We know that you know . . . that "the most important space development will be . . . a burgeoning tourist industry"! :-)

Twenty years is more than enough time for them to adjust to the new reality - that the cold war is over, and a genuinely new paradigm for human space flight is now required.

Some people do stand up to vested interests - and they live forever in history.

The immortal Shaftesbury Memorial in London's Piccadilly Circus (also known as Cupid or The Angel of Christian Charity) is a wonderful example, which will last as long as London. It was paid for by popular subscription to thank Lord Shaftesbury for ending child labour in factories and many similar horrors caused by the greed and brutality of 19th century financiers - which is matched by Wall Street's current plunder of the American people, including engineers. How many trillions have they had so far? So why not a billion/year for space travel engineering?

Creating a booming orbital tourism industry will not only go a long way towards reviving the US economy, and especially aerospace engineering, it will also give a unique stimulus to sustainable economic growth world-wide. In doing so it could well alleviate as much suffering as Lord Shaftesbury did.

So come on, Norm! GO FOR IT! Say it like it is!

This is your chance for immortality - up there with true mould-breakers like Billy Mitchell, Lindberg and von Braun.

It's time to give the American people their chance . . . to show the rest of the world a clean pair of heels.

Do it for the future of America . . for your own grandchildren . . and for everyone.

Please get us off this rock, at last - and into the scintillating future that we know is waiting out there!

* * *

See also my invited speech to the FAA's 4th annual Commercial Space Transportation Forecasting Conference, February 2001, The Prospects for Passenger Space Travel.
Things have not progressed as fast as they should have since then: 8 years and more than $100 billion gone by!
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Patrick Collins 26 May 2009
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