Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Competing Visions (3)

Not long after the Apollo 11 landing on the moon, a professor at Princeton University asked one of his classes, "What is the best way for human beings to live off of Earth?"

At the time, most people assumed the answer would be a planetary surface, like Mars, or perhaps the moon. Gerard K. O'Neill and his class turned this assumption on its head by developing the idea of free standing space settlements built from extraterrestrial materials and set between the Earth and moon or the Earth and the sun.

At these Lagrange Points, especially L5, as it became known, the gravity of two large bodies like the Earth and the sun are perfectly balanced and whatever is at that point will have an enviable stability even though it is apparently floating in free space.

This insight led to the creation of the Space Studies Institute (SSI), which was active in the 1970s and 1980s, and became fertile ground for many innovative ideas about space exploration and development. Many of those of us who becamse "space advocates" considered ourselves to be "Gerry's Kids," in honor of his great influence on us. An activist organization, the L5 Society, flourished for several years as an offshoot of SSI.

We should bear in mind that O'Neill's vision for space settlement embodied a strong environmental component. He advocated moving all heavy industry off of the home planet into space, and he also supported the use of space-based solar power satellites to bring the sun's energy to everyone on Earth. These were positive side effects of the main theme of human settlements of up to 10,000 people in free space.

(To be continued)

Copyright, Frank White, 2016, All Rights Reserved.

The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, AIAA, 2014, www. amazon.com

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Thoughts on "Earthrise"

For many of us, Christmas Eve has always been a very special time, either because of our spiritual path or because it is a time for celebration and gift-giving

For those of us enanomored with space exploration and its impact on human consciousness, this day has taken on new meaning: it marks the moment when we saw our home world in a radically different way, as a planet "rising" above another celestial body---the moon. The impact of that moment in the history of the Overview Effect, now close to 50 years ago, cannot be overemphasized.

For Americans, 1968 had been a terrilble year. It began with a bloody turning point in the Vietnam war, known as the Tet Offensive. In January, the guerrilla fighters of the National Liberation Front (aka Viet Cong) had staged a surprise uprising throughout South Vietnam that included Viet Cong running through the halls of the American Embassy in Saigon. We had been told repeatedly that the US was winning the war, but the Tet Offensive suggested, in dramatic fashion, otherwise.

 For those of us who had opposed the war, this was a sad vindication that it was probably not winnable by the South Vietnamese, even with an enormous American troop presence. Many of us rallied to the cause of Eugene McCarthy, an anitwar senator from Minnesota, who ran against President Johnson in the Democratic presidential primary. Eventually, Johnson saw the light, announced he would not run again for the presidency, and opened negotiations with the North Vietnamese and NLF in Paris.

In the meantime, though, we had to endure additional shocks with the assassinations of Martin Luther King, the great advocate of non-violence and civil rights, and Robert Kennedy, who had entered the race for the presidency. After the King shooting in April, major cities in the US were convulsed by riots, and troops were sent in to quell the violence. Our nation was fighting a two-front war, and we seemed to be losing. The loss of Bobby Kennedy added to the grief we had felt when his brother had been assassinated in 1963.

Then came Apollo 8. One of the reasons this Apollo mission had such an impact was that it came, like many events in 1968, as a surprise. Apollo 8 was not originally intended to travel to the moon, but NASA feared the Soviet Union were planning a crewed mission that would go, and decided at the last minute to preempt their rivals. Instead of being an orbital mission designed to safely test out components needed for a moon landing, Apollo 8 left Earth orbit and headed out to circle our satellite, the first crewed mission to travel so far.

The "Earthrise" photo was not the first "Overview Effect moment" on the voyage. The initial shocking action of the three astronauts was to turn their cameras around when they were on their way out  and show us the whole Earth.

I remember the moment well. I was in London, staying at the home of friends, and we were watching television when it happened. Given how the year had played out, we were not in a festive mood, even though it was almost Christmas. When the astronauts showed us the Earth from a distance, we really didn't know what to say. I have interviewed many astronauts since then about their experiences, and I believe I felt something like they describe when they first see the planet from orbit, on the way to the moon, or from the lunar surface.

Since you have no reference point, no comparable experience with which to compare this one, you have no words for it at the time. Only later are you able to describe it. That seems to have been true of the astronauts, and it has certainly been the case for me.

Then, on Christmas Eve, there was Earthrise, not only the photo and video of it but also the reading of Genesis by the astronauts as they rounded the moon. For the first time in a lng while, I began to feel some hope for my country, my species, my planet. I wrote quite a lot about Apollo 8 in The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution. https://www.amazon.com/Overview-Effect-Exploration-Evolution-Library/dp/162410262X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1482588709&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Overview+Effect

As I discuss in the book, from an Overview Effect perspective, the key to Apollo 8 is that it was the first time humans had seen the Whole Earth and shared that view with everyone on the planet. And there is a significant difference between seeing the Earth from orbit and seeing it from a greater distance.

I have also written a lot about this mission and the other Apollo missions in The New Camelot: the Quest for the Overview Effect, soon to be published by Apogee Books. This book portrays our Apollo astronauts as similar to the Knights of the Round Table, with the "holy grail" of our time being the Overview Effect.

Finally, the "Overview" film produced by Planetary Collective focuses its opening comments on Apollo 8 and Earthrise. It is only 19 minutes long and well worth watching:https://vimeo.com/55073825

So 2016 has been another difficult year, not only for the United States but for the world. Never have we needed the Overview Effect perspective more than we do today. Never have we needed to apply Overivew thinking to planetary problems more than we do today.

I hope you will join me and my colleagues at the Overview Institute (http://www.overviewinstitute.org)  in the great effort to "bring the Overview Effect down to Earth" and make a difference in the lives of billions of people and all the sentient beings who are members of the crew of Spaceship Earth.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!

Copyright, Frank White, 2016, All Rights Reserved.

The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, AIAA, 2014, www. amazon.com

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Tribute to John Glenn

John Glenn's passing at the age of 95 marks the loss of another of our great space exploration pioneers. Most of the headlines have called him a hero, and he was that, but he was also quite modest. I heard him speak at Harvard several years ago, and he commented on that appelation somewhat wryly. He said something like, "When I get up in the morning and start dressing, I don't say, 'The hero is now putting on his socks.'"

He accomplished a lot in his long lifetime, including being a fighter pilot, a record-setting aviator, the first American to go into orbit, a US Senator, and the oldest person to fly in space at the age of 77. As far as I know, the only big failure in his life was that he ran for the Democratic nomination for the presidency and lost. Not a bad record, overall.

But I think it is more important that he was a decent and good person.

I regret that I was not successful in interviewing him for my book, but I did use excerpts from his own book to provide some insight into his experience of the Overview Effect. Here are a few excerpts:

Now, for the first time, I could look out the window and see  back along the flight path. I could not help exclaiming over the radio about what I saw. "Oh,"  I said,  "that  view is tremendous!" It really was. I could see for hundreds  of miles in every direction-the sun on white clouds, patches of blue water beneath, and great chunks of Florida and the southeastern United States.

While I was reporting in by radio to the Canary Island tracking sta­tion, I had my first glimpse of the coast of Africa. The Atlas Mountains were clearly visible through the window. Inland, I could see huge dust storms from brush fires raging along the edge of the desert. (1)

Thank you for sharing that "tremendous view" with us, John Glenn!

(1) Carpenter, M.S., et al., We Seven, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1962.

(c) Copyright, Frank White, 2016, All Rights Reserved.

The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, AIAA, 2014, www. amazon.com

Monday, November 28, 2016

Competing Visions (2)

Most of us would agree that exploration is a positive human activity. We are a curious species, and our tendency to go "out there" to learn more about the unknown is almost taken for granted. Of course, we do that, right? There is even speculation that we carry an "explorer gene" that can be activated in the right circumstances.

Exploitation is a bit more problematic, though. It is also a human tendency to exploit the resources that we find surronding us, or that we discover through exploration.

 There are times when this exploitation seems benign enough, and times when it is downright destructive.

When we look back at the great ages of exploration on Earth, especially the 15th through 18th centuries, the picture is truly mixed, from an ethical point of view. Finding "new worlds" exerted great impact on the European countries from which the sailing ships departed, and surely played a positive role in supporting the Enlightenment, which broke old modes of thought and led to new concepts of humanity and our role in the world.

However, the colonial worldview of the explorers represented nothing short of disaster for the Indigenous peoples they encountered in their journeys. As we look back at the great age of European exploration of the planet and the settling of the American West, we would certainly like to have a "do-over" based on a different philosophy of exploration and exploitation.

(To be continued)

(c) Copyright, Frank White, 2016, All Rights Reserved

The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution is available at aiaa.org and amazon.com 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Competing Visions

For some time now, I have been urging that we develop a "philosophy of space exploration and development." As it turns out, two of the main players in the commercial space sector actually have embryonic space philosophies, and they have begun to reveal them.

As it also turns out, the perspectives offered by Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are radically different, and this is really important to our future. Why? Because both of them are visionaries, committed to their cause, and both of them are billionaires, able to turn their visions into reality.

Let's take a look at these two competing philosophies, how they lead to contrasting visions for space exploration and development, and the implications for the rest of us.

First, Elon Musk has said that he wants to put a million humans on Mars as a "Plan B." Essentially, he is making the logical point that an extinction event brought on by climate change, an asteroid strike, or something as yet unforeseen will wipe out humanity unless we become a "multi-planet species" and a "spacefaring civilization." Ultimately, he cannot be contradicted, because we know that the sun will eventually go supernova and wipe out all life on Earth. (Of course, this would wipe out all life on Mars as well, so it is an argument for interstellar, rather than interplanetary, travel.)

Then there is an alternate vision that is being offered by Jeff Bezos, another billionaire who made his fortune because of the "technological Overview Effect" that is provided by the Internet/World Wide Web. Bezos harkens back to an earlier era in the history of space exploration and development, the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Gerard K. O'Neill started the Space Studies Institute and offered a new perspective on how humans ought to expand into the solar system.

(To be continued)

(c) Copyright, Frank White, 2016, All Rights Reserved

The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution is available at aiaa.org and amazon.com 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

What is "the Mars Effect?"

I am beginning to see the outlines of what a "Mars Effect" might be. It is different from the Overview Effect, but is still a way in which space exploration has an impact on human thought. It is connected with the Overview Effect as a subset of the Copernican Perspective, a realization that we are part of the solar system, an astronaut insight that was discussed in my book, The Overview Effect. Here are some excerpts from the book:

We will explore our entire solar system in the next 400  or 500  years, but we won't be able to go beyond that point. ... I believe it's possible, but it'll be a long time.

-Payload specialist Marc Garneau


Many years ago, Democratic  Senator  Spark  Matsunaga  of Hawaii  suggested  in an Omni magazine article that the American space community, led by Wernher von Braun, had its sights set on a space frontier with Mars as its outer boundary  before the Apollo program. He said, “From the beginning,  NASA planners shared  von Braun's  aspirations for a Mars mission as the primary target of our space  program. But in the spring of 1961 John  Kennedy  needed  a relatively  quick  and dramatic space accomplishment, so he sent  NASA racing to the moon instead.1
Matsunaga reminded  us that Robert Goddard, whose work in rocketry laid the foundation  for the American space program, had a vision of “the  planet Mars, red and gleaming in the darkness of space while sitting in a cherry tree in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1899. Goddard imagined  a vehicle that would take him to Mars and "spent  the rest of his life working to turn his vision into reality.2


(1) Matsunaga, S. "Marsquest," Omni, June 1986, p. 22, in The Overview Effect, p. 123.
(2) Ibid.

(c) Copyright, Frank White, 2016, All Rights Reserved

The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution is available at aiaa.org and amazon.com 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Is There a "Mars Effect?"

With all the recent excitement about a human mission to Mars that has the goal of establishing a settlement there, I have begun to ask myself if there is a "Mars Effect," analogous to the Overview Effect, which is beginning to have an impact on how we think about our place in the universe.

I discussed the idea of the Copernican Perspective in my book, The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, as the realization that we are not only a part of the Earth system but that the Earth is part of the solar system, which is becoming our new environment. As we see more and more images of Mars in the media, it is a reasonable question as to whether the "Mars Effect" is a subset of the Copernican Perspective. I think it is premature to define this phenomenon, but I do believe it is worth exploring.

More on this later.

(c) Copyright, Frank White, 2016, All Rights Reserved

The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution is available at aiaa.org and amazon.com 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Impact of Contact (III)

We have considered what might happen to our society if we were contacted by an extraterrestrial civilization only a few hundred years ahead of us in development. In theory, we might connect with civilizations that are much farther along than that. Imagine trying to converse with ETs that are a thousand years ahead of us, or a million, or more! The idea of such a dialogue is difficult to picture.
            The White Equation provides a way to develop an Impact Index for any level of difference between our civilization and that of the aliens. However, as we move more deeply into using the equation, it raises some significant questions about the entire SETI enterprise. The problem is this: once we imagine an alien civilization that is, let us say, more than 10,000 years ahead of ours, it seems unlikely that they will still be confined to a planet, and even more unlikely that they will want to communicate with us.

            When we look ahead at terrestrial civilization in 10,000 years, we are likely to have spread out into the solar system and perhaps far beyond its boundaries. The Singularity may have occurred, an event that takes place when artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence. Again, we would imagine that Super Artificial Intelligence, or Super AI as it is called by AI researchers, is not going to remain tied to a single planet, but would prefer to roam free through the galaxy and beyond.

To be continued
(c) Copyright, Frank White, 2016, All Rights Reserved
(1) The SETI Factor, Frank White, Walker & Co., New York, NY, 1990.
(2) http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/nation-now/2016/09/23/stephen-hawking-aliens-wary-answering-back-intelligent-life/90895018/
The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution is available at aiaa.org and amazon.com 

The SETI Factor, which explores the impact of contact with extraterrestrial intelligence, is out of print, but some copies may be available at amazon.com

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Impact of Contact (II)

While a significant amount of effort has gone into finding exoplanets and determining if they are habitable, much less work has been done on the impact of successfully discovering and contacting these civilizations. That is the focus of the “White Equation,” which I developed in writing my book, The SETI Factor, in 1990. (1)
     In the White Equation, our concern is less with the likelihood of successful contact and more with the results of it, especially in regard to Earth’s civilization.
            In considering this topic, I looked first at the results of interactions between highly advanced technological civilizations and less advanced societies on Earth. The most obvious example is what happened when Europeans migrated to North and South America in the 16th and 17th centuries.
            In using the terms “more advanced” and “less advanced,” I am not making a value judgment. In many ways, I consider the societies of the indigenous peoples of the New World to be superior to those of their European adversaries. However, the possession of weaponry such as muskets and, later, repeating rifles allowed a relatively small group of adventurers from the Old World to overcome and even destroy the indigenous tribes and civilizations of the New World.
            The same trauma could well be true of contact between Earthlings and extraterrestrials, a scenario that has been advanced more than once by none other than Stephen Hawking. (2) Just imagine the difference between our own global society in 1816 and in 2016. Two hundred years ago, there were no electric lights, automobiles, cell phones, spacecraft, computers, or refrigerators, and this was the case in both the developed and the so-called non-developed worlds. If a person could travel back in time from now to then and communicate about these technologies, the people of 1816 would be amazed and probably traumatized.

            Now imagine that we have contact with an extraterrestrial civilization that is “only” 200 years ahead of us technologically. This could have an incredibly disruptive impact on our economy, politics, science, and even religion. For example, what happens to Apple and IBM if this civilization is far ahead of us with computing technology, including Artificial Intelligence, an area in which IBM has focused much of its business strategy?

To be continued
(c) Copyright, Frank White, 2016, All Rights Reserved
(1) The SETI Factor, Frank White, Walker & Co., New York, NY, 1990.
(2) http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/nation-now/2016/09/23/stephen-hawking-aliens-wary-answering-back-intelligent-life/90895018/
The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution is available at aiaa.org and amazon.com 
The SETI Factor, which explores the impact of contact with extraterrestrial intelligence, is out of print, but some copies may be available at amazon.com