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2009 August 21
President Barack H. Obama
The White House
Dear Mr. President:
First, let me congratulate
you on your historic election last year and inauguration this year. Attached is
a precise chronology of the major events of your inauguration on January 20. As
I watched the inauguration events on television, I used a clock, updated each
evening by radio signals from National Institute of Standards and Technology
long-wave radio station WWVB, to record the precise time, to-the-second, of
each event. Assuming that the delay in receiving the television network signals
During the 1980s and early
1990s, I served as Astronomical Observatory Coordinator, and a Planetarium
In May, I read of your direction for an independent review of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and their current plans for future manned space flights. Last month, I read that the Apollo 11 astronauts urged you to continue plans for a manned landing on Mars. With this letter, I would like to offer an alternative view. While a manned trip to Mars would be great, other space priorities may prove of greater value to our nation, for the immediate future.
Many consider space exploration, unto itself, as important, due to mankind’s desire to always explore the unknown. This is all-well-and-good, but with very limited tax dollars, our nation’s priorities in outer space should concentrate on missions which provide more direct benefits to the people on our own planet.
Climate change, disappearing wildlife habitats, and other ecological problems are driven by an ever increasing world population. Resources to support this burgeoning population are dwindling. The future of a manned space program should concentrate on finding new resources to support our planet’s population.
Further, a manned space program should emphasize the establishment of space colonies beyond the Earth, necessarily starting with the Moon, as well as manned space stations, to at least partially relieve population pressure on our planet.
I am not suggesting that NASA or the
However, NASA, even combined with all of the world’s other national space programs, does not have the resources to initiate such a space colonization effort—at least not as quickly as I believe it needs to be implemented. Moreover, with other pressing national needs, governments cannot provide their space programs with enough additional resources for such a sustained and long-term effort.
President Barack H. Obama 2009 August 21 Page 2 of 2
A new strategy is required. I propose that the
There are several entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, who are working on commercial space projects. However, as of now, the capital available to these entrepreneurs has been limited. What I propose will require much larger capital investments, necessarily by large corporations.
How do you convince large corporations to make such large investments? In the mid-nineteenth century, when Congress wanted to develop the American West, they enacted specific incentives to such development such as the Railroad Land Grant Act of 1850 and the Homestead Act of 1862. Similar incentives could be one answer.
To make such incentives for outer space development will probably require the amending, or complete rewriting, of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (which is vague on commercial space activities). Without a new or amended space treaty designed for the needs of the twenty-first century, which provides for property rights on celestial bodies, outer space development will continue to lag.
A successful, aggressive, manned, commercial space program would actually increase scientific access to outer space. With such an effort, over time the price for human access to space will come down. Once the price comes down, then a manned mission to Mars would become economically feasible, by either commercial interests or NASA.
I understand that this will all take time. However, this is all the more reason that we should begin as soon as possible. It is a matter of priorities. Space colonization efforts on the Moon and on space stations, no matter how long they would take, should take priority over an American flag photo-op on Mars.
Enclosed is a copy of a short essay I wrote, in June of 2005, for the Planetarian, the quarterly journal of the International Planetarium Society, regarding my proposal.
At your convenience, I would be happy to talk to you, or your staff, further regarding this proposal.
Glenn A. Walsh