An Outward-Looking Grand Strategy

by Paul Gilster on April 18, 2014

We use strategies to weigh the issues around us and maximize our chances for success. Can we create a strategy not just for a specific short-term goal but for the survival and growth of our entire species? In the essay that follows, Michael Michaud looks at the elements of such a vision, one that by necessity takes us out of our own biosphere and into the cosmos. As long-time Centauri Dreams readers know, Michaud is well suited to discussing the resolution of conflict and the attainment of goals. His lengthy career in the U.S. Foreign Service led to posts as Counselor for Science, Technology and Environment at U.S. embassies in Paris and Tokyo, and Director of the State Department’s Office of Advanced Technology. He has also been chairman of working groups at the International Academy of Astronautics on SETI issues, and is the author of the highly regarded Contact with Alien Civilizations: Our Hopes and Fears about Encountering Extraterrestrials (Springer, 2007).

By Michael A.G. Michaud

michaud2

We are living amid four revolutions that draw human minds beyond the limits of the Earth.

* Astronomical exploration of the cosmos by ground-based instruments, orbiting observatories, and robotic spacecraft brings the rest of our solar system closer to us, so that we can more realistically consider living on or utilizing other worlds.

* Human spaceflight enables us to expand our presence and our field of action beyond the Earth. It changes the way we see our position in the cosmos, implying that we – and our prospects for the future — need not remain confined to our home planet.

* The search for extraterrestrial life and intelligence changes our perspective on the role of biology and sentience in the universe. Life may prove to be a widespread phenomenon, not unique to the Earth. Contact with another civilization might challenge us, or open up vast opportunities for our species.

* Proposals for extraterrestrial macroengineering , such as mining the Moon and the asteroids, building satellite solar power stations, and terraforming Mars, could enable us to expand our influence on matter and energy beyond the Earth, utilizing those resources to remove the limits to growth and open up new options for our species.

These revolutions broaden Earth-bound conceptions. They urge us to reach outward. They imply grand shared tasks for Humankind.

These revolutions also contrast us to an outside, heightening our awareness that we spring from a common origin and live in a common biosphere. They encourage us to think about the shared interests of humankind.

Synergy

Astronomy, planetary exploration, and human spaceflight are not mutually exclusive. Work in one field has stimulated new ideas – and sometimes new programs and more funding – in others.

Astronomy has been a powerful stimulus to thinking about spaceflight. It has given us a better understanding of potential destinations, and potential risks.

This can work both ways. Astronomy and planetary exploration would not have enjoyed the growth they experienced during after the beginning of the space age had it not been for the Moon landing program and the prospect of eventual human missions to Mars.

We find stimulus and response elsewhere too. The search for extraterrestrial life has been a major factor in gaining support for planetary exploration missions to Mars. The possible presence of oceans under the ice of outer planet moons is stimulating new interest. SETI, a search for evidence of alien technology, grew out of radio astronomy.

Ideas about bases on the Moon and Mars became more credible after human and robotic missions gave us geological information about lunar and planetary materials. Extraterrestrial macroengineering concepts such as mining or diverting asteroids help justify further exploration of our solar system.

Discovering planets around other stars has given new impetus to astrobiology, SETI and interstellar exploration by robotic probes.

Those who support the implementation of these grand ideas have learned to play politics, to lobby for their causes in national capitals and multinational organizations. Their efforts have concentrated on budget processes, encouraging a near term approach. Political persuasion has focused on funding specific projects.

Instead of seeing the competition for funding as a zero-sum game, we could make a more conscious effort to see connections and seek synergisms. To cite one example, ground-based astronomers have been surveying asteroids that cross or come near the orbit of the Earth. Unmanned missions to asteroids and comet nuclei might pave the way for human exploration. Those in turn could assist in developing mining operations, making those bodies part of the human resource base.

If separate advocacies worked together, the whole might be greater than the sum of its parts. What is missing is a unifying concept.

A Grand Extraplanetary Strategy

All of these fields of human endeavor are parts of an unarticulated grand strategy for our species.

At the most basic level, a strategy is simply a thoughtful way of dealing with one’s environment to improve one’s prospects for success. A grand strategy for the human species would be one designed to improve our ability to survive, to grow, to diversify, and to increase our influence on our environment and our future.

There are many elements to such a strategy, including the better management of our resources, reducing undesirable impacts on our biosphere, limiting conflict among humans, and maintaining the conviction that our future can be better than our past. Most conceptions constrain the design of such a strategy to the biosphere of our origin – a stage that many find unnecessarily narrow. The environment of a technological species is much larger than the planetary biosphere that gave it birth.

Here we may have the common purpose that underlies the four outward-looking revolutions of our time. Astronomy, planetary exploration, and SETI are reconnaissances of our larger environment. They are essential elements of any rational extraplanetary strategy for the human species; without them, we could not conduct intelligent operations beyond the Earth.

Human spaceflight is partly for reconnaissance and partly for operations, depending on the objectives of particular missions. Extraterrestrial mining and macaroengineering, including the building of large structures in space, clearly would be operations.

Whatever our differences about specific missions may be, we could share a broad vision of human activity beyond the Earth, placing astronomy, planetary spaceflight, SETI, and proposals for extraterrestrial macroengineering in a common context.

Hard times can produce new alliances. Instead of seeing other programs as rivals for funding, we could look for opportunities for each to help the others, designing missions to be synergistic wherever that is possible. For example, advocates of interstellar exploration by probes could more actively support the search for extrasolar planets and invite extrasolar planet seekers to reciprocate.

This approach will not lead to quick miracles in public funding. Governments and international organizations are unlikely to adopt a formal extraplanetary strategy, or even to agree that we should have one. But they might respond to tactical alliances among the revolutionaries.

Many differences may divide us, but we can share a unifying idea: that we are participating in the definition and implementation of a grand strategy for our species.

Armed with a shared vision, we can work quietly and persistently to see that the parts of such a grand strategy are put into place, supporting each other whenever possible. That will require patience, and an enlightened sense of self-interest.

Separately, we have worked wonders. Imagine what we could do together.

——-

This essay is based on three documents written more than thirty years ago. The author first presented a paper on this subject at the 1981 International Astronautical Congress in Rome. A more detailed discussion can be found in “Towards a Grand Strategy for the Species,” Earth-Oriented Applications of Space Technology, Vol. 2, No. 3-4 (1982), 213-219. A simpler, more popularized version entitled “Sharing the Grand Strategy” appeared in Space World, August 1984, 5-9.

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Andrew Palfreyman April 18, 2014 at 15:57

A dynamic not yet widely considered is the (currently hypothetical) ability of an individual to travel to the Moon and enlist the support of other like-minded souls to begin creating infrastructure there. A personal propulsion breakthrough would be required to effect such a scenario.

ljk April 18, 2014 at 21:34

Any details on such an idea? Please resist saying someone in the undetermined future will figure that out. :^)

Michael April 19, 2014 at 8:11

@Michael A.G. Michaud

‘We are living amid four revolutions that draw human minds beyond the limits of the Earth.’

I think we need to add a fifth, unless I missed it somewhere.

* A planet wide internet system where users can communicate and exchange information rapidly and accurately more so than in any other period in human history. This allows us to develop and master technology at an increasing pace and has the power to bring humanity closer together.

Astronist April 19, 2014 at 8:30

An “unarticulated grand strategy”: but does it differ in any respect from the strategy articulated in detail by Gerard O’Neill in his classic book The High Frontier (first published 1976)?

Stephen A.
Oxford, UK

Marc Millis April 19, 2014 at 11:33

Michael,

With your respected diplomatic finesse, would you be willing to assist in forging the collaborations you envision? After DARPA’s dangling of dollars for interstellar (for an organization, not the work), many prior collaborators became competitors. Too many want to call the shots rather than fill niches. A 3rd party like yourself would provide the respected impartiality that the competitors might be more willing to listen too. With a shift away from ‘beating’ the competition, we could move to where each applies their niche skills to the greater whole.

If you are up to this, please contact Paul Gilster or myself.

Thank you for your consideration,

Marc G Millis

Michael April 19, 2014 at 15:57

@Marc Millis April 19, 2014 at 11:33

‘With your respected diplomatic finesse, would you be willing to assist in forging the collaborations you envision?’

I would not go so far as saying I have diplomatic finesse. I once mediated a falling out between two friends and received a rather energetic physical response -a right hook! But I would like to help where I can.

Unfortunately it looks as if the way DARPA ‘dangled the dollars’ for an interstellar organisation was partly the issue. I believe DARPA didn’t take into consideration human nature and the sheer scale of the solutions needed for such a multi-faceted problem and no one can blame them. The problem spans the entire range of not just physical engineering dimensions but emotional and ethical ones.

Now with the spread of the internet it has allowed a reduction in many limiting factors such as distance, time and personality issues to name a few. It has also allowed others not within the small competitive communities that have sprung up to look at previous pioneering works with a more impartial eye with their particular skill sets.

I have read a lot about interstellar travel and I can see that no one person appears to be right -only when we pool our collective intellects- will we resolve the problem of interstellar flight and take steps towards interstellar colonisation. The crux of the matter is getting those intellects together and keeping them together to complete the complex task.

You are quite right when you stated

‘Too many want to call the shots rather than fill niches. With a shift away from ‘beating’ the competition, we could move to where each applies their niche skills to the greater whole.’

That is what we need to do; we need a road map combined with the use of as many skill sets as possible to bring about the dreams of interstellar flight. We seem to be squabbling over a scratch of land, beautiful as it is, when we should be looking upwards to our rightful place in the cosmos but we have to earn it first.

-If we are ever to make the ‘leap of leaps’ from our shores to other stellar shores we must endeavor as never before to delve into the smallest of the small and fear not the overwhelming vastness of space or be intimidated into submission by the task before us. Our goal can only be achieved if we pour immense effort into it by applying our collective intellects, knowledge and letting go the reins on our imagination, only then can humanity proudly stand on those distant beckoning shores.

Michael G Million

Marc Millis April 19, 2014 at 17:12

@Michael

Nice reply!

It occurred to me later that you might not be the same Michael as Michael A.G. Michaud (the one with the diplomatic experience). In retrospect, I should have written his entire name in my comment to avoid confusion. My bad.

Regardless, your reply is fit for the task! Regarding your reply; a provisional road map could help, where folks would see all the facets that need to be covered, and help fill in the blanks. I will take that challenge under consideration (of creating a comprehensive road map).

Marc G Millis

Etienne April 20, 2014 at 15:54

Grande et magnifique vision cosmique humaniste ! Bravo et merci pour cet essai résolument optimiste … and good success to you!

ProjectStudi April 20, 2014 at 23:21

“Hard times can produce new alliances. Instead of seeing other programs as rivals for funding, we could look for opportunities for each to help the others, designing missions to be synergistic wherever that is possible. For example, advocates of interstellar exploration by probes could more actively support the search for extrasolar planets and invite extrasolar planet seekers to reciprocate.”

But first trust must come. Whether genuine or not, organisations are beginning to consider trust as a measurable, commodity valuable in conducting business. Whilst the article linked below does not particularly inspire trust in me, it I found it useful for understanding some terms of reference related to trust as a scarce commodity.

In the same way that businesses have a framework for Information Management and Knowledge Management, future organisations may have such a framework for Trust Management for evidence based assessment for optimisation of trust with their stakeholders.

It would be naïve to assume this change in awareness is a present reality, but it would be jaded to discount it altogether.

http://www.accenture.com/SiteCollectionDocuments/PDF/Accenture-Trust-Managing-the-Scarcest-Commodity-of-All.pdf

“This approach will not lead to quick miracles in public funding. Governments and international organizations are unlikely to adopt a formal extraplanetary strategy, or even to agree that we should have one. But they might respond to tactical alliances among the revolutionaries.”

This might be where we as those luminaries of our unique passion for all things interstellar, those still living, to contribute their sagacity, charisma and outspoken support to those who join the revolution.

Michael April 21, 2014 at 1:36

My small take on a Cosmic road map.

A Grand Space Vision

1) Build a cheap reusable space entry vehicle.
2) Build a manufacturing/space port in LEO.
3) Go back to the moon and build polar and equatorial moon bases.
4) A shuttle system between the moon and earth.
5) Build a Laser and/or particle/mass launch system on the moon.
6) Deep space communication network.
……..
X) Launch interstellar probe.

All of this can be worked on in parallel and there is much about it in the literature about the subjects.

Please feel free to add to the list we all have something to add to the vision.

The internet has allowed us access to over a billion ‘minds’ with their dreams and skill sets. If we broke each issue down and worked on it with niche skill sets the problem would become a lot smaller.

James April 22, 2014 at 17:44

Transformation to a space based economy.

Michael April 23, 2014 at 12:33

@James April 22, 2014 at 17:44

‘Transformation to a space based economy.’

There is one big issue with that and that is cost.

A space based economy would most like depend on tourism and I hope not advertising for a while.

Maybe the first form of a space based economy should be by using a financial stepping stone approach (develop the next craft/infrastructure and hotels/bases).

1) High altitude return to same base rocketry.
2) Suborbital flights to other continent space ports.
3) Full orbital—Hotels and manufacturing faculties
4) Transit around moon.
5) Landing and return from the moon–Moon bases
6)….and so on

Until we slowly grow in the direction we need to take.

Did our first journey of a thousand miles not begin with a single step

and

Our journey of endless space not begin with our first flight?

ljk April 23, 2014 at 16:02
David H April 26, 2014 at 22:59

@Andrew Palfreyman – The recent successes of SpaceX and hopefully, near-term achievement of much lower launch costs through reusability, surely provide glimpses of the possibility you mention. Won’t be too long and we’ll see particularly capable entrepreneurs offering a personal Moon landing to particularly wealthy clients. (I realise that plans are afoot lol.)

@Michael – There is something about the Net that some developers understand so well, enabling them to turn out multi-million to billion dollar enterprises in mere months. Most of us however, cannot quite get our minds around the possibilities. We need a trillion dollar, ‘Interstellar KickStarter’ or our ideas and efforts will languish long beyond our meagre lifespans.

@Astronist – How I loved O’Neill’s book, I have an early edition still amongst my favourites. He passed to soon. (Incidentally, has anyone here read ‘The search for speed under sail, 1700-1855′ by Howard I. Chapelle? A lovely account of attempts to ‘push the envelope’ in another age.)

Michael April 27, 2014 at 14:18

@David H April 26, 2014 at 22:59

‘We need a trillion dollar, ‘Interstellar KickStarter’ or our ideas and efforts will languish long beyond our meagre lifespans.’

We need billions of dollars of investment in the right areas, not trillions and the will to do it. Once we are on the moon to stay then we can think about building an Interstellar probe.

We need to build infrastructure first and then when we sleep we can dream of technical marvels to come.

At the moment do we need to go for interstellar probes? we have barely seen what is out there. Large mirrors on the moon would see across the cosmos in exquisite detail, lets look before we leap.

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