In the run-up to this year’s State of the Union address, I’m sure that there were many of 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?
Excellent post, Travis! Most people haven’t ever conceived of themselves as “the one” that makes things happen. Or they think there is only *one* person that sets grand schemes in motion. The truth is we all have to be “the one” to make our part happen so that the goal moves closer to reality. Thanks for the reminder.
Over time our great national space effort has turned into a giant political pork barrel that pumps billions of dollars into the design and development of rockets that will never be built and that will never fly. It’s great for creating lot of hi-tech jobs, but not so great when it comes to producing any tangible results. Why should any congressman or Senator be even the slightest bit concerned whether or not NASA ever flies another brand-new rocket just so long as the money keeps pouring into their own particular state or district? If we really want progress towards the Final Frontier then it is time for those of us who feel passionately about that progress to lead the charge. I don’t think you’ll find too many people like that in either government or, more specifically, Congress, but, as the article above states, there are lots of people across this nation who are making this their life’s work. My faith is in NewSpace, Commercial Space, and in all the brand new start-ups now emerging onto the scene. My faith is in all the “Orphans of Apollo,” as Rick Tumlinson might put it; people just like me, who grew up during an era of grand exploration and who thought that it would go on forever. We’ve been granted another great opportunity. Only this time we won’t be content to sit back and watch as events unfold without our direct participation. We’ve been granted another chance, and this time it’s up to all of us to “make it happen.”