TCS Daily

Leaders Needed to Proclaim an 11th Commandment for a Future in Space

By James Pinkerton - May 15, 2001 12:00 AM

A year ago, the world barely had one space program. NASA was seemingly moribund, derided in the media for its probes that tended to crash and smashwhen they didn't disappear altogether. The Russian space program seemed to be fading away, just like the country itself. And over at the Clinton-Cohen Pentagon, the US Space Command had to tread lightly, lest the Left take notice of what it was doing. Today, happily, the situation is different; not one, but three, separate paths can be found into space:
  • NASA has been boosted by the success of the International Space Station
  • The Russians have been strengthened by their success with the $20-million-tourist Dennis Tito
  • The Pentagon has been bolstered by Donald Rumsfeld and his big ideas for national missile defense (NMD) and space-based warfare
From a pro-space perspective, this is great news; robust diversity is a sign of dynamism. Indeed, healthy competition speeds evolution, for reasons that both Adam Smith and Charles Darwin would understand. And yet there is also such a thing as unhealthy competition, in which the various players, all of which have some piece of the right idea, go from competing to infighting to fratriciding.

NASA, for example, opposed Tito's space jaunt. Indeed, at a time when Tito was worldwide news, NASA chief Daniel Goldin gave an address at George Washington University on May 8 in which he called rousingly upon humanity to get to Mars by 2020; yet even as he extolled the wonders of piloted space flight, he refused even to mention Tito by name. Yet others in the US government oppose the space tourism idea even more vehemently. Senator Kit Bond (R-Mo.), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee with oversight of NASA, sent a letter to Goldin last month in which he called Tito's trip "an insult to all Americans." Going further, Bond put much of the blame for the Russian deal with Tito in Goldin's lap: "This type of public relations stunt cannot be justified, and NASA should not accept this bullying by Russia."

For his part, Tito has made it clear that he expects to continue his space-tourism effort; no doubt he'll have plenty of allies as hoteliers and extreme sportsters look to make the recreational equivalent of a quantum leap.

Meanwhile, Rumsfeld's efforts to help America defend itself in every dimension are taking heavy fire from the Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) called Rumsfeld's space ideas "the single dumbest thing I've heard so far in this administration." Interestingly, Rumsfeld outlined his space vision at the Pentagon in Arlington Va., on the same day that Goldin outlined his vision in downtown DC. Yet the two men were separated by more than the Potomac River; they were separated by different views of the human prospect in space. And of course, Tito, the American centimillionaire who represents the billions in private capital that could come pouring into a tourist-friendly space apparatus, wasn't in the US at all; he was still in Star City, Russia, dealing with the only people who would deal with himex-Soviets.

The danger, from the perspective of those who believe that mankind should get to the moon and Marsand stay there, as a permanent presence, before going even fartheris that the various feuding factions will not strengthen each other, but rather kill each other. That is, NASA might pressure Moscow into squelching space tourism, all the while looking the other way while liberals blast NMDand with it, a strong Pentagon-sponsored space programout of existence. After that, NASA would be all alone again, trying to defend itself against critics, mostly on the left, who oppose almost any expenditure that doesn't go directly to "unmet needs here at home."

What's needed now is a true space leader, or leaders, who can stand above these disputes and enunciate a common vision of space in which various players do their respective thing, be it in the name of science and exploration, defense, or just the thrill of it all. In fairness, of course, the principal bully here is NASA. Administrator Goldin, a talented man who has worked in the aerospace arena for four decades, must surely understand the value of a larger outward vision; perhaps, in his current job at least, he feels compelled by an guard of old thinkers around him. Former astronaut and senator John Glenn (D-Ohio), for example, said on May 1, "The time for space tourism should still be off in the future." And on May 3, The New York Times editorialized, "There is something fundamentally offensive about letting people with a few million to spare piggyback on space vehicles built with billions of dollars of public money." Perhaps if Goldin had a different job, he would be able better to appreciate the contribution that Rumsfeld and Tito are both making, in their invisible-handed way, to the space-y infrastructure that will support any mission to Mars.

Progressives of various hues once had a saying: "no enemies on the left." And Ronald Reagan, ex-liberal that he was, enunciated what he called the "eleventh commandment" for GOPers: "Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican."

Today, spaceniks need a similar doctrine. In addition, they need a leader with the stature to remind everyone concerned that the goal of the space movement is to go upward toward the goal, not to throw elbows at fellow competitors. Ideally, this leader would also possess the Gipper-like capacity to weave together disparate strandsbureaucratic, military, entrepreneurialinto one coherent meta-narrative that would bring others into the space movement as well.

Is this too much to ask? Do such leaders really exist? Perhaps this is a description of an Arthurian figure, who could gather all his fighting knights together at a big round table, at which each individual paladin could rest and repast before going off on his next glorious deed. The problem, of course, is that there's not a lot of proof that any sort of Arthur actually existed.

But Ronald Reagan existed, and at other critical times in our history, too, the right leader has stepped forward. So maybe it will happen now, and a larger spirit of human enlargement will guide the mind of disparate space-questers. But for the meantime, the sword of space destiny is trapped in stone, surrounded by squabblers, awaiting the princeor princesswho might someday come.

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