Today, rather than mourn the final chapter of NASA’s Space Transportation System (STS) program, I choose to look to the future of America’s continuing, global leadership as a spacefaring nation. Whether it be the establishment of a permanent lunar outpost, manned missions to Mars, mining of near earth objects, the establishment of space-based solar power satellites, or all of the above and beyond, the next chapters in America’s exploration of space will definitely inspire many generations of our citizens, both young and old.
I was under the flight path of the Space Shuttle Endeavour OV-105 this morning, as it passed over Redwood City, California. The Endeavour, atop the specially outfitted 747, had flown over the Golden Gate Bridge and was on its way to a low flyover of Moffett Field, in Mountain View, to honor the employees and their families at NASA’s Ames Research Center.
The Endeavour was built to replace Challenger, and from 1992 to 2011, flew a total of twenty-five missions. The Endeavour’s final destination is the the California Science Center in Los Angeles, California.
Every form of energy we have can eventually be traced back to the Sun. Space based solar power solves the on/off problem of terrestrial solar power, and could be delivered nearly anywhere on the planet 24/7/365. These characteristics make space based solar power a virtually unlimited, clean baseload power source.
Currently, payload launch-to-orbit costs are the single biggest hurdle to developing and deploying space based solar power. While it would be a massive and complex engineering project, no basic science breakthroughs are needed before space based solar power could be implemented.
Space based solar power is not a short-term solution to our energy needs. Domestic fossil fuel resources would provide a “bridge” to its eventual implementation … but fossil fuel will be a “bridge to nowhere”, unless we start developing space based solar power very soon.
Citizens for Space Based Solar Power*
*I’m a purely self-appointed advocate, and I have no financial stake in space based solar power. I simply believe that it will eventually be the solution to our energy future.
I wept at the news of Neil Armstrong’s death today. I wept for the man and his family, I wept for what the man symbolized, and I wept for America. As the sad news sank in, I was transported back in time. I was once again in front of that old, black and white television set in my parents’ house in Ohio. It was almost 11:00 PM, the room was dark except for the light coming from the TV, and my dad was sitting beside me on the couch.
Several hours before, our nation watched and listened as the Lunar Module Eagle, separated from the Command Module Columbia. Commander Neil Armstrong and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin left Command Module Pilot Michael Collins in lunar orbit, as they began their historic descent to the surface of the Moon. Soon, a voice called out declining altitude and velocity numbers. The details of the lunar surface grew clearer out a triangular window, and the shadow of the LM came into view. From Mission Control in Houston, we finally heard, “We copy you down, Eagle.” And then came the famous response:
“Houston … uh … Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
On that warm summer evening of July 21, 1969, I was mesmerized by the grainy picture of a fellow Ohioan, a farm boy from the small town of Wapakoneta on the other side of the state, poised on the ladder of the LM. I held my breath while Neil Armstrong described how far the pads of the lander had sunk into the powdery surface, only about one to two inches, he reported. Then, he said, “I’m going to step off the LM now.” With his right hand still on the ladder, he spoke for himself, and for all of humankind.
“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The American space program of the late 1950s and 1960s, and men like Neil Armstrong, inspired an entire generation of young people to enter the fields of science, engineering, and mathematics. America was strong, and the undisputed leader in manned and unmanned space exploration. To an eleven-year-old kid from Ohio, it seemed that even the sky was no longer the limit, and that anything we, as a nation, could imagine, was possible.
Today, when I heard that Neil Armstrong, American, First Man on the Moon had died, I wept for the loss of a boyhood hero … and I wept for the loss of America’s once-great space program. With American astronauts now having to hitchhike to the International Space Station, it feels like our nation has lost its desire, determination, and passion to lead the rest of the world into space. Along with that loss of passion, I fear that our space program is rapidly losing the very skills and abilities to once again be the leader in humankind’s exploration of the final frontier.
Neil Armstrong’s family has made a request of us, as we mourn the loss of a most humble, great American:
“The next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”
A friend of mine just sent me a copy of the invitation to the May 22 AIAA Atlanta Dinner Meeting, where Darel Preble, president of the Space Solar Power Institute, is going to present “Space Solar Power – A Strategic Overview”.
I hope many of my former co-workers attend the dinner and learn about the potential of space-based solar power to be a game-changing technology in our energy future. In a partnership with Georgia Tech, Lockheed Martin seems like such a good fit for leading the United States in the commercial development of space-based solar power. They build rockets and satellites, do very large scale systems development and integration, conduct research green energy technologies . . . and they like to make money!
Lockheed Martin should be a charter member of the proposed public-private Sunsat Corporation, and lead the way to our energy future. There certainly is precedent for such a venture, e.g. the Railroad Act of 1862 and the Communications Satellite Act of 1962. I sincerely hope we don’t have to wait until 2062 to see a Sunsat Act come to fruition.
The dinner meeting will be at Scalini’s, one of my favorite Atlanta-area Italian restaurants!
I came across this recent TED Talk and the presenter eloquently summarized, in so many words, why it would be prudent for humankind to begin an earnest effort to make space-based solar power a reality. He believes that humans are highly intelligent and innovative, enough to solve the problem of over-exceeding the planet’s carrying capacity with no sign of recognition that infinite growth is a myth, a pipe dream.
According to Gilding, the only thing humankind lacks to begin solving this problem is a truly major worldwide financial crisis . . . the kind that could be precipitated by the collapse of today’s oil and coal industries. Are we, as card-carrying members of humankind, so focused on our own navels—so not nearly as advanced as we think we are—that we need a massive, painful crisis for motivation?
Why not just skip the crisis and start solving our problems now? Sounds like a better plan to me. What do you think?
The First International Assessment of Space Solar Power:
Opportunities, Issuesand Potential Pathways Forward
Recently, a member of the National Space Society Board of Directors informed Citizens for Space Based Solar Power of the following:
“On 14 November the National Space Society (NSS) will premier the 3-Year, 10-Nation, International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) Report on Space-Based Solar Power.”
From the IAA website: “Now, more than ever, large-scale and sustainable new energy sources are needed to meet global needs while satisfying environmental concerns. . . . During 2008-2010, the first international assessment of space solar power was conducted by a study group under the auspices of the International Academy of Astronautics.” The study contains the following major sections:
2. Solar Power Satellite Systems Concepts
3. SPS Supporting Systems
4. Technology Readiness And Risk Assessment
5. SSP / SPS Policy And Other Considerations
6. SPS Market Assessment and Economics
7. Preliminary Systems Analysis Results
8. An International Roadmap for Space Solar Power
9. Conclusion: Findings And Recommendations
The following is a 41-minute presentation from the International Space Solar Power Symposium at the National Space Society 2011 International Space Development Conference (ISDC) of a draft report of the study, Space Solar Power: The First International Assessment of Opportunities, Issues, and Potential Pathways Forward by John C. Mankins (Artemis Innovation). Mankins is the Chair and Editor of the study.