On October 4, 1957, a few days more than a year before I was born, the Soviet Union launched the tiny Sputnik 1 into geocentric orbit around the Earth. That event effectively initiated last century’s Space Race, resulting in the rapid development of mankind’s ability to explore outer space. Yuri Gagarin’s historic first human spaceflight on April 12, 1961 further captured the imagination of America.
Speaking to a Joint Session of Congress on May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy challenged our nation to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth before the decade was out. Kennedy later made a speech at Rice University on September 12, 1962, in which he said “No nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for space.” and “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
On June 20, 1969, an Ohio farm boy named Neil Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on the Moon, saying “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” and effectively bringing the 20th century Space Race to a close.
But you know all of this already.
You probably watched a lot of this story unfold, mesmerized and huddled around a black and white television set in your family’s living room. But do you know about the 21st century’s Space Race that’s just beginning, once again with our nation behind and in a position to try to catch up? Read on …
Published in Scientific American in July of 2008, the article Farming Solar Energy in Space states “Shrugging off massive costs, Japan pursues space-based solar arrays”. The Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) is heading up a team of over 180 scientists from various research institutes doing research in both laser and microwave based space solar power systems. “We’re doing this research for commonsense reasons—as a potential solution to the challenges posed by the exhaustion of fossil fuels and global warming,” says Hiroaki Suzuki of JAXA’s Advanced Mission Research Center.
One of Japan’s major early goals is to have in place a one gigawatt space solar power system by 2030. They are now doing the basic science to determine if the project is actually feasible. And, according to the article, while the total cost of the project will be enormous, that does not stand in the way of laying the scientific foundation for a successful deployment.
The questions to my fellow citizens, government and industry leaders are:
- Who is going to step forward and challenge our nation to embark on the research and development of space-based solar power, not because it is easy or because it is hard, but because of it’s potentially tremendous positive impact on the future of our nation and all of mankind?
- When will we launch the first, perhaps tiny, solar power satellite into geocentric orbit and receive the first solar energy collected in space for use on the Earth?
- Who will be the first American to set foot on a solar power satellite in geosynchronous orbit, transmitting gigawatts of pure, clean energy to Earth?
- Will we enter this 21st century Space Race at all, before it is too late? I hope so … I really do.