President Trump and others have called for the establishment of a U.S. Space Force.
It's about time!!
Science fiction authors led the way on this. Robert Heinlein said the following in his lecture to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1973:
"Space navies will change beyond recognition our present methods of warfare and will control the political shape of the world for the foreseeable future. These spaceships will open up the Solar System to colonization and will eventually open the rest of this Galaxy."
Talk of colonizing the Galaxy is premature; faster-than-light drives are still science fiction. However, colonization of the Moon or Mars is possible. (If Elon Musk doesn't get to Mars, someone else will.) Space-based solar power as well as asteroid mining are just some of the possibilities. Let’s take a look:
Space based solar power (SBSP): Imagine solar energy collected 24-7 (no night, no cloud cover, no precipitation) and beamed down as microwave energy to ground-based receiving stations in the U.S. No more need for coal or other fossil fuel plants, or for controversial nuclear fission plants. (Nuclear fusion plants would also be clean, but they aren't available…for now.) Transport of almost all types except aviation could be electrified -- no more need for gasoline or diesel. No more wasting crop space on ethanol; food is for eating, not for burning. Perpetually thirsty California could use the energy from SBSP to power desalination plants instead of sucking the Colorado River and other rivers dry. Desalination via SBSP could also be used for mining various elements that are dissolved in ocean water, including lithium, which is becoming much more important as electric vehicles proliferate. (This would be a terrestrial alternative to lunar or asteroid mining.) Energy could be sold to other countries via long distance direct current (DC) transmission lines, in the same way that natural gas is sold via long distance pipelines. Lastly, the energy from SBSP could be used for plasma gasification, which would offer a safe way of disposing of waste by reducing it to its atomic components.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of abundant energy. Energy is such a part of our lives that it is easy to take for granted. We use energy to make and power everything, including the device you're reading this article on. We use energy to get around. Energy brings your food to the grocery store, powers your home and workplace, and much more. Power from SBSP could even be used to power lasers to be used for launching spacecraft without using chemical propellants.
Bottom line: The more clean energy we have, the better.
SBSP isn't the only possibility. Earth orbit is the jump off point to go anywhere in the Solar System. The Moon and Mars can be colonized. Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are close to offering commercial space flights for anyone who can pay the hefty fare. The Asteroid Belt offers good prospects for space mining. Valuable elements can be mined from lifeless rocks in space. No more need for mining on Earth, with the risk of pollution of water, air, or soil.
A larger American presence in space would provide jobs. Asteroid miner, spaceship pilot, cabin crew for tourist flights, satellite technicians, medical personnel, astronomers, physicists, and yes, lawyers too! More jobs, more energy, more resources -- what a great combination!
The U.S. Space Force will be needed to defend all of these activities. Great power rivalry isn't going away; it's getting worse. Hostile nations such as China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea would be sorely tempted to attack U.S. space assets or space commerce to cripple the United States. China and Russia have already demonstrated the ability to shoot down a satellite. (The United States is capable of returning the favor.) Furthermore, a robust U.S. space presence in the form of the Space Force will ensure that no combination of hostile powers will be able to confine the U.S. to Earth.
For too long, U.S. leaders have tried to pump up the economy through financial hocus-pocus such as quantitative easing and artificially low interest rates. By now it should be clear that this doesn't work. Instead, let's have cheap energy, cheap resources, and the manufacturing and scientific bonanza that will result from a reinvigorated U.S. Space program made possible by the protective shield of the U.S. Space Force. It's time for the rest of our country's political leadership to get on board. Those who don't like the messenger should remember that President Trump will not be in office forever, that the United States will still need unfettered space access, and that there are hostile foreign powers that would cheerfully deny that access and that prosperity to us.
For further reading:
Everett Dolman, Astropolitik
General Daniel Graham, High Frontier
Robert Heinlein, Expanded Universe
Jerry Pournelle, A Step Farther Out
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