Rick Tumlinson, founder of SpaceFund, Earthlight Foundation, Space Frontier Foundation and New Worlds Institute.
More often than not, at the moment the story happens, it’s hard to see.
Although I barely appear in the 2022 montage run by every media organization on the planet, I believe that last year, this year and the next will be seen as the beginning of what the Washington Post calls ‘The New Space Age’.” ( (Of course, as the guy who coined the term, I prefer “NewSpace Age,” but I’ll take the win.) Ironically, the feature story in these montages was the launch of NASA’s Artemis 1 missionwhich, when historians review this period, may well be seen as the last icon of the “Old Space Age”.
As is often the case in reviews of history-as-present, the important part, if mentioned at all, was not part of the build-up to the Artemis story of NASA finally returning to the moon after 50 years or so.
Rick Tumlinson is listed as one of the top 100 most influential people in space. Called one of the world’s foremost space “visionaries,” Rick coined the term “NewSpace” and is credited with helping to create the new commercial space industry championed by Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. A leading author, speaker and six-time congressional witness, he helped launch the first mission to find water on the Moon, signed the first ever commercial data purchase agreement with NASA, led the commercial takeover of the Russian space station Mir, signed the first private astronaut to fly to the space station, co-founded the Space Frontier Foundation and was one of the founding board members of the X-Prize. As a result of his world-changing work, he won the 2015 World Technology Award alongside Craig Venter of the Human Genome Project. He founded the venture capital firm SpaceFund, and his nonprofit organizations, the EarthLight Foundation and the New Worlds Institute, are creating an inclusive movement to use space to protect Earth and expand life into the cosmos.
For example, 2022 witnessed the first completely private crew to fly to International Space Station on a privately built and operated spacecraft. We also had announcements of several new commercial space stations to be built and operated by humans who plan to grow them into more and even bigger stations and – pay attention here) – space colonies. There it was spectacular DART asteroid defense mission. For the first time in human history, the children of apes showed that they could reach a million kilometers into space and move a threatening object to defend the immortality of the species. Add to that 2021’s first commercial flights by Blue Origin and Virgin Galacticand it is clear that something big is beginning.
While NASA’s lunar program crawls along its gold-plated steps at a snail’s pace, with no flight next year, only one vintage Apollo 8-style lunar flight from 1968 to 2024, and its first human landing sometime after that, 2023 no less exciting.
The real action will continue to be in the NewSpace industry. The biggest of these by far (literally and figuratively) will be the first flights of SpaceX’s spacecraft. While I expect some possibly spectacular failures, once it starts working, the Starship concept and plan of operations will be one of the true giant leaps in human history.
Without exaggeration, I’m talking about something even more transformative than the first airplanes, cars, trucks, railroads, or steamships. It sounds a little frothy for me to say that, but if SpaceX or anyone else perfects 100 percent clean, fully reusable spacecraft, it will be like combining all these breakthroughs with the first fish to climb onto dry land and survive. The Eruption of Humanity and Life into universe will have started.
I have worked for, fought for and called for this to happen for a long time. I have been very wrong sometimes. I was also very right. Just a little optimistic about the timeline. But this time the Starship sits on the block, and Blue Origin’s new Glenn taking shape in their factory. Also, as CEO of a space company with 20 companies in our portfolio, I see up close the potential of today’s space entrepreneurs, and it is impressive.
Think about it. How important will it be if in 30 years there is a fully functioning, cheap transportation system like you, youan ordinary person, with an ordinary job and ordinary bank account, can climb aboard and use to travel to the moon, Marchor eventually elsewhere in the Solar system? That is what is about to happen. It’s Big Stuff. For you Star Trek fans, this is when the Vulcans show up to say hello and welcome to the universe.
As for Artemis and the Moon, the old space rocket programs of the US government and others around the world are already obsolete and will die by the end of the decade. The only remaining question is how much taxpayer money will be wasted before they switch to buying their rides on rocket ships rather than launch vehicles.
To be fair, at least in the US, the government has helped seed and subsidize this new transportation system. By 2030 or so, they’ll be using them for everything they want to do in space, including powering their little moon base, even as new private citizen-built communities start popping up around them. When it comes to Mars, there will still be government personnel going to the red planet, but they will be booked on the same ships that citizen pioneers take to go themselves.
This eruption represents a change in the psychology of our relationship with space. Seen first as the home of the gods, then as a physically and economically distant laboratory and political playground, the solar system is about to become an extension of the human neighborhood. Low-cost access everywhere will be combined with our ability to reach out, protect ourselves, and move things around out there, as demonstrated by NASA’s DART project. This breakthrough mission means we’re on the verge of being able to defend ourselves against killers asteroids. In this way, we can avoid the fate of the dinosaurs, another hugely important change for our human future.
Low-cost travel to and from outer space is also key to moving heavy industry off the planet. For example, the costs of harvest asteroid and lunar resources will also rage. I helped lead early efforts to do both. We were born prematurely. The missing piece was a cheap and reliable way to get to and from the Earth’s surface, which is the foundation of a space-based economy. Now it’s almost here.
Was it Mon helium-3 to support clean fusion energy, space solar power plants or Earthshades to cool the planet, such globally transformative mega-projects will finally become feasible. With the first “100 mile problem” dealt with, some of us will soon be starting new industries – taking the pressure off Mother Earth, and I’m just getting started.
The timeline may slip a bit, but we’re finally at that tipping point. While he leads the pack, the breakthrough could come from somewhere other than Elon Musk and SpaceX, should he wander off again on another adventure in webland. If so, there are others right behind him, including Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, and still others behind them like Rocket Lab, Firefly and others. The bottom line is this: Whoever does it, the future of history is about to change. Humanity is about to take the big step Neil Armstrong talked about 1969. We run full sci-fi. You will be alive to see it happen; better yet, you might see the view out there for yourself.
Speaking of views, Blue Origin, 2023 will see an increase and regularization of private suborbital flights as Virgin Galactic restarts. The first commercial balloon flights out of space will also take off in 2023. For those not excited about strapping in at the top of a controlled explosion, World Vision and Space Perspective will whisk you to over 100,000 feet in a comfortable cocktail lounge. While not as dramatic as the Starship project, these companies and others like them will offer affordable experiences to an ever-increasing flow of people to experience a version of the overview effect.
Whether you’re flying to Mars, the moon, Earth orbit, or just touching the edge of the sky, this will be the most important change of the 2020s. Space is about to be democratized. Although the High Frontier was first seen in 2021 as an elitist playground for billionaires, the High Frontier is about to become an extension of our society. Our society. Yours and mine. As in, you or I, or someone we know or they know, may very well go to space in this decade. Think about it.
So while the media’s lazy eye focuses on the government’s grand but uninspiring plans as it stumbles back to the moon, the generation it inspired the first time it raced there and won will give you a chance to fly into orbit and beyond yourself.
It’s like what I bet went through people’s heads when that billowing steamship pulled out of the harbor, that weird and loud car thing spooked the chickens, or they heard about Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight on the radio. That’s some crazy stuff. It’s entertaining, but a hundred years left for you and me. Nah… Won’t happen in my lifetime.
But it did. And right now, in the early 2020s, it’s about to happen again. They may get lost in the noise of today, but the headlines for tomorrow’s history are written today.
#Missing #Moment #History #Media #NewSpace #oped