Seattle, A Hotbed For Space Elevator Development?
KC: My jaw dropped when I went to my nearest Starbucks, saw your artwork on the wall, and realized that you lived in Seattle. How long have you been here? It doesn’t exactly seem to be a hotbed for space elevator work…
BE: I did my work for NIAC (NASA Institute For Advanced Concepts) here in 2000, and then moved back in June. I was working with people everywhere; most of the collaboration was virtual, and many folks I didn’t meet until the end. I don’t think I met Eric Westling until after we published our book (The Space Elevator: A Revolutionary Earth-to-Space Transportation System). A few people I’m currently working with I still haven’t met. I don’t work with people just because they’re local, I have to find people I think are the best. It depends on what I’m working on. It’s an effort that can be largely broken up into sections. “Here is the anchor station, go do it.”? Actually, it’s great that I don’t have to have everyone in the same room because it’s just not possible.
I tried to look up your biography on the Internet, and couldn’t track down some of the organizations you’ve worked in. Some of them are probably from the early Internet days…
We’ve been trying to get various projects started. A few were a few false starts, or in some cases just testing the waters. HighLift Systems was a Seattle-based company, and was one of those false starts. I closed it down. I’m not affiliated with LiftPort. I have worked with LiftPort’s founder Michael Laine a bit at HighLift in Seattle before we parted ways. [Not on the best of terms; juicy but unsubstantiated gossip about LiftPort removed, Meow!! –ed]
NASA Versus Private Industry
Did you see Michael Griffin’s interview in USA Today last week?
No, but I know the general gist. It’s not a surprise. In my mind the Space Shuttle and Space Station are not valuable efforts. It’s not what NASA should be doing. NASA is using technology from commercial enterprises, or very old technology from the 70’s to try and do space exploration. If they are going to be a real premier space agency, they need to be pushing it.
They should be doing stuff which looks to us like science fiction…
It shouldn’t be science fiction, but they should be pushing the boundaries and doing work that inspires. That’s what Apollo was. The technology for Apollo existed before the program started; they took that knowledge and pushed it to its limits, and it literally inspired the world.
I wasn’t around then, but it seems like peoplecared what NASA did back then. NASA has their Moon and Mars pictures up on their website, but I don’t know if anyone cares. If you squint as you look, you’d think it was 1970.
It is history; it’s old news. And since then, they’ve done very little.
It seems like there was a long-standing debate between rockets and the Space Shuttle. From where you sit, that’s like choosing between Nicki and Paris Hilton.
Even high up in NASA management, they won’t officially say it – but they have said it directly to me – that nothing substantial in space can be done with rockets. A federal program with lots of money can take some people up there, but it won’t be able to commercialize space. We’ve been going at it for thirty-five years now, and we’ve put up telecommunications systems and GPS. If there’s a buck to be made and a product to be built, it’ll get done. With current technology, I think we’ve developed space commercially as far as we can. We need something dramatically different—a brand new market, a brand new technology.
Economists should get that. How did trains and highways change America?
Private enterprise is starting to get it. NASA hasn’t shown much interest on the space elevator, but there are a number of private entities that have.
But we just laughed at a bunch of them: HighLift, LiftPort. Do any of them have billions of dollars?
There are real people with money and the know-how. To get it going you don’t need ten billion dollars. You’ll need a couple of billion up front, and a lot can be financed. For example, instead of money changing hands, you could approach Hyundai and, ignoring the issues of dealing with a foreign company, offer them 10% of the company. They could then supply the anchor station and the climbers or whatever. Either they as a company would invest, or maybe the government of South Korea would invest. But dealing with South Korea would bring up all kinds of technology transfer export issues which may make it unfeasible – perhaps a company like Exxon might be approachable. Private individuals, financial groups – there are a lot of people who could step up.
In principle, we shouldn’t be waiting for our government to throw big money at it.
No, no. We are getting a few million to develop the last needed parts of the technology, developing the high-strength materials needed, creating a Research and Development center, performing other engineering work, cleaning up some of the loose ends, and doing some promotional work to let people know the concept exists and where we are at with it. Money could be leveraged to get more development done until the risks are reduced; then we can approach the real people with money.
A space elevator seems like a task of the same complexity as the Apollo mission was, and maybe private enterprise could have tackled even that project. Perhaps the 21st century is different, but it seems like a task as big as that would require government’s involvement.
It is similar in size to that, but it’s also similar in size to the Boston Big Dig. It’s small compared to, say, rebuilding New Orleans in money or effort. There’s different technology and risks than the Apollo mission presented, but the full effort and capabilities aren’t that different.
The Apollo program didn’t have a commerical endpoint. It set a goal of putting a man on the moon, which it was an enormous engineering effort. But the space elevator is a commercial effort. The Apollo, the Shuttle, the Space Station were never that.
They certainly sold us on that vision…
They sold us on that vision, but it was never that way, which is unfortunate.
You present a vision in which we don’t need NASA. Perhaps that’s true, but if what NASA‘s doing isn’t useful to us, can they be refocused to help us? Is that a goal for you? Is it possible?
I’m not working toward that. I worked at Los Alamos and I’ve seen how NASA operates. Their primary goal is not the development of space. They are a space agency, but they are very political. It’s a political organization; it’s a federal agency. Even if one of the NASA centers became completely useless, it wouldn’t get closed down because there are thousands of jobs there.
They’re a huge organization and they’re doing lots of things.
Yes, and that means they can’t be focused. They can’t trim off something to go do something else. Their hands are very well tied because of the requirements of the real world and society’s constraints of what they can and cannot do.
I look at NASA as a company doing lots of interesting things. I can’t say whether ramjets and so forth is interesting, but it is research, and it’s their mission. So what part would you cut?
That’s exactly it – what part would be cut. For NASA to go off and do something new and different, they’d have to take people or build a virtual organization from all the different centers and work together, which is very difficult. So they’d have to start a new center because it’s difficult to reorganize or refocus the old stuff. It’s the same with the national labs.
So are you resigned to the fact that Michael Griffin’s successor is going to do another mea-culpa in 20 years? The space elevator will be flying on by, and NASA will be stuck with their tiny little rockets and lunar landers.
Well, NASA will continue to do what they’ve always done, which is to provide employment.
That’s their primary goal. They can do research, and the space elevator would open up new areas for them to do cutting-edge research. In some cases they really are; in other cases, they are sort of floundering about trying be something that they aren’t. With a space elevator, NASA could build probes that they weren’t able to do before; they could do new research on different applications of the space elevator and new applications of space, but unfortunately NASA has trouble just doing the main infrastructure and large program pieces.
But they did build the Apollo, and the Space Shuttle is a tremendous achievement.
It is, but NASA is a different organization today. The Shuttle was designed in the 1970s, right after Apollo. Today, you have a very different organization with different capabilities.
But I don’t know if they’ve completely lost ‘the right stuff.’ They can maintain it, and they do understand it. Hasn’t that knowledge and experience been transferred from engineer to engineer? In the software world, there’s code rot because everyone who has worked on the code has since gone elsewhere.
They can maintain it because it’s all built up. They started the Shuttle in the 1970’s when NASA was still new and flexible enough to move into new areas and design a new program such as the Shuttle. Also it wasn’t far enough from Apollo that they could take people from there and go do it. Now, however, the idea of taking a fair chunk of people with very different expertise and focusing them on one mission is very difficult.
Apollo was fantastic. The Shuttle is an amazing machine. I look at the space elevator and think of it as doable, but by the same token I look at the Shuttle and ask myself how it could possibly be built. There are 3 million parts, it’s exremely complex, and it does work.
Do you think they have the technical skills anymore?
They have so many people with so many different skills – if you tried to put them all on the space elevator project, there would be a fair fraction of people that wouldn’t find a role.
NASA could just create new teams and move appropriate people over. I jumped from group to group in a software company, each time learning a new skillset…
Yes, but if you had a group of, say, geologists, would you put them on carbon nanotubes??
Okay, then, the space elevator doesn’t have work for them. You would let them continue their research.
But there are geologists and plasma physicists and people who design gamma ray detectors – all of these people have niches, some of which would be helpful, but a lot are simply overkill for what we need. They are studying planets and the moon and Mars and asteroids and such, but the organization is just hard to fit into a whole new entity. It would be like asking NASA to go and build ocean-going ships. You just can’t refocus an entire organization such as NASA.
Going back to rockets is a still big step for NASA. Perhaps you could say that forty years on and all they’re doing is updating the software, but even that is a large engineering effort.
There are real problems with that. If they were to start a new program to build a new launch vehicle (which is what they should be doing), grabbing an F-1 rocket for the new venture is reverting back to 1950’s technology. They are still going to have to redesign it, because that ‘50’s technology is no longer valid today. Why not start from scratch and do the best you can? In the end, NASA is still living with rockets, and it won’t turn into a self-sustaining endeavor. It will end as soon as the government funding is shut off, which it will be eventually. Administrations change and the world changes – eventually something else will happen that preoccupies the Administration, and they’ll say “We are done with this.”?
I think Bush thinks big enough to spend the political capital and billions of dollars, but you never know with future Presidents.
Yes, you’ll never know about the next one, or the next one after that.
I thought I remembered hearing about Mars and the date 2040, but I looked around and couldn’t find anything.
There isn’t a defined timetable beyond 2020, and that’s already four Administrations away.
We’ll still have John Roberts… One thing I’ve thought about is how rockets have made people lose faith in the mission. People look at the moon and say “F*ck it, why should we bother, we just got out of a gravity well.”? Our current technology limits our thinking about what’s possible and reasonable.
The moon is an ambition, but not a valuable end unto itself. If you’re going to go to the moon you need a goal, like setting up a base, or mining the moon, or installing solar power arrays or something.
I think Bush believes that it’s a 384,000 km warmup lap for everything else, and I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that.
Well, then the question is, “Why are you going to Mars?”?
We’ve always known that going to Mars is a good thing! We are just now coming to realize that going to the moon isn’t. We used to think the moon was a good thing.
Going to the Mars is a very complex endeavor, so you need to have a reason.
We’re convincing ourselves that going to the Moon isn’t a good thing, so convincing ourselves not to go to Mars seems to be next. At that point, no one will dream anymore.
If we are going to Mars just because it’s there, that’s not self-sustaining. It’s very likely that it will get killed once we’ve done it; then it will shut back down (just like Apollo) because it’s not self-sustaining. Then you go through the whole cycle again in another thirty years.
Someone from Slashdot made the comment that we’ll do this mission, pop open a brewski, and proclaim, “Yep, still got it.”?
Which brings up the problem that if China, South Korea or Europe plans out how to do it commercially, and for example gets infrastructures set up, then they’ll have a commercially self-sustaining enterprise which will spread out on its own, to the moon or Mars. That’s a real program, not pork.
It’s why countries came to North America. They didn’t come because the land existed, they came because of gold, furs, tobacco, lumber. If they had found barren rock, they would have just returned.
America as “the land of opportunity”? used to mean animals and trees…
And gold. Greed drives things. If we found something of value in space, and if someone thought they could make trillions of dollars from it, they would spend billions to go get it.
Alternative Energy Sources
You talk in your book about heavy Helium being a resource.
That section was primarily written by Eric Westling. It’s another resource in space that would require fusion technology to be developed further. If this technology became available, then we would need Helium-3.
Is this another example where our country is so politically backward with regards to nuclear technology that we just can’t take advantage of this resource yet?
Actually, I’m not sure if there’s been enough money in the right places to develop the technology. There are some efforts, but they may not be focused in the right directions. We should be working on this, because we are going to need it.
I read reports of more oil being discovered all the time, yet everyone believes we are going to run out, and so it’s very expensive.
There have been various studies done; the ones I believe say that in ten to fifteen years we are going to have real issues.
Saudi Arabia just recently doubled the amount of oil they thought they had in their reserves!
They’ve been doing that for years, upping their estimates on what they think they have, but they aren’t finding new oil.
You don’t think the environmental lobby has shut down research and exploitation of oil? It seems we aren’t allowed to drill anywhere or build new refineries, and now we wonder why it’s so expensive.
Most of the planet has been surveyed, and if there’s oil to be found, someone’s found it.
We’ve recently discovered these shale deposits…
Yes, but even beyond the cost of oil, there’s the cost of extraction, and if you have to dig up half of Canada to get to it, you’ll get to the point where it will take more energy to retrieve it than what you’ll get back from it. A colleague of mine spoke with Exxon, and some of their technical people said we have fifteen years.
There are pessimists everywhere. I know a bunch.
But Exxon is an oil company and they should be the optimists. The point in all of this is that we don’t know. It could be ten years, it could be fifty. We don’t have the information that’s needed, and someone needs to be pushing for it.
We will always have doubts until we go into space and realize the resources out there are infinite. There’s tons of solar energy and nuclear energy. Your book talks a lot about energy.
With the space elevator, we can create a huge solar array. We’ll tap into this energy, and it won’t run out. We won’t have to deal with oil glitches and stock market glitches and potential environmental glitches.
I’ve thought about solar arrays, and I’ve wondered whether E=mc2 proves we should be utilizing nuclear power because it’s easier to transport mass than energy.
That’s great, too. We can do nuclear power – if you have the fuel and make it safe so it doesn’t glitch – then you’ll have the energy.
Space And The Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism
It’s a post-9/11 world, and everyone now realizes the threat of terrorism. If our government said that we should build it on land to protect it, is that possible? If we build more than one, why worry so much about where the first one is?
The reason we picked that position, straight down from California, is because there are no hurricanes, no lightning, no winds, and it’s out of the way. Someone flying an airplane will be spotted 400 miles away.
That would require a huge amount of infrastructure. Protecting something in Nevada, we’re set up to do.
You still have people driving the roads through there, hanging around outside Area 51, and so there would be the potential for terrorists to strike with shoulder-fired missiles. The U.S. pretty much controls the oceans – we have a heck of a Navy. Any incoming airplane could be easily shot down way before it became a threat. The middle of the ocean is very secure. With land, you have to secure the roads, clear out the access.
It is inaccessible, therefore making it more expensive to get people there.
Initially it would be cargo that’s needed, and the cheapest way to move something is on a ship – one ship out of Seattle could contain enough climbers to keep the space elevator going for a year.
It would depend on the infrastructure and how many experts and support staff you have on site to keep it running. What if you needed a million square feet?
We aren’t talking about thousands of people. Sea Launch has tens of people.
Tens? What if we needed a thousand people?
If you need a thousand people, then you would need a cruise ship, or more floating platforms, supply ships, etc.
If we are going to build more than one, are they all going to be located in the same place? Asia will get one eventually, if they don’t get one first.
You could put a number of them in the same place, but once we start building and understanding them better, we can put them on land as well as in other locations. You could put one in parts of Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia. After we build the first one and have a better understanding of what’s going on, we’ll have a lot more options with subsequent ones.
MPDs seem like a good idea to power the climbers because they are seventeen times more efficient than chemical rockets.
It’s electric propulsion. They’ve been developed and tested in various labs including at Princeton and some labs in Moscow. They have been developed at pretty much the size we would need, and they can be run for five hundred hours without degradation. The space elevator doesn’t require MPDs; chemical rockets could be used but they’re less efficient. On the other hand, it takes much longer to get from low earth orbit to high earth orbit with MPDs; – rockets are much faster, you just flip the switch and they head on their way. So there are some tradeoffs with each.
Both need fuel.
With MPDs, we talk about beaming them up.
Err, you would need something which shoots out the back, even if it doesn’t combust.
Yes, propellant. They accelerate faster than what you get out of chemical rockets, which is why it’s more efficient.
We’ll Need to Get India Working On a New Kama Sutra
Your book talks about a hotel in 0.1 g space…
Probably the first efforts in tourism will be a climber with glass windows. You could put forty people on and charge them $20,000 – $30,000. They’ll go up a couple of hundred miles, have dinner, spend eight hours, and then come back down. That could be a very good market for the elevator.
Next, you could expand upon the living quarters up in geosynchronous orbit (GEO). The solar power arrays and satellites will be up there, so the infrastructure and crews will be needed to maintain them, and so forth. One of the problems will be the radiation belt between here and there, so the transportation would need to be sped up, or the radiation shields improved. If you are sending up tourists they’ll want to be comfortable, so you either need more shielding or it has to be faster.
Space tourism will be limited by the long trip to GEO.
The space elevator has been planned around current technology in which speed is mostly a function of power. Once the elevator is built, people will be working on improving its speed, and will improve other areas and shrink the transport time from eight days to one; thus radiation becomes less of an issue. You will have to design the climbing system and the treads such that they won’t be damaged at higher speeds. Tourism is viable in the long-term, but these issues have to be dealt with first. It’s not the first market, but it will happen.
Two hundred miles up (about where the Space Station orbits) is a lot closer than 14,000 km up, where your book talks about at which, with the speed of your climbers, is seventy hours of travel.
14,000 km up is right in the middle of the radiation belt, so you don’t want to go there. You could build a hotel hanging on the ribbon. Alternatively, you could just have a car which is self-contained. Forty people, three trips per day, and $20,000 per person would make it viable. A second elevator would cost one-third as much as the first, so it becomes doable.
You wouldn’t build it like the ISS (International Space Station) where people get out and meet up with the hotel?
To do that, you’d need a rocket to catch up, and then use it for coming back down. Then, you’d just have a re-entry probe.
Why not just do the reverse?
A re-entry problem would be easier. There are lots of different options. You wouldn’t need to get out of the elevator though. It would take a few hours to get up there, and it would be enjoyable from the moment you left till you got back. The whole time spent is enjoyable without getting off the elevator.
Okay, so we have the space elevator. To get to the Moon, we’d build a lunar elevator?
Jerome Pearson has been talking about that idea. I’m not a big fan of the lunar elevator because there are a lot of complications and fewer economic reasons. Asteroids are a lot easier to put elevators on. We can do that with current materials if we have an economic reason to do it. The moon is a little more difficult because of its slow rotation. Asteroids and Mars are easier, but what will drive the project is the economic return. It also depends on what the goal is. If all of our activities are on the moon, then that’s where we go. If we are going to Mars, then we go there next. If we are mining asteroids, then we will be sending elevators to all the asteroids we can get to.
I’m not sure if we need to be mining asteroids yet…
I don’t think it’s a near-term opportunity. I think it’s something which will happen eventually, when we have a lot of other projects going on in space. The first projects will be solar-powered satellites and telecommunications.
Everyone focuses on nanotechnology as being the only challenge, but really its only the first. President Bush has increased spending by 83% for it since 2001. It seems like we must be on the cusp of something.
There’s what’s called the National Nanotechnology Initiative. When I was looking into it, the budget was a billion dollars. But when you look closer at it, it is split up between a dozen agencies, and within each agency it’s split again into a dozen different areas – much of it ends up as SBIRs and STTRs and turned into $100,000 grants. We looked into it with regards to carbon nanotube composites, and it appeared that about thirty million dollars was going into high-strength materials – and a lot of that was being spent internally in a lot of the agencies, in the end there’s only a couple of million dollars out of the billion dollar budget going into something that would be useful to us.
It’s pork. It doesn’t have focus.
It doesn’t have focus, and it’s spread out to include everything. You get a little bit of effort in a thousand different places.
You wonder whether the efforts are duplicative…
A lot of the budget is spent on one entity trying to play catch-up with whoever is leading. Instead of funding the leader, they’re funding someone else internally to catch up.
Talk a bit about bootstrapping payloads to a twenty-ton elevator, and what would be next after that. I worry that starting with twenty tons would be a bottleneck, even though it’s two orders of magnitude greater than what NASA can do today, given the time it would take to build an elevator.
A two hundred ton elevator will become reasonable and commercially viable once we get the costs to where we believe they are going to be. We chose twenty tons, as this is what we know will be the first viable step. Thirteen tons is a good payload on a 20-ton climber, and will prove to be very valuable. What happens after that – well, we can plan all we want. When the first one starts operating, then there’ll be somebody saying, “ two hundred tons is great, but we need three hundred tons, and it has to do this, and this, and this…”?
But each order of magnitude is a milestone in itself, and so we need to start at the right place.
Yes, but the basic physics don’t change, and the operations don’t change. To give some perspective, two hundred tons is like the size of a large commercial aircraft. We can build a climber that size, and a ribbon that will hold it. It’s all things that can be done. Ramping up to that size is a matter of will; there aren’t any physical constraints.
Waiting For Our Overlords To Wake Up
This interview is depressing. We haven’t broken ground and it isn’t clear if NASA could be helpful.
From the inside, we’ve got a lot of things going on, even though we haven’t started construction. That book of mine came out a couple of years ago; before that, space elevators were the stuff of science fiction. We’ve gone from science fiction to this idea showing up in a lot of places – various magazines and in real serious discussions in mainstream forums. It’s showing up in high-level discussions at NASA and European Space Agencies and other places like that. We also have a lot of efforts which aren’t solidified yet, but if if any one of of them comes through, we’ll be on a real good track to make this idea happen.
Living in the 21st century, fifteen years just seems too long. It’s like saying that it’s going to take fifteen years to rebuild the Gulf coast after Katrina.
There are limits on how fast you can do things. But if we got more money, it can go faster. I’m a scientist so it’s my nature to be realistic. The project has a couple of years of development and the assumed hurdles with regulatory committees, as well as going out for bids on contracts.
None of that’s engineering though. If you killed all the lawyers and bureaucrats, how long would it really take?
When we’re finished with the development, we would still have some work on the materials yet to complete. If we really pushed everything, we could get it up and running in five or six years. That’s pretty tight. Our estimates are seven or eight years, but if we really pushed it it could happen sooner. It would take a couple of years to build things, and then a couple more to increase the strength of the elevator. But one could use more launches or bigger launches to get a bigger first ribbon to cut back on things a bit. There are things you can do to tighten up the schedule, but I’m trying to be a realist. If you promise something in five years, then five years later you’d better have something. Large infrastructure and power plants take time to get built.
The money will eventually come. With a space elevator, the day you build it and the first elevator you send up, the value of the company will easily become ten times what was put into it, with just the market that’s available; and that’s assuming you don’t do anything intelligent like build the next one at a much lower cost, or develop new commercial applications, etc.
You’re basically saying that if we could launch ten times more stuff into space than we do today, we would still max out that capacity…
Once you’ve got the elevator, you’re able to transport lots of stuff up there. The company that operates the space elevator could then put up the telecommunications satellite, and become the telecommunications owner for the whole planet. Then they could put up solar-powered satellites and own the power producing capability for the planet. That’s a ridiculous amount of money and power involved. And if they really wanted to go hog-wild they could say “You know what? We are just going to take Mars! We are the only ones who can get there.”? At some point the implications get crazy. So yes, there will be a pretty big return on it once it gets built.
Software Versus Hard Ware
A lot of space elevator supporters are software geeks. Any thoughts for them?
There are a lot of software challenges involved. The system isn’t a whole lot different, but there are new uses being created for robotics and autonomous operations. I think a lot of that is currently being developed for factories. There’s more need for robotics, but I think the software requirements will keep up.
You should be worried about it! The Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers nearly died because of software bugs, and the Denver Airport’s luggage system failed because of software. I suppose God has provided harder physics problems than software problems in the short-term.
We’re always going to have software glitches, therefore we have to plan for them. But the elevator will allow us to send up whatever computers we want. It doesn’t have to be a specific little piece of software for a specific piece of hardware, like what was designed for the Mars mission. A space elevator can use software that has been tested by a million people.
The Trillion Dollar Question
I think you should have your Natan Sharansky moment with President Bush…
There’s been discussions, and hopefully the twenty books you’ve sent him will spur them into giving me a call. A lot of this is just getting into the front door. I’ve briefed all levels of NASA except for the administrator in the past, but I haven’t really tried to recently because we’ve got a lot of activities going on and I don’t know where NASA would play a role.
One challenge we face is that if NASA gets involved, it can tie up the technology development. If government funds it, then government owns it – you may lose control of the technology which could be valuable to private enterprises. We have to be careful how we set everything up to avoid burning bridges.
What I think is going to happen is that someone will develop the first elevator. After that, there’ll be a rush to build five more. You can run off a list of who will be building it: DoD (Department Of Defense) will want one, a couple of private entities will want one, the Europeans will want one. Those five will be built independently of who builds the first one, whether it’s the US, China, private enterprise… Regardless, the next five will be built. After that we lose complete control; they get bigger, they get more of them. We’re only worried about building the first one.
This is an enormous industry which needs to develop. I come from the IT industry, and I think of this as something on that order of magnitude.
It is literally a multi-trillion dollar per year industry. There are real markets that you can run the numbers for, and it’s well over a trillion – that’s just launch revenues. Add on top of that the value of the products that will be launched.
I think this picture summarizes why we shouldn’t follow NASA’s vision. There are a couple of guys, a cute little space ship, and an American flag…
Or, we can have a city up there. I sent a proposal to NASA which cut the cost of the moon-Mars initiative in half, and what it ended up being was a settlement of 100 people on the moon and Mars with all kinds of infrastructure and supply depots and everything else – the money wasn’t being spent on the launches.
It would be great if we could get NASA involved but I don’t know where they would fit, and I don’t feel obligated to get them to fit. If private enterprise comes up and says here’s the money, lets go do it, then we should do it. There’s a whole lot more money in the private side of our economy than the public side. So if a project comes up which has a good business case, then private enterprise will get right on it. In terms of resources that NASA could reallocate, it’s pretty limited. A lot of their resources are tied up, unless they were to shut down one of their centers. The billion dollars a year they’re spending on is all they could scrape together without firing people.
I talked with Michael Griffin many years ago and he’s a very interesting individual. I may go talk to him at some point again, and see where things might fit, but currently I’ve got my hands full with other avenues that look promising. I’ve been briefing NASA on a regular basis for a couple of years, and not much has come out of it. I’ve started talking to private industry and things happen a lot more quickly, so naturally I’ve gone down that route. With NASA, you can fight just to get a $100,000 grant.
Spoken with Arthur C. Clarke lately?
I’ve sent a few e-mails to him and he’s written me a couple of notes. He’s very supportive of our ideas. He just wrote a letter to the London Times regarding NASA and space elevators. That’s where he mentions that his fifty-year target has dropped to twenty-five years. He spoke at one of our conferences as well, in which he said it would be ten years, so he’s changed it a few times. He’s been a good supporter. In fact, we have a lot of people who are good supporters. It’s amazing how far things have come in the last five years or so…
I created a poll. Pretty please vote! Update: <5% of readers are voting! I will install spyware on your computer which drinks all your vodka and cuts the whiskers off your cat unless you vote! 🙂 Thank you.