Cover image for Entering space : creating a spacefaring civilization
Entering space : creating a spacefaring civilization
Zubrin, Robert.
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New York : Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, [1999]

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xiv, 305 pages : color illustrations ; 24 cm
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TL795.7 .Z83 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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A look at the future of space travel examines the true potential for human expeditions into outer space, the prospects for colonization of the outer planets of the solar system, and their implications for the future of humankind.

Author Notes

Dr. Robert Zubrin is an internationally renowned astronautical engineer and the acclaimed author of The Case for Mars, which Arthur C. Clarke called "the most comprehensive account of the past and future of Mars that I have ever encountered." NASA recently adapted Zubrin's humans-to-Mars mission plan. A former senior engineer at Lockheed Martin, Zubrin is the president of the Mars Society, and the founder of Pioneer Astronautics, a successful space exploration and development firm. He lives with his family in Indian Hills, Colorado.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Anyone frustrated by a space program that pours money into static projects, such as the space shuttle and the space station, may look to Zubrin for better ideas. A rocket scientist whose Case for Mars (1996) outlined an inexpensive Mars mission now under serious NASA consideration, Zubrin combines technical hardheadedness with proselytizing commitment in his efforts to revitalize space exploration. In this incandescently imagined book, he describes how first the inner solar system, then the outer planets, and eventually other neighboring solar systems might be colonized. No sci-fi silliness is required, he avers: the technical means either have been built (nuclear engines) or are physically possible (photon sails, anti-matter engines). What's lacking is societal drive, and he fears America is lapsing into the same inward-looking indolence as prevailed when the Chinese emperor recalled his explorers in the 1400s and destroyed their vessels--analogous to the U.S. government's shutdown of the Apollo program. He hopes to inspire contemporary youth, especially, by the visionary projects described here, so no forward-thinking library should overlook Zubrin's zeal. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

Astronautical engineer Zubrin stirred up more than a few imaginations with his 1996 The Case for Mars, which explained how and why humans could visit the red planet cheaply and soon. Zubrin's confident followup divides its predictions and programs into three sections: the first covers near-term projects in Earth orbit, with a view to commercial possibilities. The second part takes on the Moon, Mars, asteroids and the outer solar system, and the third adopts an optimistic view of interstellar travel and extraterrestrial life. Zubrin's range can amaze: he begins with the Space Shuttle (misguided and inefficient, he argues) and ends with speculation about how humanity might "change the laws of the universe." In between, Zubrin (privy to some of the dealings involved) shows how American politics quashed recent chances of cheap space flight; how "shake-and-bake" processing can profitably mine helium from the Moon; what we can do to defend life on Earth against a real-life Armageddon asteroid; and how a magnetic sail might speed up and slow down a starship. Zubrin's engineering background and his crisp prose make him a confident explainer, as technical as he needs to be but rarely more so. Regular readers of science fiction and anyone else with high school chemistry and physics will understand his arguments about the engines, ships and industries he proposes to create. His gung-ho clarity may even raise suspicions, especially when he moves from physics to metaphysics: Will the species really stagnate unless we become a "Type II" civilization? But anyone who cares about space travel will care about some part of this book. While some will gravitate to the near-term proposals, others will happily escape their pull and reach, with Zubrin, for the stars. Agent, Laurie Fox of the Linda Chester Literary Agency. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One On the Threshold of the Universe The Earth is the cradle of mankind, but one cannot stay in the cradle forever. --KONSTANTIN TSIOLKOVSKY, 1895 And what would be the purpose of all this? For those who have never known the relentless urge to explore and discover, there is no answer. For those who have felt this urge, the answer is self evident. For the latter there is no solution but to investigate every possible means of gaining knowledge of the universe. This then is the goal: To make available for life every place where life is possible. To make inhabitable all worlds as yet uninhabited, and all life purposeful. --HERMANN OBERTH, 1957 Humans are not native to the Earth. Our lack of proper biological adaptation to the prevailing terrestrial environment indicates that we originated elsewhere. We live on a planet with two permanent polar ice caps, a planet whose land masses in large majority are stricken with snow, ice, freezing nights, and killing frosts every year, and whose oceans' average temperature is far below that of our life's blood. The Earth is a cold place. Our internal metabolism requires warmth. Yet we have no fur; we have no feathers; we have no blubber to insulate our bodies. Across most of this planet, unprotected human life for any length of time is as impossible as it is on the Moon. We survive here, and thrive here, solely by virtue of our technology.     All modern humans are the descendants of a very small band of people who lived in East Africa about 200,000 years ago. We find the earliest known remains of both Homo sapiens and its precursors in that region. In addition, detailed studies of the genetic material of current human populations show the greatest diversity in East Africa, with diversity decreasing in proportion to distance from that area. These statistics point unerringly to the central trunk of the human genetic tree. Humans are not native to the frigid Earth, only to tropical Kenya. We colonized the rest.     The move outward from our birthplace did not occur quickly. For 150,000 years after the appearance of Homo sapiens , our ancestors remained in the tropics. For the most part, this meant East Africa itself, although there is evidence for intermittent presence in southern Africa and the Middle East. In these regions, their hairless bodies and gracile limb structure provided the advantage of easy rejection of the waste heat generated by the active brains and bodies of the world's most intelligent animal. With the aid of a few simple crude stone implements inherited from their Homo erectus forebears, these early Homo sapiens were masters of their environment, and apparently saw little need to either move or change in any way. Indeed, the 150 millennia humanity spent in Africa was a period of almost total technological stagnation, with generation after generation living and dying doing things in exactly the same way as their parents, grandparents, and remote ancestors centuries, millennia, and tens of millennia before.     Such stagnation, next to which the pattern of culture in the most tradition-bound tribal society known today compares as an exponential explosion of revolutionary progress, appears even more incredible given the fact that all available paleontological evidence indicates that these people were biologically identical to modern humans, with the same brain and other physical capacities. Humans as we know them everywhere in the world, whether Yankee gadgeteers or Chinese peasants, are to one extent or another constantly experimenting, innovating, tinkering, trying new things. It seems impossible--it seems inhuman--but for 150,000 years early humanity's tool kit did not alter. We change; they didn't. In a very fundamental sense, those folks just weren't like us.     But then, for some reason--perhaps by choice, perhaps forced by population pressure resulting from humanity's own success in adapting to its native tropical environment--about 50,000 years ago some bands of these people left the African homeland to try their fortunes in the north. There they soon encountered the problems of life in the wintry wastes of Ice Age Europe and Asia. In this new and more challenging world, the old bag of tricks that had served static tropical man so well for so long no longer sufficed. Without the novel inventions of clothing, insulated shelter, and efficient control of fire, Homo sapiens could not survive a single winter in their new habitat. Inventing clothing meant inventing sewing. Shelters had to be either built de novo or won from powerfully built, stocky, cold-adapted Neanderthals or 1,500-kilogram cave bears. Moreover, these wanderers were no longer in a world where food could be reliably gathered all year long. Dealing with these challenges required fine-tooled weapons that could kill at a distance for combat and big game hunting and improved means of communication, planning, and coordination among Homo sapiens themselves. Thus, we were forced to develop language and other forms of symbolic communication. Within a few thousand years of their arrival in the north, we find our ancestors making all sorts of novel gear--a wide array of finely chipped and polished stone tools and weapons and bone tools, including sewing kits and fishing kits--and producing fine cave art and even musical instruments. The latter two innovations are especially significant. Many animals build shelters, and sea otters, chimpanzees, and crows have all been known to use simple tools. But creating symbolic art, that's something else. Of all the creatures of this Earth, only humans paint . The rendering and appreciation of visual images denotes a mental ability akin to that required to create and understand verbal images. In other words, it indicates the origin of language and with it, in all probability, stories, mythology, oral history, poetry, and songs. A qualitatively higher level of intellectual, and I would argue spiritual, development had been attained.     Moving into a more challenging environment to which it was not naturally adapted forced Homo sapiens to transcend itself. Instead of existing as a clever animal applying a fixed repertoire of abilities to deal with a fixed set of contingencies in a well-defined environment, we became a species whose fundamental means of dealing with the world is to constantly invent new abilities. Homo sapiens became Homo technologicus , man the inventor, and by so doing enabled itself to conquer all the environments of the world: deserts, forests, jungles, steppe, swamps, mountains, tundra, rivers, lakes, seas, oceans, and even the air.     By confronting the challenge of an alien environment we broke out of a 150,000-year rut to become something different, and, in my view, something better. Can we do it again?     It is a truism that necessity is the mother of invention. Thus, societies, like individuals, grow when challenged and stagnate when not. We see this pattern in human history again and again. Those societies that have achieved unchallenged dominance over their relevant domain have tended to crystallize into self-satisfied, static forms, with some classic examples being ancient Egypt and traditional China. "We are the world; we have everything there is to have, we know everything there is to know, we have done everything there is to do" is the proud slogan of such fundamentally dead cultures. In contrast, those societies that have been subject to stress have proved the most dynamic.     In the past, this progress-driving stress has taken primarily two forms: war, and what I call "frontier shock."     There can be no question that, in numerous times and places in the past, war or the threat of war has been a driving force for progress. The most obvious example of this is the arms race among various competing Western and semi-Western powers that has helped accelerate technological development within that international system for the past several centuries, most especially our own. An analogous arms race contributed to innovation within the conflicting societies of the classical Mediterranean world before their unification by the Romans. Military necessity has also sometimes given urgency to social reforms, such as mass education and public health measures.     Yet even ignoring its fundamentally horrific nature, as a driving force for progress war obviously has its limits. First, eventually one of the contending powers may win, thereby unifying the domain and removing the dynamic stress from the system. This happened to the classical Mediterranean world after its unification under the Roman Empire. We can see this today with the rapid degradation of the scientific and technological capabilities of the United States' national lab system after its victory in the Cold War. Second, a condition of perpetual conflict may frequently lead to the rise to power within a society of a warrior class, such as the Samurai, whose continuation in power requires maintaining the forms of warfare within a fixed mode, and thus technological stagnation. Third and most important, however, in the modern world the horrific nature of war cannot be ignored. Warfare is destructive of both the wealth and the human potential of a society, and as the level of technology advances, so does the level of destruction. With the advent of nuclear weapons and recombinant DNA-based bacteriology, warfare of a sufficiently serious nature to induce societal stress among leading states has become unthinkable, as it would lead to the collapse of civilization itself. Thus, in the modern age, the utility of warfare in driving human progress has more or less expired.     A much more interesting and dynamic force has been "frontier shock," the stress induced in a people when they are forced to confront new lands filled with new possibilities and new knowledge. Throughout human history the most progressive cultures have been those "Sea People," such as the Minoans, Phoenicians, Greeks, Diaspora Jews, Italian Renaissance city-states, the Hanseatic League, the Dutch, the British, and the Americans, whose leading elements have been primarily engaged in long-range (typically maritime) trade and/or exploration. Societies of "Land People" whose top elements have been drawn from a landed aristocracy ruling a fixed domain have had a much more limited view and thus generally been far more tradition bound and conservative. The greatest stimulus occurs in those situations where not just a leading minority, but large fractions of a society's population are exposed to or immersed in the novel frontier environment where they are both forced and free to innovate. Thus, it is no coincidence that the blossoming of classical Greek culture occurred during and immediately following their age of Mediterranean colonization, or that the fantastic explosion of innovation in European culture that transformed unimpressive and relatively static Medieval Christendom into hyperdynamic and globally dominant Western civilization occurred simultaneously with the West's age of discovery and colonization. The most extreme example of the stimulus of frontier shock is North American civilization, which was developed as a culture of innovation, anti-traditionalism, optimism, individualism, and freedom based on 400 years of formative interaction with the novel necessities and infinite possibilities posed by its vast and ever-changing frontier.     But what of today? The world's physical environments have been mastered, the western frontier has been settled, the Cold War has been won. In 1990, President George Bush gave a speech in which he said that humanity had entered upon a "New World Order," and he was right. With the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the world has been more or less effectively unified under the committee sovereignty of the united West. Military stresses have thus largely been eliminated as a major driver of the world system. With the establishment and explosive growth of the Internet and other forms of global communication and rapid transportation, currently divergent human cultures will tend to fuse. This global unification and cultural fusion will probably result in a temporary flowering of the arts and some economic growth, but the problem is that the stresses in the system are being shorted out. The situation is comparable to that of a battery whose negative and positive terminals are connected by a wire. Energy is released in a flush as the charges unite, but after a while all the potentials are level and the battery is dead. Witness the stagnation and decay following the Pax Romana. Pax Mundana could be worse. Consider that modern medical science is currently closing in on an understanding of, and therefore the ability to defeat, the aging process--at the cellular level itself. In the past, all human societies had the possibility of progress through the "changing of the guard," as one generation replaced another at the helm. In the future this might not be possible. With no reason for change, those in power in every social niche might stay there--forever.     Pax Terrestris yes. Pax Mundana no. Humanity does not need war, death, disease, decay, superstition, national or racial cults, archaic belief structures or despotisms, or any number of other residues of our primitive past against which many noble people have struggled through the ages. But humanity does need challenge . A humanity without challenge would be a humanity without change, without innovation, which fundamentally means a humanity without meaningful freedom. A humanity without challenge would be a humanity without humanity.     Furthermore, the "golden age" enjoyed by a static society is generally only a transitory phase on the path to hell. The resource base of any society is defined by its technology. If you fix the technology, you put finite limits on its economic foundations. The typical results are Malthusian forms of social control and eventual exhaustion and collapse. Thus, in his seminal work on world history, The Evolution of Civilizations, historian Carroll Quigley identified seven major stages in the development of societies: (1) mixture, (2) gestation, (3) expansion, (4) conflict, (5) universal empire, (6) decay, and (7) invasion. Bush's timely announcement of the "New World Order" could appear to indicate that Western (essentially modern global) civilization has currently reached Stage 5. Should we choose to continue in the footsteps of such historical analogs, Stage 6 would soon follow.     In 1992, philosophy Professor Francis Fukuyama wrote a widely read book entitled The End of History , in which he posited that with the unification of the world resulting from the West's victory in the Cold War, human history had essentially "ended." In 1997, Scientific American writer James Horgan published a more interesting best-seller entitled The End of Science , in which he held that all the really big discoveries to be made in science already have been made, and thus the enterprise of scientific discovery must soon grind to a halt. (The day after I finished reading Horgan's book in February 1998, a group of astronomers announced that they had found a fifth fundamental force in nature.) In his book, Horgan interviewed Fukuyama and asked him what he thought of those who doubt we have reached the end of human history. "They must be space travel buffs," Fukuyama replied in derision. Indeed.     The Earth's challenges have largely been met, and the planet is currently in the process of effective unification. I believe this marks the end, not of human history, but of the first phase of human history, our development into a mature Type I civilization. It is not the end of history because, if we choose to embrace it, we have in space a new frontier offering endless challenge--an infinite frontier, filled with worlds waiting to be discovered and history waiting to be made by myriad new branches of human civilization waiting to be born.     The opening of the space frontier, the creation of a spacefaring civilization, is thus the critical task facing our age. Compared to it, all other human enterprises of the present day are of trivial significance. Our success in this endeavor will determine whether we stand at the beginning of human history or the end. It will determine whether humanity continues as a truly human species. Failure is unacceptable. Failure is unacceptable, yet we seem to be failing. The world's space programs, begun so proudly in the eras of Sputnik and the Apollo Moon launches, appear to be in a state of retreat verging on rout. The Russian program has collapsed, and the American effort, which has been going in circles for the past twenty years, has lost much support and is set for a fall the next time something goes wrong with the Shuttle or Space Station programs.     Consider the following: From 1961 to 1973, the United States launched a total of more than thirty robotic lunar and planetary missions and ten piloted Apollo lunar missions. From 1974 to 1986 we launched six robotic and no manned missions beyond Earth orbit, while from 1987 to the present an additional ten robotic and no piloted exploration missions were flown. Russian mission statistics follow a similar trend. While the demise of the Soviet program might be explained by the deterioration of that nation's economy (oversimplistically--since material conditions in the Soviet Union were much worse in the 1950s when their program was launched), in the United States the opposite is the case. The U.S. economy today is more than double the size of the 1960s economy, per capita income is higher, and we face no major military threat that drains our resources. While politicians complain about the incapacity of the national budget to support space programs, neither we nor anyone else have ever been so rich or more able to afford to initiate a great new age of exploration. The flush nature of the U.S. economy is ironically illustrated by the fact that our current political leadership is apparently willing to accept a situation where we are spending about the same amount of dollars on space in real terms as we did in the 1961-1973 era, while accomplishing perhaps 1 percent as much. Surprising as it may seem, the average NASA budget in 1998 dollars during the heroic age of 1961-1973 was about $16 billion per year, only 20 percent more than it is today. During that period NASA not only launched the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Ranger, Surveyor, and Mariner missions, but did all the development for the Pioneer, Viking, and Voyager missions as well. In addition, the space agency developed hydrogen/oxygen rocket engines, multi-staged heavy-lift launch vehicles, nuclear rocket engines, space nuclear reactors and radioisotope generators, spacesuits, in-space life support systems, orbital rendezvous techniques, interplanetary navigation technologies, deep-space data transmission techniques, reentry technologies, soft-landing rocket technologies, a space station, and more. In other words, virtually the entire bag of tricks that enables space exploration missions today was developed during that 1961-1973 period, and despite continued comparable expenditures, very little of importance has been developed since. In fact, in numerous important respects, such as our current lack of heavy-lift launch vehicles and space nuclear power and propulsion systems, our space capabilities today are inferior to what they were in 1973.     The U.S. space program of the 1960s was vastly more productive than that of today because it had drive , imparted to it by a focused goal that made its reach exceed its grasp--landing humans on the Moon. There can be no progress without a goal, and lacking one NASA has floundered for the past twenty-five years. If U.S. political leaders want to increase the taxpayer's return on their space dollar, by far the most important and effective thing they could do would be to give the space agency a challenge worthy of it--committing the nation to establish humans on Mars within a decade. As explained in my book The Case for Mars , such a goal is entirely feasible and could serve to galvanize today's space program into another period of grand accomplishment.     An army standing still costs almost as much to support as one in motion. By failing to mobilize the nation's space capabilities for a serious push out into the solar system, political opponents of human Mars exploration are not saving money; they are wasting it. Why are they willing to do so?     Well, as noted above, the United States today has plenty of money to waste. But as long as they are spending it, one would think that today's politicians would desire something in return. John F. Kennedy demanded results from the space program. The nation's current officialdom doesn't seem to care. Why not?     It is clear that an essential element giving urgency to the space programs of the 1960s was the Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. That is not to say, as frequently has been claimed, that the Cold War caused the Apollo program. There were many other ways that the young, action-oriented President Kennedy could have responded to the failure of his Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in the spring of 1961. For example, he could have repeated the invasion, using U.S. Marines backed by air cover instead of poorly equipped and trained Cuban exiles. He could have engaged in other geopolitical military moves. If he wanted to do something space related, he could have announced the initiation of an early "Star Wars" type anti-missile program, or accelerated the development of the then-current "Dyna-soar" military spaceplane. Any of these moves would have been a more traditional and focused response to a geopolitical threat than the initiation of a program to send humans to the Moon.     No, the Apollo program was not caused by the Cold War. The Apollo program was caused by an idea, originating in the minds of early-twentieth-century visionaries like Robert Goddard, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, and Hermann Oberth, and widely promoted by a subsequent generation of visionaries including Wernher von Braun and Arthur C. Clarke. That idea, the imperative for human expansion into space, captured the minds of a subset of the public, including some of those in power, and through them mobilized the political energies made available by the Cold War during the early 1960s for its service. As made clear in an "Apollo 25 Years Later" article by Hugh Sidey appearing in Time magazine in July 1994, Kennedy believed in the necessity of humanity, and in particular America, taking on the challenge of the space frontier and used the tension with the Russians as a tool to acquire political support for such an initiative. (In fact, Sidey reports that Kennedy actually decided to send Americans to the lunar surface three days before the Bay of Pigs.)     The fact that Kennedy himself was moved by the idea, and his appreciation of the need for challenge, and not just by the Russian threat, is also made clear by his own speeches, such as his brilliant and enduring address delivered to Rice University in September 1962. Listen to how intimately he united two passions, American national pride and the call of space: We choose to go to the Moon! 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, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win ... This is in some measure an act of faith and vision, for we do not know what benefits await us ... But space is there and we are going to climb it.     Yet the American political system was and is predominantly composed of minds considerably less profound than that of John F. Kennedy. For such people, the Cold War competition with the Russians provided the decisive rationale required to mobilize their support for the program.     It was to eradicate this motivating force that a group of State Department and National Security officials initiated, negotiated, and rammed through the ratification of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. This treaty forbade any nation from claiming sovereignty over any extraterrestrial body, thereby eliminating international competition as a major supporting imperative for space exploration. While some have made excuses for this treaty, citing various points of alleged merit, the intent of its authors was to remove space from the highly charged domain of Cold War competition, thereby allowing the space program to be shut down in order to make its funding available for other projects. This is made clear in formerly classified documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act in 1997 by Alan Wasser of the National Space Society, published here for the first time. In one of these documents, a December 9, 1966, letter from Assistant Secretary of State Henry Owen to National Security Advisor Walt Whitman Rostow, Owen states:     Walt: 1. Here are two copies of the final draft of our space paper, as it is being distributed to members of the Space Council--McNamara, Webb, etc. The Vice President wishes it to be discussed at the Council. 2. It will encounter strong opposition from NASA and Ed Welsh {{secretary of the Space Council}}. Nonetheless, I believe it is right, for two reasons: (a) Moving toward a more cooperative relation with the USSR in this field will reinforce our over-all policy toward the Soviets. (b) More importantly: It will save money [emphasis in original], which can go to (i) foreign aid, (ii) domestic purposes--thus mitigating the political strain of the war in Vietnam.= 3. If the proposals in this memo are left to be fought out by the space marshals and their clients, we will lose. Therefore: (a) I urge you to get into the fight personally let the Vice President, Schultz (BOB), and others know how you feel. (b) Send a copy to someone on the domestic side of the White House staff (feel free to use this covering memo, if you wish) to ensure that someone from that side, representing the constituency whose interests are most directly affected, gets into the fight. Henry Owen     Owen's cover letter was appended to a secret memo entitled "Space Goals after the Lunar Landing" prepared by the State Department and released for high-level discussion by Secretary of State Dean Rusk. That memo motivating the proposed Outer Space Treaty read in part: ... we see no compelling reasons for early, major commitments to such [space exploration] goals, or for pursuing them at the forced pace that has characterized the race to the moon. Moreover, if we can de-emphasize or stretch out additional costly programs aimed at the moon and beyond, resources may to some extent be released for other objectives ... ... whether our over-all space effort can prudently be conducted at a more deliberate pace in the future may depend in part on de-fusing the space race between the U.S. and the Soviets....     It will be observed that the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 did little to lessen the U.S.-Soviet confrontation itself, which the respective national security establishments of the time continued to pursue avidly by the use of massive military force in Vietnam and Czechoslovakia. Frankly, I believe that if foreign policy officials wish to have an arena in which they can display their "toughness" and "resolve," it would be much better that they did it in outer space. The collateral damage would certainly be less. Apparently, however, the "Best and the Brightest" thought otherwise.     And their strategy worked. Within two years of the treaty's ratification in 1967, U.S. space funding dropped by 26 percent. Within four years it was down 45 percent. Within six years it was down 60 percent. While rising GNP since the early 1980s has allowed U.S. space absolute expenditures to gradually drift back up to Apollo levels, they remain a much smaller portion of the national budget, and, more important, the apparent urgency for accomplishment has been removed.     The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 was a tragedy because it drained away the energy the remaining twenty years of Cold War could have provided to space exploration. Had this not occurred, had the momentum of Apollo been allowed to continue, the United States would have moved to establish permanent bases on the Moon and Mars by the 1980s, and humanity might well be a multi-planet species today. However, the damage done, the 1967 Treaty is today mostly of academic significance, as even if it were repealed, whatever driving force for space exploration and development international competition might offer has since been obliterated by the collapse of the Soviet Union itself. Instead, those large space projects that remain, such as the International Space Station, are limping along on the comparatively tepid basis of international cooperation.     Of course, cooperation can be a wonderful thing, as it can enable a group to achieve together what none could achieve alone. Indeed, from a material point of view, the fact that all the world's major space programs can now be united in their efforts provides an unprecedented opportunity for humanity to accomplish great feats in space in the very near future. But in itself, cooperation can never serve as a spur to progress.     I recently had the opportunity to stand in the stadium at Rice University, exactly where Kennedy gave his 1962 speech. The decor is vintage 1960s--the place probably looks about the same as it did then. If you listen carefully, you can almost hear the Boston-accented cadences of the young president's oratory echoing through the stadium and the responding roars of the transported crowd. But the stands are empty, and the echoes are fading.     We stand at the top of a hill, having just succeeded in a laborious ascent. Before us stands the entrance to the Pax Mundana, whose gilded gateway arch is inscribed with its proud slogan: "Unity, Uniformity, Stability." The path through the downward slope on the entrance's other side begins pleasantly enough, but at its nether end we perceive another gate, one of iron.     Is there another path?     I believe that there is. Its traveling requires some effort. But it leads up, up from our little hill into spectacular mountains and beyond, into the greatest age of hope and light that humanity has ever known. The would-be Pax Mundana has a weakness. Like all other self-satisfied societies, it rests upon a conceit: that there is nothing of importance outside . Ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire, and the Chinese Middle Kingdom all enjoyed this belief, and suffered destruction in the process of its refutation. The less smug world of medieval Christendom was not so petrified, however, and in discovering the outside used the shock of encounter to break its internal and external chains and blossom. Our Western society, having just experienced a period of 500 years of expansion, is also in an uncrystallized form. While the primary motive forces of the previous period of progress are no longer with us, many of its powerful institutions and traditions still persist. The scientific renaissance of the past five centuries has endowed us with big searching eyes, and they have only just begun to close. We are still a society receptive to the stimulation that could be offered by new frontier shock, provided that it comes in time.     Therein lies both the crisis and the hope of the present day. With victory won, the regimental banners and heroic bugles of the previous epoch are on their way to the pawnshop. But the restless spirit that once followed them has not yet accepted oblivion, and lingers on, listening for a new call to action and to life. And though still muted, that call has come. Even as the Earth surrendered, the space frontier presented its challenge.     The challenge has come in the form of a series of remarkable discoveries and innovations over the past ten years that have changed the relationship between the human future and the rest of the universe. These began in 1987 with the discovery by Professor W. Chu of the University of Texas of high-temperature superconductivity. As explained in chapter 9, high-temperature superconductivity offers the potential of breakthrough technology in the area of magnetic sails and magnetic confinement fusion propulsion systems that may someday enable low-cost interplanetary and, ultimately, interstellar flight. Then, starting in the early 1990s, astronomers began to detect planets orbiting other stars. As a result, it is now clear that planetary systems--potential homes for life--are the rule in the universe rather than the exception. In fact, we now know of more planets outside of our solar system than within it, an imbalance that is increasing with each day. Also during the early 1990s, evidence piled up to the point where it is now conclusive that asteroid impacts on Earth have been responsible not just for the extinction of the dinosaurs but for other mass extinctions as well. The significance of this was driven home on March 9, 1998, when the New York Times and other major national newspapers reported that a mile-wide asteroid would pass within 50,000 kilometers of the Earth in 2028, presenting a finite possibility of an impact that would obliterate human civilization. Refined calculations by Jet Propulsion Lab scientists published the following day calmed things down a bit, as their findings indicated that the asteroid (dubbed 1997XF11) would likely miss Earth by as much as 800,000 kilometers. However, the experience was sobering: What if the answer turns out otherwise next time? What could we do about it? The message here is that life on Earth is part of a larger cosmic system, which we ignore at our peril.     In 1993, the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) successfully demonstrated a prototype of a fully reusable space-launch vehicle called the DC-X--showing a clear map toward a new space age in which travel to space could become almost as cheap and as commonplace as air travel is today. In 1994, the SDIO followed up by launching a low-cost probe to the Earth's Moon, finding evidence for the presence of water, the staff of life and the basis of chemical industry, a finding subsequently confirmed by NASA's Lunar Prospector probe in 1998. Then in 1996, NASA's Galileo probe uncovered evidence for what appears to be an ocean of liquid water under the ice-covered surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. Also in 1996, NASA scientists revealed strong direct evidence for the presence of relics of microbial life in ancient Martian rocks that were ejected from the Red Planet by meteoric impact millions of years ago. In 1997, this evidence was strongly supplemented by NASA's Pathfinder craft on the surface of Mars itself, which, by landing in an ancient flood plain, proved the existence of aqueous environments that could have supported the evolution and development of microbial life on Mars in the distant past. As if that weren't enough, in 1998 NASA's Mars Global Surveyor probe imaged extensive systems of dry riverbeds and produced topographic data strongly indicative of a former northern ocean, thus revealing potential past homes for bacterial life across large regions of the Red Planet. As humble as such Martian microbes might be, the implications drawn from their existence are spectacular. The processes that lead to the origin of life are not particular to the Earth. Combined with the fact that we now know that most stars have planets, and that virtually every star has a region surrounding it (near or far depending on the brightness of the star) that can support the type of liquid-water environments that gave birth to life on Earth and Mars, the implication is that a very large number of stars currently possess planets that have given rise to life.     Now the history of life on Earth is one of continual development from simple forms to more complex forms, with the more advanced forms manifesting ever-increasing degrees of activity, intelligence, and capability to evolve to even more advanced forms at an accelerated rate. If life is a general phenomenon in the cosmos, then so is intelligence. If the evidence of bacterial fossils presented in Martian meteorite ALH 84001 holds up--and it's holding up quite well--the implication is clear: We are not alone.     Collectively, these discoveries will soon make it apparent what sort of birthright humanity is abandoning, if we abandon space. We are being put to the test.     Like the Romans, who once mistakenly thought that their empire ruled "all the world that mattered," humans until recently could be content in their belief that they were already the lords of the only relevant piece of cosmic real estate. We now know that such self-satisfied belief was ignorance. We realize now that the universe "that matters" is far vaster than our one little world. A few years ago it was possible for a scientifically educated person to believe that our galaxy contained only one inhabited planet. The evidence is now before us that we live in a system containing billions of habitable and inhabited worlds. A few years ago, no one knew that incoming extraterrestrial objects, asteroids, have had a decisive influence on the survival and evolution of life on Earth. Now we know, and in knowing are faced with the fact that humanity's span on Earth can only be made secure if we gain control of the solar system's flight traffic. A few years ago, "practical" people with full access to all relevant facts could reasonably assert that the necessary costs involved in space travel were so large as to make the notion of a spacefaring civilization a chimera. But now we know that technologies can be brought into existence that can make this wider universe accessible to us, a universe that, therefore, in all probability, is already being accessed by others.     Under such circumstances, to be content with the Pax Mundana, humanity must not only blind itself, but lobotomize itself as well.     We stand on the threshold of the universe, considering whether we should step forward or step back. The question has been posed to us: Will humanity retreat and allow itself to be, and to see itself as, mere passengers adrift in a sea of stars? Or will we step forward and, in taking hold of our solar system, take charge of our destiny, a species fully capable of contending with the challenges to come? The choice is ours. FOCUS ON: THE FAILURE OF THE MINGS * * * Today Western civilization dominates the globe, but it hardly had to turn out that way. Six hundred years ago, the West's progenitor, Christendom, was little more than a poor, semi-anarchic, embattled fringe in northwest and central Europe, wedged perilously between the vast Islamic and Tartar Khanate domains and the Atlantic Ocean. In A.D. 1400, by far the most powerful civilization in the world was not the West, or even its rather more impressive neighbors, but the Ming Empire of China.     The Mings were the richest, the most populous, the most knowledgeable, and the best organized nation on Earth. Having defeated the Mongol heirs of Genghis Khan in the mid 1300s, Ming China dominated Asia and set its course for expansion, both on land and on sea. For the latter venture they were superbly well equipped. In contrast to the diminutive vessels of contemporary Europeans and Arabs, which rarely exceeded 15 meters in length, the 400-ship Ming navy included craft as long as 135 meters with 45 meters of beam divided into numerous watertight compartments, which made them virtually unsinkable. Carrying as many as nine masts equipped with batten-shaped cotton sails, and fitted with huge sternpost rudders, the giant Ming junks had excellent sailing qualities both for beating up into the wind and for sailing down. Furthermore, the Ming mariners possessed the magnetic compass and excellent skills making maps with compass bearings, allowing them to reliably revisit all ports of call they encountered.     In 1405, the Ming Emperor Yung Lo ordered his magnificent navy to embark on a series of exploratory ventures to show the flag and extract submission from all they encountered. In command of this incredible expeditionary fleet of 250 ships (the smallest of which was 55 meters long and carried five masts) and 28,000 men was Admiral Cheng Ho, a Chinese Muslim of humble origins.     Cheng Ho's first expedition reached Java, Sumatra, Ceylon, and Calicut. On the four following expeditions he reached Siam, Malacca, the East Indies, Bengal, the Maldive Islands, and the Persian Gulf sultanate of Ormuz. Detachments of his fleet visited Ryukyu and Brunei, Aden on the Red Sea, Mogadishu in Somaliland, Malindi, and the Zanzibar coast. On his sixth expedition, which lasted from 1421 to 1422, Cheng Ho visited thirty-six countries starting in Borneo and traversing the full width of the Indian Ocean to Zanzibar. Operations were then suspended for ten years due to the accession to power of an emperor who opposed oceanic exploration. Then, in 1433, the support of a new emperor allowed Cheng Ho to embark on his seventh and last voyage, which took him to Mecca and then far down the coast of Africa, almost to the Cape of Good Hope. However, immediately following this exploit, yet another shift in power at the imperial court caused the fleet to be recalled and all future voyages canceled.     Had this not occurred, it is highly probable that Cheng Ho would have rounded southern Africa in his next voyage and proceeded to discover Europe, thereby establishing China as the first global civilization.     Cheng Ho's political opponents, the Mandarin Confucian bureaucracy, claimed they opposed his exploration program on the grounds that the funds it required could be better spent at home on practical needs such as irrigation projects. Perhaps this was part of their reason. But it is also undoubtedly true that the Confucian bureaucrats, drawn from the conservative landlord class, found the ideas brought home from global exploration and encounters with other cultures disturbing to their self-contained worldview. In addition, oceanic expansion threatened to enhance the power of the bureaucrats' domestic anathema, the maritime merchant class of the coastal and river cities. That these latter considerations, rather than fiscal conservatism, were primary concerns is shown by the fact that not only was Cheng Ho's program de-funded and the fleet and shipyards demolished, but regulations were put in place to prevent private overseas ventures.     Thus, in 1433, 1449, and 1452, increasingly repressive laws were enacted forbidding Chinese to go abroad. By 1500, it was a capital offense to build a seagoing junk with more than two masts. In 1525, coastal officials were ordered to destroy all such ships and arrest anyone who sailed in them.     In 1434, just one year after the recall of Cheng Ho, Captain Gil Eannes, a sailor in the employ of Prince Henry of Portugal, succeeded in rounding Cape Bojador in West Africa. This feat of navigation was very modest by Cheng Ho's standards; yet, coming as it did after fifteen previous Portuguese failures, it constituted the first small but critical breakthrough in Henry the Navigator's program of global reconnaissance. If they had known how insignificant their heroic maritime efforts were compared to those of the Chinese, the Portuguese might have quit. But they didn't know, so they kept pushing. In 1498, Eannes' successor, Vasco da Gama, sailed into the Indian Ocean and encountered no Chinese fleet. It had ceased to exist. Visiting the same lucrative trading ports that had served Cheng Ho sixty-five years earlier, da Gama rapidly established European domination through the region. In 1511, Portuguese ships sailed into the Chinese port of Canton to establish, and soon dictate, trade relations. In 1557, the Portuguese seized the Chinese island of Macao, the first move in the accelerating process of Western humiliation and destruction of China that was to proceed for the next four centuries.     By 1793, the scepter of the world's oceans had been transferred among the Western powers, from Portugal to Spain to Holland and then to England. In that year, British ambassador Lord Macartney met with the Chinese emperor, who told him, "There is nothing you have that we lack. We have never set store on strange or indigenous objects, nor do we need any of your country's manufactures." Apparently the emperor had learned nothing. Britannia ruled the waves. The world and all its products, markets, ideas, innovations, and nations, including China, was at her disposal, to use, abuse, or ignore, as desired. Macartney must have smiled.     What the Chinese of Macartney's day lacked was not so much specific technologies, control of seas, or Indian ocean ports, as a social order capable of generating or assimilating new ideas. As a result of her decision to isolate herself, China threw away her massive initial advantages to rot in stagnation while the West leaped forward. In believing that she was the world, China had lost the world. As historian Daniel Boorstin has commented, "When Europeans were sailing out with enthusiasm and high hopes, landbound China was sealing her borders. Within her physical and intellectual Great Wall, she avoided encounter with the unexpected.... Fully equipped with the technology, the intelligence, and the national resources to become discoverers, the Chinese doomed themselves to be the discovered." Copyright © 1999 Robert Zubrin. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. viii
Introductionp. ix
Type 1 Completing Global Civilization
Chapter 1 On the Threshold of the Universep. 3
Chapter 2 The Age of Dinosaursp. 21
Chapter 3 The New Space Racep. 39
Chapter 4 Doing Business on Orbitp. 58
Type II Creating A Spacefaring Civilization
Chapter 5 The View from the Moonp. 79
Chapter 6 Mars: The New Worldp. 101
Chapter 7 Asteroids for Good and Evilp. 128
Chapter 8 Settling the Outer Solar Systemp. 157
Type III Entering Galactic Civilization
Chapter 9 The Challenge of Interstellar Travelp. 187
Chapter 10 Extraordinary Engineeringp. 224
Chapter 11 Meeting Etp. 247
Chapter 12 North to the Starsp. 274
Appendix Founding Declaration of the Mars Societyp. 284
Glossaryp. 286
Referencesp. 291
Indexp. 295