"Entering Space: Creating a Spacefaring Civilization"
(New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 2000)
On the Threshold of the Universe
Humans are not native to the Earth. Our lack of proper biological adaptation to the prevailing terrestrial environment indicates that we originated elsewhere. We live on a planet with two permanent polar ice caps, a planet whose land masses in large majority are stricken with snow, ice freezing nights, and killing frosts every year, and whose oceans average temperature is far below that of our life’s blood. The Earth is a cold place.
Our internal metabolism requires warmth. Yet we have no fur; we have no feathers; we have no blubber to insulate our bodies. Across most of this planet, unprotected human life for any length of time is as impossible as it is on the Moon. We survive here, and thrive here, solely by virtue of our technology [emphasis added].
All modern humans are the descendants of a very small band of people who lived in East Africa about 200,000 years ago. We find the earliest known remains of both Homo sapiens and its precursors in that region. In addition, detailed studies of the genetic material of current human populations show the greatest diversity in East Africa, with diversity decreasing in proportion to distance from that area. These statistics point unerringly to the central trunk of the human genetic tree. Humans are not native to the frigid Earth, only to tropical Kenya. We colonized the rest [emphasis added].
The move outward from our birthplace did not occur quickly. For 150,000 years after the appearance of Homo sapiens, our ancestors remained in the tropics. For the most part, this meant East Africa itself, although there is evidence for intermittent presence in southern Africa and the Middle East. In these regions, their hairless bodies and gracile limb structure provided the advantage of easy rejection of the the waste heat generated by the active brains and bodies of the world’s most intelligent animal. With the aid of a few simple crude stone implements inherited from their Homo erectus forebears, these early Homo Sapiens were masters of their environment , and apparently saw little need to either move or change in any way. Indeed, the 150 millennia humanity spent in Africa was a period of almost total technological stagnation, with generation after generation living and dying doing things in exactly the same way as their parents, grandparents, and remote ancestors centuries, millennia, and tens of millennia before [emphasis added].
Such stagnation, next to which the pattern of culture in the most tradition-bound tribal society known today compares as an exponential explosion of revolutionary progress, appears even more incredible given the fact that all available paleontological evidence indicates that these people were biologically identical to modern humans, with the same brain and other physical capacities. Humans as we know them everywhere in the world, whether Yankee gadgeteers or Chinese peasants, are to one extent or another constantly experimenting, innovating, tinkering, trying new things. It seems impossible – it seems inhuman – but for 150,000 years early humanity’s toolkit did not alter. We change. They didn’t. In a very fundamental sense, those folks just weren’t like us.
. . .
Pax Terrestris, yes. Pax Mundana no. Humanity does not need war, death, disease, decay, superstition, national or racial cults, archaic belief structures or despotisms, or any number of other residues of our primitive past against which many noble people have struggled through the ages. But humanity does need challenge. A humanity without challenge would be a humanity without change, without innovation, which fundamentally means a humanity without meaningful freedom. A humanity without challenge would be a humanity without humanity [emphasis added].
Furthermore, the "golden age" enjoyed by a static society is generally only a transitory phase on the path to hell [emphasis added]. . . .
. . .
The Earth's challenges have largely been met, and the planet is currently in the process of effectie unification. I believe this marks the end, not of human history, but of the first phase of human history, our development into a mature Type I civilization. It is not the end of history because, if we choose to embrace it, we have in space a new frontier offering endless challenge -- an infinite frontier, filled with worlds waiting to be discovered and history waiting to be made by myriad new branches of human civilization waiting to be born.
The opening of the space frontier, the creation of a spacefaring civilization, is thus the critical task facing our age. Compared to it, all other human enterprises of the present day are of trivial significance. Our success in this endeavor will determine whether we stand at the beginning of human history or the end. It will determine whether humanity continues as a truly human species. Failure is unacceptable.
Failure is unacceptable, yet we seem to be failing. The world's space programs, begun so proudly in the eras of Sputnik and the Apollo Moon launches, appear to be in a state of retreat verging on rout. The Russian program has collapsed, and the American effort, which has been going in circles for the past twenty years, has lost much support and is set for a fall the next time something goes wrong with the Shuttle or Space Station programs.
Consider the following: From 1961 to 1973, the United States launched a total of more than thirty robotic lunar and planetary missions and ten piloted Apollo lunar missions. From 1974 to 1986 we launched six robotic and no manned missions beyond earth orbit, while from 1987 to the present  an additional ten robotic and no piloted exploration missions were flown. Russian mission statistics follow a similar trend. While the demise of the Soviet program might be explained by the deterioration of that nation's economy (oversimplistically -- since material conditions in the Soviet Union were much worse in the 1950s when their program was launched), in the United States the opposite is the case. The U.S. economy today is more than double teh size of the 19760s economy, percapita income is higher, and we face no major military threat that drains our resources.
While politicians complain about the incapacity of the national budget to support space programs, neither we nor anyone else haave ever been so rich or more able to afford to initiate a great new age of exploration. The flush nature of the U.S. economy is ironically illustrated by the fact that our current political leadership is apparently willing to accept a situation where we are spending about the same amount of dollars on space in real terms as we did in the 1961-1973 era, while accomplishing perhaps 1 perceent as much.
Surprising as it may seem, the average NASA budget in 1998 dollars during the heroic age of 1961-1973 was about $16 billion per year, only 20 percent more than it is today. During that period NASA not only launched the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Ranger, Surveyor, and Mariner missions, but did all the development for the Pioneer, Viking, and Voyager missions as well. In addition . . .
... the United States today has plenty of money to waste. But as long as they are spending it, one would think that today's politicians would desire something in return. John F. Kenney demanded results from the space program. The nation's current officialdom doesn't seem to care [emphasis added]. Why not?
It is clear that an essential element giving urgency to the space programs of the 1960s was the Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union [emphasis added]. That is not to say, as frequently has been claimed, that the Cold War icaused the Apollo program. There were many other ways that the young, action-oriented President Kennedy could have responded to the failure of his Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in the spring of 1961. ...
[forget what Robert Zubrin has to say about letting the U.S. military into the fraut environment of the day] ...
No, the Apollo program was not caused by the Cold War. The Apollo program was caused by an idea, originating in the minds of early-twentieth century visionaries like Robert Goddard, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, and Hermann Oberth, and widely promoted by a subsequent generation of visionaries including Werner von Braun and Arthur C. Clark. That idea, the imperative for human expansion into space, captured the minds of a subset of the public, including some of those in power, and through them mobilized the political energies made available by the Cold War during the early 1960s for its service [emphasis added]. ... Kennedy believed in the necessity of humanity, and in particular America, taking on the challenge of the space frontier and used the tension with the Russians as a tool to acquire political support for such and initiative. ...
The fact that Kennedy himself was moved by the idea, and his appreciation of the need for challenge, and not just by the Russianj threat, is also made clear by his own speeches, such as his brilliant and enduring address delivered to Rice University in September 1962. Listen to how intimately he united two passions, American national pride and the call of space:
We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win . . . This is in some measure an act of faith and vision, for we do not know what benefits await us . . . But space is there and we are going to climb it.
Yet the American political system was and is predominantly composed of minds considerably less profound than that of John F. Kennedy. For such people, the Cold War competition with the Russians provided the decisive rationale required to mobilize their support for the program [emphasis added]. ,