Where then are our leaders?

In the run-up to this year’s State of the Union address, I’m sure that there were manyof us out there holding out hope for the announcement of some grand space vision, something that would cement the hopes and dreams we have for the next great leap. However, in trying to define our future in space, and more importantly the leadership of that future, we too often look to our Congressional and Executive officials to set the agenda. As we’ve seen over the past several decades, these visions rarely last longer than the next election cycle.

We are the ones who know where we want to go, and yet there are those of us who keep waiting on our governments, on those with only a passing interest, to give us confirmation that it is OK to go. Why do many of us insist on relying on others to set the goals and agendas, to define the ambitions, to grant the permissions that by rights we should be governing ourselves?

Where then are our leaders? The ones who will carry us along further into space than we ever hoped? The truth is that those leaders are us. Leadership in space is now a bottom- up endeavor. It comes from those launching commercial startups, from those building backyard rockets, from those vying for X prizes, from those with the audacity to chase their dreams and visions in the naked light of day, from us. We must lead because we know the future we want to build.

Barring some unforeseen, fundamental shift in the functioning of the political world, the old top-down, Kennedy-esque model of space leadership is dead for the foreseeable future. We are now the drivers. If we really want space to belong to the people, then it is up to all of us to go out and make that happen, in whatever capacity we have at our disposal. Some of us will build the machines, some will lobby and fundraise, some will educate, but all of it is necessary to build the future we want, and we are the only ones who can build it. We must all lead because no one else will. The alternative is to continue waiting for something to happen that likely never will in our lifetimes, and for that history will judge us harshly. The future we want and deserve is only limited by our willingness to put forth the effort necessary to lead its development.

In the end, there are those who observe history, and those who go out and make it.

I know which I am. Do you?