The Spirit of St. Louis

Commentary by Michael Mackowski

In 1982, I was living in St. Louis and working for McDonnell Douglas and I was part of a group of space enthusiasts who were planning for a Spaceweek event that summer. In May of that year, the first meeting was held of the St. Louis Space Frontier, a chapter of the L5 Society. Ten years later, changes in the aerospace industry caused me and several other chapter leaders to move away from Missouri, and after a few more years, the club went dormant.

About a year ago, several of the folks who were involved in original chapter and some new folks decided to resurrect the St. Louis Space Frontier, and they just held a regional space development conference called Gateway to Space over the weekend of November 7-9, 2014. I had been in touch with the organizers and was happy to help them with this event, which I attended as both a presenter and a panel moderator. They had a very full and well-rounded program, with three parallel tracks going at times. The speakers covered all the usual topics at an NSS conference, from planetary science to commercial space to living on the Moon. A nice touch was the inclusion of arts and culture, with several artists exhibiting and even demonstrating their work, plus musicians and a fashion show.

This event was well supported by the NSS national office, as they held a board of directors meeting in conjunction with the event. They have been encouraging chapters to hold regional conferences for some time, as these events were much more common back in the 1980s and 90s. Some of the board members who came included NSS executive director Mark Hopkins, Jeffrey Liss, Larry Ahearn, Dale Amon, Bruce Pittman, Al Globus, Lynne Zielinski, John Strickland, Dale Skran, and others. The presence of these folks enabled the St. Louis chapter to show what a small dedicated team can accomplish in regards to a weekend conference. Hopefully this success will encourage other chapters to host similar events. Such regional conferences can be an alternative to the often expensive and unwieldy ISDC event. Having more opportunities for space advocates to learn and interact is a good thing to support.

I gave a talk on Orbital Sciences programs and also moderated a panel on “The Rocky Road to Space Settlement”. Christine Nobbe was the chair of this conference and her idea was to try to address the difficult question of how are we ever going to make any progress towards having people living in space permanently. I used my “road to Mars” presentation as the basis for an overview, as the challenges are very similar. Real progress towards space settlement will need to address these three questions:

  • How will we get there? What technology will we use?
  • What is the path? Moon, asteroids, Mars, free-space?
  • Why go at all?

The panel was a bit large at eight members plus myself, but fortunately not everyone had charts and we had two full hours. It was a bit like herding cats, but everyone shared their perspective, and I attempted to relate how it is progress in this area is going to take ideas and inputs from experts coming from many backgrounds. The bottom line consensus, such as it was, it that government programs are not likely to lead directly to settlements, although they will help pave the way (by pushing the technology for example), and while settlements are probably going to have to be privately developed, the business plan for successfully achieving this involves a lot of arm waving.

GtoS Panel 110914a

I had a lot of fun participating in and listening to all of the programming. What was most enjoyable was meeting up with people I had not seen in 22 years. There was a Friday evening event at the old McDonnell Douglas headquarters corporate museum called the Prologue Room. They had a group of retirees who had worked on the Mercury and Gemini capsules that were built in St. Louis. In this group was a former program manager and department head that I worked for, and it was really nice to talk to them and share my career story from the years since I left. And seeing old friends from the 1980s version of St. Louis Space Frontier was very special.

I left with an optimistic feeling that there is new energy out there in people who still believe in the dream of exploring and living in space and the benefits that will bring to humanity. Hopefully this spirit of St. Louis will inspire other NSS chapters to pick up the pace and continue the work of outreach and awareness of the promise of the space frontier.

Asteroid Retrieval Feasibility Study

Asteroid Capture
Keck Institute for Space Studies report on the Asteroid Retrieval Feasibility Study
Image Credit: Rick Sternbach / KISS

Do you want to gamble tens of billions to make trillions?

The Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) study, entitled Asteroid Retrieval Feasibility Study, is posted by the National Space Society (NSS) here (pdf).

On April 24, Planetary Resources officials will announce details of their space exploration plans in a press conference at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington. Investors include Charles Simonyi and James Cameron, among others, including Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt.

The original announcement of the KiSS study is described here.

National Space Society’s Call to Action for American Leadership in Civil Space

The National Space Society calls NSS (pdf) for the United States to make civil space a high national priority in order to ensure American leadership in scientific discovery, technology development, and the creation of new industries and new applications that will benefit all humanity.

Five actions are necessary to achieve this objective:

Formulate a Strategy to Achieve the Ultimate Goal. Congress and the Administration shall institute, by no later than February 28, 2013, a comprehensive civil space strategy to achieve the long-range goal of the human settlement of space, including the use of space to better life on Earth.

Leverage the Private Sector. Congress and the Administration shall support public-private partnerships in space that draw on the strengths of both sectors. Commercial Crew Development is one such program that must be funded for Fiscal Year 2012 at the level requested by the Administration.

Ensure American Technical Leadership. Congress shall take all appropriate steps to utilize the internationally-recognized expertise of NASA, as well as the power of American industry, to develop enabling technologies and systems capable of carrying humans beyond Low Earth Orbit, exploring space, and developing new uses of space that will nurture new industries and support civil government functions.

Develop New Applications That Better Life on Earth. Government and industry shall work together to support research and development leading to new applications that will harness the vast material, energy and other resources of space, including use of Earth orbit, to dramatically improve life on Earth.

Establish Priorities to Enable a Sustainable Path for the Expansion of our Civilization. As a necessary and integral part of the exploration, development, and eventual settlement of the solar system, priority should be given to establishing an integrated spacefaring infrastructure capable of transporting passengers and cargo throughout the Earth-Moon system and beyond.

National Space Society Policy Committee
September 2011

Contact:
Rick Zucker
Executive Vice President, National Space Society
E-mail: rick.zucker@nss.org

National Space Society Competitions for 2010-2011

For all of you space enthusiasts out there, listen to this podcast by National Space Society member Lynne Zielinski as she discusses contests for students. Lynne teaches at Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook Illinois, and the podcast provides details on competitions sponsored by the National Space Society.

1. NASA/NSS Space Settlement Student Design Contest (for grades 6-12)

NASA Ames Research Center in conjunction with the National Space Society sponsors an annual space settlement design contest for 6-12th grade students. Each spring students send their designs for homes in space for judging by NASA engineers and scientists. The contest has inspired thousands of students and helped hundreds of teachers bring the excitement of space settlement to the youth of America and the world.

2. International Space Settlement Design Competition (for high school)

This contest puts high school students in the shoes of aerospace industry engineers designing a city in space that will be a home for over 10,000 people. Student engineers demonstrate creativity, technical competence, management skills, space environment knowledge, teamwork, and presentation techniques to conquer the problems inherent in siting and designing a Space Settlement (aka Space Colony).

3. Pete Conrad Spirit of Innovation Awards (for high school)

The Spirit of Innovation Awards program challenges teams of high school students to create innovative products using science, technology, and entrepreneurship to solve 21st century, real-world problems. Eligible students may compete on teams in any of three Challenge Categories.

4. Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest (any age)

Since its early days, science fiction has played a unique role in human civilization. It removes the limits of what “is” and shows us a boundless vista of what “might be.” Its fearless heroes, spectacular technologies and wondrous futures have inspired many people to make science, technology and space flight a real part of their lives and in doing so, have often transformed these fictions into reality. The National Space Society and Baen Books applaud the role that science fiction plays in advancing real science and have teamed up to sponsor this short fiction contest in memory of Jim Baen.