Friday, July 22, 2005

Opening Remarks Of The Return To Moon Conference 2005.

The conference started with welcoming remarks by Jeff Feige and Jeff Krukin both of the Space Frontier Foundation. Feige explained that this year’s conference was designed to bring together industry, entrepreneurs, “out of the box thinkers,” and others and have them sit down and listen to each other about going back to the moon.

Joe Hogan, the Nevada State Assemblyman who represents Las Vegas, welcomed the audience to his town. Hogan has a history with NASA having worked for them before and after the 1969 Lunar landing. In his experience at the time NASA had two problems he noticed: one, a lack of diversity and two, a problem with contracting methods. Hogan had come from the Department of Defense where they had been experimenting with “incentive methodologies” in contracting. NASA did not operate that way.

As far as he can tell, NASA has addressed the diversity problem. As for the contracting problem, he couldn’t say. Judging from some of the remarks by panelists later in the day, NASA still has a ways to go in addressing contracting.
Rick Tumlinson spoke next to set the theme for the conference. He opened with his standard catch phrase, “Welcome to the Revolution.” He then described Las Vegas in terms familiar to space colonization advocates as a city in an inhospitable environment (the day’s temperature was over 100) where the people live in artificial habitats established not by government planning but by “interesting characters” operating on their own agenda far from the radar screens of government planners. As he put it, “that’s what people do in this country.” (See here for a prior post describing Vegas in similar fashion.)

Then Tumlinson talked about historical lessons of the Vikings coming to North America and how we don’t really know what caused the Viking colonies to fail, but whatever it was, in his view the problem was the Vikings had not created enough value in their colonies that they were worth fighting for.

He said that for the space program to succeed we have to learn the lesson of the Vikings’ failure and create enough value in space that it becomes worth fighting for. To do that the space program has to be made economically viable. He argued that the problem with the shuttle and the space station is that neither was designed to be part of an economically viable infrastructure in space.

He concluded by asserting that the opportunity exists today to make an economically viable infrastructure in space. He attributed part of that to President Bush’s Vision for Space Exploration which sets a national goal of sending humans back to space to stay. The other part he attributed to the success of Space Ship One and others who are working in the private sector. As he explained, the opportunity today exists because “we have a government committed to going to space to stay and a private sector that is ready to step up.”

To do it right he said, we must commit to going to space to stay and understand that “nobody stays unless somebody pays” whether that is the taxpayers or customers. In his view, NASA should not build rockets, it should buy them. To get there, the private sector can’t over-promise what it can deliver and the government can’t expect too much yet. But the government’s obligation, because it has a need for space infrastructure, is to make decisions to begin seeding and catalyzing the industry.

The panel discussions began after Tumlinson’s remarks. Look for more on those in coming days. But here’s an impression to start. Representatives from industry dominated the panels. Not from the big names in aerospace but from the smaller companies who are trying to break out and to push the envelope. But the moderator of each panel was a representative from NASA. Furthermore, the idea that NASA will be a major customer and a driver for technological development appears to be a consensus view. So the new space industry that is being born today may be a space travel revolution in the making, but if today’s panels are an indicator, government will be there at the birth of that revolution.

Whether government will be a midwife or, to strain the metaphor, a social worker there to take the newborn baby away remains to be seen. The consensus view of the panelists today seemed to favor the former rather than the latter.



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