Ever since US President Kennedy pledged in the early 1960s that the US would land a man on the moon within the decade, the US has been caught up in episodic bouts of space enthusiasm. Engineers and other technical people tend to be science fiction fans at some stage in their lives, soaking in visions of outer space exploration and space outposts and colonies on the moon, Mars, and beyond. Until now, nothing much has come from these bouts of space fever — but something seems different this time around.
The world’s richest man — Jeff Bezos — and one of the world’s most audacious men — Elon Musk — are competing to be the one man that fathers the true age of humans in space. Musk’s company SpaceX has been successfully launching satellites and ISS resupply missions for well over a year, and Bezos’ New Glenn heavy launcher is poised to begin launching heavy orbital payloads in less than three years.
Now Jeff Bezos Wants to Go to the Moon
Recently at a Washington DC ballroom in a gala event, Jeff Bezos announced plans to build spacecraft that could land on the moon. He wants to be the one that makes permanent space outposts and habitats on the moon a reality. Bezos also wants to facilitate the building of giant space habitats orbiting Earth, with human populations into the millions each.
Some of you may remember the heady days of Gerard K. O’Neill’s “High Frontier,” and the grand idea to build large space habitats in L4 and L5 orbits between Earth and the Moon. Bezos’ dream is a bit closer to Earth, with the giant idyllic habitats directly orbiting the home planet.
“These are very large structures, miles on end. They would hold a million people or more each,” explained Bezos to a quiet audience made up of supporters, media, and elementary school robotic students.
He went on to show images of cities, parks, mountains, and waterfalls all in a self-contained rotating space cylinder. He talked about how they could differ in gravity, perhaps affording humans an opportunity to become birds.
“You could have a recreational [colony] that has zero Gs so that you can go flying,” Bezos said dramatically pausing, “With your own wings.”
While acknowledging that this reality is extremely far off, Bezos set out his utopian vision. Humans will live peacefully together among the stars in these contained O’Neill colonies rather than spreading to inhospitable worlds like Mars.
“This is Maui on its best day all year long; no rain, no storms, no earthquakes,” he said, “People are going to want to live here.” __ https://www.popularmechanics.com/space/moon-mars/a27434904/jeff-bezos-oneill-world-history/
[Admin: Note that the Popular Mechanics article above posted an image of the wrong Gerard O’Neill. You can never be too careful about fact checking the people who run the media these days.]
Both Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos can seem a bit grandiose at times. Here are some of the problems Bezos plans to solve, for example:
His immense wealth often prompts questions about how he chooses to spend it, and Bezos hinted at the criticism on Thursday. “There are immediate problems, things that we have to work on … I’m talking about poverty, hunger, homelessness, pollution, overfishing in the oceans,” he said. “But there are also long-range problems, and we need to work on those too.” __ https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/05/jeff-bezos-moon-nasa/589150/
Bezos is not alone among the new rich in wanting to solve problems that do not easily lend themselves to real world solutions, beyond grand words and phrases. Bill Gates’ foundation is working on many of man’s oldest and most intractable problems. Elon Musk is trying to solve global warming using solar energy of all things. The fact is, no matter how wealthy a person becomes, there is no solution to the inability of the human brain to solve itself. Wherever we go, there we are, and there will also be humanity’s problems.
But if we are not willing to reach beyond our grasp, what’s a heaven for? Or so Mr. Browning suggested many years ago.
So What is Different This Time?
This time, the space enthusiasm does not rest on the fickle shoulders of politicians and government bureaucrats. This time it is being pushed by super-wealthy individuals who are planning to find a growing number of ways to become much wealthier as a giant web of new space enterprises grows itself outward from Earth to the moon to near-Earth asteroids to Mars and beyond.
The sheer willpower and ingenuity of private entrepreneurs within an opportunity society such as the US is a force to be reckoned with. Things will be moved to make it all possible, because the very technologies that made these men wealthy are all enmeshed within a larger movement of innovation — from biotech to nanotech to advanced computing to increasingly autonomous robots and more. As long as governments are not the ones driving the projects and decisions, something special is likely to get done.