THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 780, July 20, 2014
The United States government is a police state,
run by maniacs who hate humanity. The United
States government is not civilisation.
Proxmired: The Sad State of America's Retreat From Space
Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
I have long considered myself misfortunate in having missed out on much of the excitement of the Space Advocacy movement that emerged during the post Apollo malaise of the 1970s. At a time when many of my childhood dreams inspired by the first footsteps on the moon and Saturday morning cartoons were being drowned in a torrent of cultural pessimism. Have often wondered how different things might have been if I had learned much sooner about concepts like Dandridge Cole's "Islands in Space" and Gerard K. ONeill's L-5 colonies and solar power satellites. Rather than later from stumbling across a few books in the school library or articles in issues of Astronomy Magazine that my aunt used to give me.
Probably not much, though there might have been the satisfaction of learning at a much younger age that there were alternate viewpoints to what I was being fed by my elders, school peers and the media. I also had a similar experience with Libertarianism which I discovered to be a good thing even later in life—much later as my perceptions shaped by Robert J. Ringer lambasting the space program in Restoring the American Dream and similar statements by Ayn Rand about the Soviet space effort led me to believe that Libertarians were no friend of space colonization*. In time I would figure out that was not true and in the long run it may very well be private enterprise that takes us to the stars. One thing I did learn in those formative years was that a lot of good ideas were being created and put on a shelf. Much like government warehouse in the Indiana Jones movies! And there would always be hope that some might be dusted off one day and upgraded with newer technology. When someone in the private sector finally gets around to doing that—the Future may yet become wondrous beyond the expectations of those bygone days. The visions of those who tried before us show us what is possible and serve as a good reference to build on
The things I discover while googling for things. Such as in my efforts to substantiate that Senator Proxmire quote : Not a penny for this nutty fantasy for my previous article. Found an online version of the newsletter of the old L5 Society; a space colony advocate group that was around back in the late 70s. Which was sort of a trip down Memory Lane. Remember seeing them on Phil Donahue's show circa 1980. It's kind of sad when you look at something like this on the boulevard of broken dreams. But also at times amusing.
The name Proxmire sounds Germanic—but he was no Werner Von Braun—his mindset was typical for the down to Earth culture of the Midlands and being a Wisconsin democrat, he surely had solid connections in Madison—the regional snake pit of Progressivism. Yet he was a conservative democrat—as in fiscal conservative being he gave his "Golden Fleece Awards" to many federal projects that really were an atrocious waste of tax dollars. His disdain for the space program may have stemmed in part from populist disdain for technology—I remember SF writers like Ben Bova and others calling him a Luddite—and that sort of thing was politically fashionable in those days (often referred to as a knee-jerk reaction) so part of his reason for jumping onto the anti-space bandwagon may have been a political calculation. Some of it was probably born of a zero sum mentality that was also vogue at the time. A few space advocates wrote funny editorials about converting Proxmire to supporting space exploration and colonization by finding a way to turn butter into rocket fuel—being that the Senator's primary constituency were Wisconsin dairy farmers!
Bill Proxmire was a real trip at times in his day. Seeing how he might deal with today's political culture would be even more interesting. Maybe I should write a short story: "The Cloning of William Proxmire" where the infamous budget axe wielding Senator is brought back to life as a clone and some sort of quantum computing technology is used to reach back in time and download a copy of his mind and restore it to his new body. Then he goes out and wins back his old senate seat and we get to see how much of his opposition to space and government spending in general was based in deep rooted fiscal principle and how much was just going with the political fashion of the day. I hazard to guess more the former and he might even surprise a lot of people by showing up as a keynote speaker at a few Tea Parties to give his views on the evils of out of control spending and intergenerational theft!
If he was true to his started principals back in the day—he would be certainly be horrified by what his own party and the Nation have become in the world of the early 21st Century. In this day and age where we should have lunar bases and scores of O'Neill habitats orbiting in the neighborhood of the Earth and moon plus extensive settlement of Mars and the asteroids. And a significant fraction of our energy would probably be coming from geosynchronous solar power satellites***—instead of the current situation of aging coal plants about to be shut down with no practical backup plan other than the promise of "necessarily skyrocketing" utility rates uttered by our current President on the campaign trail in 2008.
When you really think about it: Obama may go down in history as the President who made the austere rationing economy and Green Police State from the pages of Fallen Angels and a few other dystopian science fiction novels into a grim reality!
As for William Proxmire—I can't be too hard on him anymore. Especially when you consider all that NASA has done to thwart any hope of establishing human settlements beyond Earth. At best a lack of vision being the space agency had long ago lost its mojo and is nothing like it was in its early days when could actually meet the challenge of JFK's vision of putting boots on the moon in a decade— as opposed to shrugging and saying "maybe in three decades"? At best they are slow walking because NASA is much like the establishment of the Republican Party that sometimes talks "small government" but is in no hurry to deliver on it. And worst of all—NASA seems to have an ideological agenda aimed at preventing the colonization of space deeply entrenched within the bureaucracy and the story is the same within most other federal agencies and institutions. What else can you make of a propaganda display at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum that raises objections to putting humans on Mars with comparison to European colonialism in the New World with the slogan : "Where Next, Columbus"? And we know what they did to the upstart Conestoga venture in the 1980s. And what some of them would likely do to any of the current private space ventures should anyone get close to the possibility of establishing a self-sustaining independent settlement in space.
With those kind of "friends"; who needs enemies?
And with a space agency like that ; who needs Bill Proxmire anymore?
* Not at all true. They just believed it was morally wrong to steal other people's wealth to finance trips to the moon and other planets. Ms Rand was especially hard on the Soviet space program which she described as cosmonauts looking down from their capsules and waving at their countrymen in their human pigsties that were the lot of the average Soviet socialist worker toiling for the glory of the State.
Telling that to many space advocates back in those days that it was wrong to engage in legalized plunder to fund their pet projects was like making similar comments to devote democrats regarding FDR & The New Deal. But considering how efficient the government has proven itself at doing anything anymore—it has become painfully obvious that a privately funded space program is the best way to go from here.
** Darth Proxmire! Love the Star Wars connection!
*** Solar Power Satellites were the main rationale for O'Neill and the L-5ers for colonizing space. As things look now—it might be better to pursue space colonization for its own sake and go for the SPS as a side venture after demand for high volume traffic reduces the cost of space transportation and access to resources from the moon and asteroids reduces the cost of raw materials for building them.
The concept is pretty brilliant—putting solar collectors or generators driven by parabolic mirrors in geostationary orbits where they are above the atmosphere and out of the Earth's shadow most if the time and beam it down to the power grids via microwave. Of course it will give environmentalists the bugaboos about birds flying through the footprint of the beams which are harmless in comparison to wind farms that slice and dice and an Earth based mirror system in the California desert that concentrates the sun for a steam boiler and cooks an occasional passing goose!
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