We Aren’t Allowed to Dream About the Future Until NASA Gives Us Permission

Posted by on April 28th, 2012
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The future seems closer today than it did yesterday.

People are talking about mining asteroids that contain more platinum than we’ve ever dug up on Earth and finding water that could be the key to permanent space habitation and long distance voyages. In a few weeks, a private company is about to launch a vehicle that will dock with the International Space Station. If successful, it will be a huge step toward a cheaper, safer and more efficient passage to low Earth orbit.

To me, this is amazing.

I’ve had more conversations about the future of the human race as a multi-planet species in the last three years than ever before. It seems like we are living in an age of exploration. Of true horizon shattering adventure.

I have no formal education in engineering. I will likely never have my name on a research paper. The wonders of space are a mystery to me beyond the most elementary of facts. Among them: once you are there, no one can hear you scream.

But according to Neil deGrasse Tyson, no one is thinking about the future. I’m not. You aren’t. Planetary Resources isn’t. Nor is Elon Musk and SpaceX. America has stopped reaching for the stars.

Why? Because we stopped giving money to NASA. Because no one can create the future until a group of politicians do it for us. After all, they decided they were responsible 60 years ago.

The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 makes NASA responsible for advancing the space frontier. And since low Earth orbit is no longer a space frontier, NASA must move to the next step.

America fell in love with space because NASA shattered boundaries. They did previously unimaginable things. Impossible became possible.

Other companies are now doing what NASA did decades ago. Spurring imaginations by minting a new reality. Creating new data sets for the smartest minds on the planet to process. And again, they are doing it from American soil.

The United States is on it’s way to claiming our destiny as the gateway to the stars. Unlocking the Earth’s ultimate achievement: leaving Earth.

Maybe we have stopped dreaming about the future because we decided tomorrow is today.

Or at least that’s what I would say if I were dreaming of the future.

15 Responses to “We Aren’t Allowed to Dream About the Future Until NASA Gives Us Permission”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    isn’t it funny that Justin would type this opinion on a system of networked computers, aka The Internet. In the 1960s, private industry had no need of a such a thing, but the government wanted it to help scientists communicate. It took what? almost 30 years for industry to make it commercially viable. hmm, is the private sector the main drivers of technology change? wait a minute, I have another example, the microchip. The government invented that industry and floated it with money to keep it going. It took firms decades to realize its potential. Wait a minute, there were two buyers of microchips that made its price per unit plummet. yes, there was, the Air Force and NASA. Both needed chips for rocket guidance and sending satellites to like, um, Saturn. In fact those two institutions kept the microchip from dying. Now find me a product without a chip inside. Should I stop here or go into the jet turbine? oh wait, I must realize JuRY is in the group of thought, along with Shwood, that the government only gets in the way. (shh, don’t tell anyone our govt is the biggest funder of cancer research in the world). What in the heck does Neil deGrasse Tyson know anyway? besides the PhD in astrophysics. Hey, JuRY next time you take a picture with your smartphone, thank the designers of the Hubble. That is where that camera tech was invented. Wait, you mean the richest corporation in the history of the world, Apple, couldn’t even make the camera tech in the Iphone? well, how about the touchscreen of the Ipad then you arse? um, the University of Delaware. I suggest private industry is terrible at innovation. Read the studies of how the most competitive markets tend to be the least innovated ones. Too many firms trying to get more of the pie, end up getting reduced market shares and thus reduced profit to reinvest in new technologies. But what do I know, I don’t have a blog. Private insurance covers only 10% of flood damage and we have been seeing alot of that lately (almost 1.5 trillion dollars worth). Who is going to underwrite sending astronauts outside Earth’s orbit, outside its protective atmosphere? I bet the private sector will find some way for tax payers to pay that bill.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    The military may have begun the internet, but it wasn’t until it fell into the hands of the public sector that it became a world changing tool for all of humanity. The military didn’t give us Google, Wikipedia or cat videos. NASA and the military can invent useful things, but usually it isn’t until these things get into the hands of corporations that they become a thousand times more useful to the general public. If these technological advances were left entirely in the hands of the US government we wouldn’t have the internet as we know it, or cameras in our phones, or an of the other examples you’ve made.

    I think that’s the point. NASA got us really far in space exploration, but in the last few decades we’ve seen that they can’t get us to Mars or out mining asteroids. It requires others to continue where NASA can’t. Sure, Space X is where it is because it’s standing on the shoulders of giants (NASA), but because they are standing on that shoulder they can reach farther than that giant can. Also, Space X and other corporations aren’t tied down by US politics like NASA is.

  3. Anonymous Says:


    In his 2010 book, “State of Innovation,” UC Davis sociologist Fred Block examined R&D Magazine’s list of the top 100 annual innovations over four decades, going back to 1970, and found that the percentage of those technologies to which public investment could be traced had grown dramatically. In 2006, 77 out of 88 domestic winners had been at least partially funded by government.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    I like GPS, do you like GPS? shh, don’t tell anyone, the government invented it. I see all the tools of space have been funded by our government. Flying in a plane is a pretty bad consumer experience. Imagine what it will be like when you will buy a ticket for space travel.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    The microchip allowed the world to dream of space and private industry wanted nothing to do with it in the beginning. I see Eon Musk is hiring NASA engineers, probably because they know how to dream.

  6. mxyzptlk Says:

    I usually try to avoid government vs private sector debates because the debates tend to deal with appearances and gloss over details, and trying to convince true believers on either side of countervailing details tends to be unrewarding.

    But one thing I follow about as closely as JuRY follows space stuff is stem cell research. The U.S. was at the forefront of stem cell research until about a decade ago, and Madison, Wisconsin was the epicenter of the research. In Madison, you had a perfect confluence of government and state-funded university research and private companies spawned from that research — a mix of public and private.

    Then a decade back the federal government put a hold on researching any new lines (for religious reasons). This crippled the research in the U.S., and Britain took the lead — through their own government-backed research. Britain is making huge gains, but they didn’t have the jump that the U.S. had. This didn’t just hurt U.S. university research, but the private companies that benefited and used that research to innovate.

    A couple years ago that ban was lifted, but a new problem developed; the federal ban didn’t affect private companies, and in that lost decade they patented so much that research in the U.S. has been at a virtual stand-still. There are also debates about how efficacious that private research will end up being, because private companies in general are not in the business of magnanimously sharing their intellectual property for the improvement of humanity. In other words, people with chronic diseases who could benefit either have to cough up top dollar, or wait.

    The flipside of this is the wild west of Eastern Europe (and a little further east), where people are going to unregulated private entities to get stem cell treatments, and are ending up in worse shape or dead. These are people crippled enough by their diseases that they’re willing to take the risk of an unproven treatment because both public and private research has failed them in the West.

    It seems like there’s a sweet spot between public and private funding of research; just because one part of that equation isn’t working doesn’t necessarily mean that side of the equation is just bad or wrong; and just because one side of the equation isn’t working doesn’t necessarily mean the other side is the answer.

    As for Tyson’s position, he’s looking at how the U.S. currently funds NASA at a fraction of what they do now, and how that influences what the organization could accomplish. If NASA’s funding is slashed and attention isn’t paid to it by the legislators who pass budgets, all the imagination in the world isn’t going to allow them to do what a private company might be able to do, but that doesn’t make one better than the other. After all, NASA pulled off some nifty tricks when attention was paid to them, and the military is doing the same thing today (drones, anyone?).

    But to claim private companies are inherently better, then cripple public institutions by blocking them out and underfunding them, is a self-fulfilling prophecy and puts unrealistic expectations on what either front can achieve, especially when working in balance.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Yes, the US government has worked in some ways to create innovations. NASA and the military have developed many modern day wonders. Weird Things is full of news about those wonders.

    While those modern day wonders were kept entirely within the domain of NASA and the military they did little to practically effect the lives of the average citizen. Once these innovations were put into the hands of others outside of the government they were often made more practical for the average person.

    Yeah, GPS might be a military invention, but it’s private industries that made it possible for it to be used in the average car or phone.

    I’m not debating against the government making advances. I’m acknowledging that. I’m just pointing out that NASA isn’t selling us computers, smart phones, GPS devices or tickets to Mars. That’s not a bad thing, because that’s not NASA’s purpose. It is the purpose of the companies that are and will someday be selling us these things.

    NASA might be giving the world great stuff, but it’s places like Space X that seem to be using that great stuff to give us better, shinier stuff.

  8. JustinRYoung Says:

    I am for what works. I’m against what stops things from working. Public vs. private is a completely useless argument.
    There are a lot of very interesting things happening in the VERY young field of private space tech. To pretend that isn’t happening harms the cultural benefit of space exploration.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    And at Space X the dreams of those engineers will someday become a reality. What’s so wrong with that?

  10. mxyzptlk Says:

    My comment was directed at the discussion, not you in particular. I wasn’t pretending there wasn’t anything interesting happening in private space tech, either; in fact, I didn’t say a thing about private space tech, so you may be reading something into my comment that’s not there (I love the idea of mining asteroids).

    The tone of the discussion, I think, assumes the article does pit a public vs private argument and sets Tyson up as the public apologist. Hence the debate. Granted, Tyson has a stake in this, but he’s talking specifically about how the entire nation got behind NASA in the 1960’s, and generally only governments have the ability to mobilize people like that. Private companies can mobilize sectors of the public, but it’s rare to see a private company command the kind of mass attention and support a government can. Not even Apple does that.

    But my point was also about what works — particularly how public and private have shown they can be extremely functional in collaboration, but they can also get in the way of innovation when either side tries to become determinative.

    From the NASA side of things, a good move would be to get behind private space tech and work out where they can collaborate — and maybe that kind of collaboration would give the House a kick in the pants to help nurture such a collaboration.

  11. Anonymous Says:

    excellent post.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    what is a “Space Act Agreement”? oh nothing, just NASA agreeing to help the private sector with their vehicle and launch systems. I guess the space firms are having trouble “dreaming.” Seems Florida Republican Senate candidate George LeMieux thinks NASA ought to do the exploration past Earth’s orbit. People are floating the idea of “space bonds” to help NASA’s exploration. People are not sure the private industry can hack it. me too.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    oh, so there might be legal trouble for Planetary Resources if they continue:

    “Discovery News: 
    …asteroid mining may be at odds to the 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty, the legal framework for international space law. The United States is among more than 100 countries that have signed the treaty. Article 2 of the treaty states: “Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”

    “The UN treaty in essence forbids private ownership of celestial property. According to the treaty, you could not arrive on the moon or an asteroid and claim it for ownership, at least as a country. Things get a little more confusing when you talk about ownership by a company, but I think most lawyers would tell you that they are one in the same and that whether it’s a corporation or a nation you cannot, according to the treaty, claim private celestial property,” [Bigelow Aerospace attorney Michael] Gold told Discovery News.”

    but, then the article says the United States could leave the treaty at anytime. But, I think I like space exploration more when you cooperate with other countries, tends to bring out even better science. Private firms tend to not like the idea of sharing. With the Europe Union going into heavy recession, China may help with the ESA’s funding. Heck, the ESA just might let China dock with the ISS, something the USA doesn’t like. The USA likes to demonize China, but this might start a partnership to ease tensions and maybe create a level of innovation this world has never seen. Physicist Michio Kaku talks about humankind’s future in a scale to measure technological advancement.  A Type 1 civilization can control Earth’s resources. A Type 2 would be able to master the solar system, a Type 3, master the galaxy. I don’t think Google, Ross Perot’s family and a movie director can do it by themselves.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    “I think I like space exploration more when you cooperate with other countries, tends to bring out even better science. ”
    Maybe. But it was competition with other countries, not cooperation, that brought about the moon landings. So maybe there’s more than just one side to these sorts of situations. Maybe there’s more than one path to reach the stars.

    Also, when has it become impossible for a group of motivated and driven billionaires to get laws changed? Isn’t that sort of thing done on a daily basis in the good ol’ US of A?

  15. Anonymous Says:

    NASA should be working with private space agencies. Or at least that seems like a good idea to me. I would hope the private and public sectors would work together in space travel/exploration. They could pool their strengths in order to overcome their limitations.

    In any case, if NASA can get the job done, that’s great. If they can’t get the job done then somebody else needs to step up and get it done. Let’s just quit dragging our feet and get things done already.