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Vehicles capable of supplying low-priced sub-orbital passenger space travel services could have been produced as early as 1950 if German rocket technology had not been used solely for military purposes by the USA and USSR. If that had happened, orbital passenger flight services could have started during the 1960s. In this case passenger space travel could have grown into a major industry by today. In growing to large scale, space travel would also have reduced the cost of space travel far below that of the expendable rockets still in use today, of which the first orbital vehicle, the R-7 / Soyuz, is still the cheapest and most reliable 50 years later. Several decades of growth of space travel and related space activities could have had a major beneficial influence on the modern world. The paper discusses the scope for new employment, stimulating economic growth, reducing environmental damage, encouraging education particularly in the sciences, stimulating cultural growth, and preserving peace by eliminating any need for "resource wars".
INTRODUCTION: HALF-CENTURY DELAY IN SPACE TRAVEL DEVELOPMENT
"We have proved rocket propulsion practicable for space travel... This 3rd day of October, 1942, is the first of a new era in transportation, that of space travel." - Walter Dornberger, having achieved controlled space flight for the first time .
If the German engineers developing rocket-propelled vehicles had continued in peacetime as Dornberger hoped, the V2 (of which a winged version was flown to Mach 4) and the Me163 piloted rocket-plane projects would between them have surely led to the start of sub-orbital passenger space flights by 1950. In this case, orbital passenger space travel services would presumably have started by the mid-1960s. Instead, rocket development was "high-jacked" by the cold war competition between the USA and USSR, so that launch vehicles were derived from long-range missiles, rather than being designed ab initio as passenger vehicles. Government space agencies have continued to develop expendable rockets, of which the safety and cost/passenger are inevitably much closer to those of missiles than to passenger vehicles. (The space shuttle, as well as being partly expendable, was designed primarily to fulfill a military requirement, not to achieve low-cost space travel.)
Sub-orbital passenger space flight services are due to start in 2010. There has thus been more than a half-century delay in developing passenger space travel. To understand the implications of this delay, and the cost to society, it is useful to note that the world population when space travel could have started was 1/2 what it is today, while the use of energy and other resources, and the production of pollution were all 1/4 of what they are today. Air travel safety was 100 times lower than today, and the general public were correspondingly less risk-averse in general. Thus, in many respects it would have been easier to develop space tourism at that time than it is today. On the other hand, cumulative engineering capabilities and experience are far greater in every field today, and there is also great pent-up demand for passenger space travel. Consequently, when this industry finally starts, it can in principle grow much faster today than it would have during the 1950s.
Considering the question how different would world conditions be today if passenger space travel services had started as early as they could have during the 1950s, the answer depends on the scale to which passenger space travel might have grown by today. Cost estimates by the Japanese Rocket Society , Bristol Spaceplanes , Bekey  and others, corroborated by the very low cost of "SpaceShipOne", indicate that once space travel grows to 1 million passengers/year, prices could fall to 5,000 Euros for sub-orbital flights, and 20,000 Euros for orbital flights [2, 3, 4]. The latter is approximately 200 Euros/kg or about 1% of launch costs today. We can estimate that if sub-orbital passenger travel had started in 1950, orbital travel could have grown to perhaps several million passengers/year by 2000, as shown in Figure 1.
Cost estimates for the development of low-cost orbital passenger transportation systems are of the order of 10 billion Euros [2, 3, 4]. Even 10 times this amount would be less than 5 years of space agencies' current budgets. The economic benefits would greatly outweigh such a cost, due to the much larger commercial markets that would be created as a result, in contrast to the very small markets created with 1 trillion Euro-equivalents invested in satellite and launch vehicle manufacturing to date.
Starting from today, in order to achieve the scale of activity shown in Figure 1 over the next 30 years, government funding equivalent to about 10% of space agencies' budgets, or some 2 billion Euros/year would probably suffice to stimulate private investment in reusable orbital passenger vehicle manufacturing and operations. Thereafter most of the funding could come from private companies, just as airlines and hotel chains today finance their own growth.
Implications of Launch Cost Reduction
Reducing the cost of space travel to 1% of existing launch vehicles' costs, in combination with the growth of a new consumer service market in space, would greatly aid the growth of many commercial space activities, thereby creating numerous new business opportunities both on Earth and in space. This process is already at work on a small scale in relation to sub-orbital flight services: in addition to a large number of travel companies acting as agents for sub-orbital flights (including JTB, the largest travel company in Japan), Zero-G Corporation supplies parabolic flight services, Bigelow Aerospace is developing the first space hotel, Spaceport Associates advises on spaceport design, Orbital Outfitters Inc supplies customised flight suits, and so on. All of this activity is occurring some years before the first high-priced services even start, so a much wider range of different space travel-related businesses are sure to grow in future.
In the case of orbital services there will be an even wider range of companies with much larger revenues, including companies supplying various services to orbiting hotels. These will include services which terrestrial hotels purchase today, plus such additional services as space-based window maintenance services, air supply, solar-generated electricity, water supply, waste disposal services and others.
As activities in orbit expand progressively, they could grow to include use of materials extracted from the Moon and near-Earth asteroids and cometoids, of which the potential has been researched for decades . Due to the much higher cost of activities in orbit than on the surface of the Earth, the first market for non-terrestrial materials like ice, water, oxygen and hydrogen, is likely to be orbital hotels, as discussed in .
Another potentially major space-based industry, which has been held back for 40 years by high launch costs, is the supply of space-based solar power ( SSP) to Earth. Although the potential of this system was recognised in studies by the US Department of Energy in the late 1970s, and confirmed in the 1990s , total funding has remained minimal. However, progress could be rapid once launch costs fall to a few percent of ELV costs . Hence, as passenger space travel activities expand to large scale, a growing range of manufacturing activities in Earth orbit, on the lunar surface and elsewhere, are likely to develop spontaneously. These will open the door to large-scale activities in space, as described in .
The growth of orbital passenger space travel to several million passengers/year within a few decades would represent a direct commercial turnover of some 100 billion Euros/year. In such a scenario of rapid growth, annual investment in new facilities, research and development might add the same amount again. Indeed, having reached such a scale, there would be no foreseeable limit to further growth - in particular it need not be constrained, like terrestrial activities, by environmental or social stresses. Quite apart from the numerous opportunities which such a scenario offers for growth of the space industry, it also offers great potential benefits for humanity, in several different fields, as discussed in turn in the following.
In most countries, most of the population do not have economically significant land holdings, and so employment is the economic basis of social life, providing income and enabling people to have stable family lives. The high level of unemployment in most countries today is therefore not only wasteful, it also causes widespread poverty and unhappiness, and is socially damaging, creating further problems for the future. One reason for investing in the development of passenger space travel, therefore, is that it could create major new fields of employment, capable of growing as far into the future as we can see.
The passenger air travel industry, including airlines, airports, hotels and other tourism-related work enabled by air travel, employs about 20 times the number of people employed in aircraft manufacturing alone, about 50 million people today. Likewise, passenger space travel could create employment many times that of expendable launch vehicles - in vehicle operations and maintenance, at spaceports, in orbiting accommodation, in many companies supplying these, in services such as staff training, certification and insurance, and in a growing range of related businesses.
This is important because high unemployment, both in richer and poorer countries, has been the major economic problem throughout the world for decades. Consequently the growth of such a major new market for advanced aerospace technology and services is highly desirable. By contrast, in recent years employment in the traditional space industry in USA and Europe has been shrinking fast: a 2003 report by the US Federal Aviation Administration stated that employment in launch vehicle manufacturing and services fell from 28,617 in 1999 to 4,828 in 2002, while employment in satellite manufacturing fell from 57,372 to 31,262 . Likewise, European space industry employment fell by 20% from 1995 to 2005; the major space engineering company Astrium cut 3,300 staff from 2003 through 2006; and in 2005 alone, European prime contractors cut 13.5% of their staff or some 2,400 people . Unfortunately, the probability of space industry employment recovering soon is low, because satellite manufacturing and launch services face both low demand and rapidly growing competition from India and China where costs are significantly lower.
It is therefore positively bizarre that government policy makers have declined to even discuss the subject of investing in the development of passenger space travel services, and have permitted no significant investment to date out of the nearly 20 billion Euro-equivalents which space agencies spend every year! This is despite the very positive 1998 Nasa report "General Public Space Travel and Tourism" , and a 2002 Nasa-funded study which concluded that sub-orbital travel services in the USA alone might grow several times larger than the commercial satellite industry .
In the capitalist system, companies compete to reduce costs since this directly increases their profits. However, reducing the number of employees through improving productivity raises unemployment, except to the extent that new jobs are created in new and growing industries. In an economy with a lack of new industries, increasing so-called "economic efficiency" creates unemployment, which is a social cost. In this situation, under governments concerned for public welfare, either the rate of creation of new industries must be increased, and/or the reduction of jobs should be slowed, at least until the growth of new industries revives, or other desirable social arrangements are introduced. These include more leisure time, job-sharing, and other policies designed to prevent the growth of a permanent "under-class" of unemployed and "working poor" – a development which would pose a major threat to western civilisation.
One of the many ill effects of high unemployment is that it weakens governments against pressure from corporate interests. For example, increased restrictions on such activities as arms exports, unfair trade, environmental damage, corporate tax evasion, business concentration, advertising targeted at children, and anti-social corporate-drafted legislation such as the "codex alimentarus" and "tort reform" are socially desirable. However, when unemployment is high, corporations' arguments that government intervention would "increase unemployment" have greater influence on governments.
As outlined above, the opening of near-Earth space to large-scale economic development promises to create millions of jobs, with no obvious limits to future growth. At a time when high unemployment is the most serious economic problem throughout the world, developing this family of new industries as fast as possible should be a priority for employment policy. To continue economic "rationalisation" and "globalisation" while not developing space travel is self-contradictory, and is both economically and socially extremely damaging.
The continuation of human civilisation requires a growing world economy, with access to increasing resources. This is because competing groups in society can all improve their situation and reasonable fairness can be achieved, enabling social ethics to survive, only if the overall "economic pie" is growing. Unfortunately, societies are much less robust if the "pie" is shrinking, when ethical growth becomes nearly impossible, as competing groups try to improve their own situation at the expense of other groups. Continued growth of civilisation requires continual ethical evolution, but this will be possible only if resources are sufficient to assure comfort, health, education and fair employment for all members of society.
The world economy is under great stress recently for a number of reasons, a fundamental one being the lack of opportunities for profitable investment - as exemplified by Japan's unprecedented decade of zero interest-rates. This lack of productive investment opportunities has led a large amount of funds in the rich countries to "churn" around in the world economy, causing ever greater financial instability, thereby further harming economic growth and widening the gap between rich and poor.
Increasing the opportunities for profitable, stable investment requires continual creation of new industries. Governments today typically express expectations for employment growth in such fields as information technology, energy, robotics, medical services, tourism and leisure. However, there are also sceptical voices pointing out that many of these activities too are already being outsourced to low-cost countries. Most of the net new jobs created in the USA during the 21st century so far have been low-paid service work, while the number of US manufacturing jobs has shrunk rapidly . The decades-long delay in developing space travel has contributed greatly to this lack of new industries.
The rapid economic development of China and India offers great promise, but creates a serious challenge for the already rich countries which need to accelerate the growth of new industries if they are to benefit from these countries' lower costs without creating an impoverished underclass in their own societies - the long-term cost of which would greatly outweigh the short-term benefits of low-cost imports. The development of India and China also creates dangers because the demands of 6 billion people are now approaching the limits of the resources of planet Earth. As these limits are approached, governments become increasingly repressive, thereby adding major social costs to the direct costs of environmental damage . Consequently the decades-long delay in starting to use the resources of the solar system has caused heavy, self-inflicted damage to our economic development, and must be urgently overcome [16, 17].
Popular Demand is the Basis of Economic Growth
The continuing heavy dependence of the space industry on taxpayer funding, despite cumulative investment to date of some 1 trillion Euro-equivalents, is due to the simple fact that those directing the industry have chosen not to supply services which large numbers of the general public wish to buy. Yet it is elementary that only by doing this can the space industry grow into a normal commercial activity. Doing this will create a new industry which raises private investment to develop newer and larger facilities in order to sell better services to more customers - in the familiar "virtuous circle" of business growth. Eventually this activity may even reach a scale sufficient to repay the public investment to date.
In successful companies, investment is skillfully judged so as to produce goods and services for which there will be large commercial (ie non-governmental) demand. If this earns sufficient profits, then the activity will continue to grow spontaneously for decades or more, like manufacturing of cars or airliners. If, instead, funds intended for investment are spent on developing non-commercial products, such as surveillance satellites or a space station for which the only significant customer is government, then clearly the space industry is doomed to remain forever a small, taxpayer-funded activity - a hindrance rather than a help to economic growth.
Economic policy makers responsible for deciding the public budget for space development must no longer rely on the advice of the space industry itself, which ever since its origin has had different objectives than the economic benefit of the general public. That is, economic policy makers, who are responsible for trillions of Euros of activity, must take the initiative and fund the development of passenger space travel systems as soon as possible - a policy level well above what is called "space policy", which is responsible for less than 1% of this. Among other steps, this will require the important institutional innovation of collaboration between civil aviation and civil space activities. Since, even with today's knowledge, researchers foresee the possibility of economic development in space growing to a scale similar to terrestrial industry , it must be considered as having the potential to become a major new axis for economic growth - but with minimal environmental impact, as discussed below - and therefore deserving of the most serious and urgent attention by economic policy makers.
Economic development in space based on low launch costs could contribute greatly, even definitively, to solving world environmental problems. As a first step, substantially reducing the cost of space travel will reduce the cost of environment-monitoring satellites, improving climate research and environmental policy making.
Space-based Solar Power Supply
A second possibility, which has been researched for several decades but has not yet received a budget to enable testing in orbit, is the delivery of continuous solar-generated power from space to Earth. Researchers believe that such space-based solar power ( SSP) could supply clean, low-cost energy on a large scale, which is a prerequisite for economic development of poorer countries while avoiding damaging pollution and climate change. However, realisation of SSP requires much lower launch costs, which only passenger space travel could achieve. Hence the development of orbital tourism could provide the key to realising SSP economically.
Carbon-neutral Space Travel
Clean energy produced by SSP could eliminate the environmental impact of space travel, and even make it "carbon neutral" if this is considered desirable . Moreover, SSP has a much shorter energy pay-back time than terrestrial solar energy, due to the almost continuous supply of power which it can generate, rather than only in day-time during clear weather. Some critics claim that sub-orbital space travel will become a significant environmental burden . However, while superficially correct in the short term, this is the opposite of the truth over the longer term. It would be a dangerous error to prevent the growth of space tourism in order to avoid its initial, minor environmental impact, since this would prevent a range of major benefits in the future, including the supply of low-cost, carbon-neutral SSP, and other space-based industry.
If orbital travel grows to a scale of millions of passengers/year - as it could by the 2030s, with vigorous investment - it will stimulate the spontaneous growth of numerous businesses in space. These will grow progressively from simple activities such as maintenance of orbiting hotels, to industrial use of asteroidal minerals. For example, the development of SSP would lead to a range of industrial processes using the advantages of space, including low-cost electricity, high vacuum, weightlessness and minerals in shallow gravitational wells.
If SSP grows to supply a significant share of the terrestrial energy market, more and more industry would operate outside the Earth's ecological system. While most industries cause growing damage to the Earth's environment as they grow in scale, industrial activities which are outside the Earth's ecosystem need not cause any such damage. Hence the growth of space-based industry to large scale offers the longer-term possibility of decoupling economic growth from the limits of the terrestrial environment. Indeed, it has been argued that only the use of space resources, including especially SSP, offers the possibility of protecting the Earth’s environment while enabling sufficient economic growth to preserve civilised society .
As a measure of the uncertainty about climate change there is a significant group of climatologists who, while acknowledging the physical mechanism of the "greenhouse effect", argue that it is outweighed by other natural influences, including the global cooling trend which is heading towards the next Ice Age . With a period of tens of thousands of years, the last Ice Age saw much of Northern Europe covered by ice 1 kilometre deep!
In the face of such a threat, it is notable that SSP satellites with area of tens of square kilometres, whether transmitting microwave power or sunlight reflected with large orbiting mirrors, could uniquely help to counteract Ice Age cooling by melting snow and ice over large areas. This could prevent the vicious circle of accelerating cooling due to increased reflection of sunlight from snow-covered areas . Direct weather modification is a new field with many uncertainties, but it may be the only way to prevent the destruction of civilisation by the next Ice Age. Thus, from the point of view of risk management, it is a major attraction of SSP that it could help to mitigate climate change, whether due to global warming, as CO2-free electric power supply, or global cooling, by directly warming the Earth’s surface.
Passenger space travel and its numerous spinoff activities have the important potential to escape the limitations of the "consumerism" which governments in the rich countries have encouraged in recent decades in order to stimulate economic growth, defined as GDP. This is resulting in "excess consumption" which causes unnecessary environmental damage , while reducing rather than increasing public satisfaction . "First world" citizens are increasingly trapped in a culturally impoverished "consumer" lifestyle which reduces social capital, social cohesion and happiness. By contrast, expenditure on the unique experience of space travel promises to play a more positive role in the economy and society, enriching customers culturally without requiring mass production of consumer goods.
The educational value of space activities is well known: children and young people find the subject of space and space travel uniquely fascinating. A number of space-based, science-fiction films and television series have achieved extraordinary popularity, extending over decades. As a result, various organisations have created space-related educational programmes involving satellite design, small rockets and simulation of space flights. Unfortunately, while these activities are popular with the participants, it has to be recognised that they are not effective in increasing young people's scientific education overall, which continues to decline in most countries. That is, children who enjoy science classes find satellite projects inspiring, but these classes do not prevent the "flight from science" seen in rich countries, which is so dangerous for the successful continuation of civilisation.
However, the possibility of being able to travel to space oneself is of much greater interest to young people than watching videos of other people traveling to space, or than simulating traveling to space. Hence the start of low-cost passenger space travel services holds unique promise for education in fields related to space travel. In particular, the expectation that the price of a sub-orbital flight could fall as low as 5,000 Euros  as the service grows to millions of passengers/year offers the possibility of almost all children being able to take a flight sometime. This possibility can be used as a uniquely stimulating teaching tool. In addition, the scenario shown in Figure 1 will employ tens of thousands of staff in orbit – a uniquely exciting goal for young people.
The history and artefacts of the European Renaissance are still the subject of world-wide admiration today. One reason for this unique flowering - such as in 14th century to 16th century Firenze - was that there was a social ethic whereby the successful and wealthy had a sufficiently strong sense of civic duty that they used part of their wealth to enrich the community, particularly by building inspiring civic spaces - libraries, galleries, palazzi and other buildings - and by commissioning works of art and scholarship, with results which still inspire us 600 years later . Such an ethic requires that those who are materially successful, however "self-made" and praiseworthy they may be, recognise that they are also all beneficiaries of good fortune - to have been born in a country, an era, a locale, and a family in which they have opportunities to learn language and manners, to accumulate formative experiences, to obtain useful knowledge, and then opportunities to exercise their talents and grow into a great career. In a successful society, people who are blessed with such good fortune accept that they have a social duty to repay this - by creating a similarly nurturing environment for future generations. The enduring popularity of the achievements of the Renaissance surely illustrates the enormous value of such an ethical sense in society.
Need for a New Worldwide Renaissance
By contrast, as societies became richer over the following centuries, they were increasingly disfigured by becoming more materialistic, a trend accompanied by more and more brutal and destructive wars, including the horrific "world wars" and communist revolutions. This trend has continued with the recent shocking decline in ethics of the US and UK governments openly flouting national and international law - and even the Geneva Conventions, once seen as a bulwark of European civilisation (by making war less inhumane through banning torture and the killing of civilians).
The way of thinking of Renaissance leaders is strikingly different from today when the wealthy are encouraged to follow the rubric: "If you've got it, flaunt it", or appear to follow the frankly psychopathic: "Everything for us - and nothing for anyone else." The futility of such an attitude is well-known throughout the ages, as expressed in such sayings as: "You cannot take it with you when you die," or "There are no pockets in a shroud". The great universalist religions of Buddhism, Christianity and Islam are in agreement that material wealth is transient and acquisitiveness is not the path to happiness: to the contrary, having gratitude for good fortune, and making efforts to help others less fortunate than oneself are extolled. The reason why these teachings have lasted for millenia is because they help people to live satisfying lives, to raise healthy children, and to maintain stable, resilient societies. They are the basis of humane culture and true civilisation.
Thus it is clear that, while societies have grown far richer since the Renaissance, the way of thinking of the rich today is far poorer. Despite almost unlimited opportunities for creativity and cultural contribution, most of the rich today leave behind little or nothing worth remembering. At best they typically use their money to buy large numbers of possessions, which are redistributed on their death. Of course many people, including the wealthy, give to charitable organizations, many of which do very good work. However, much of this work does little more than offset some of the worst effects of the policies followed by the rich countries which widen the gap between rich and poor world-wide.
We can judge this behaviour: the great benefactors of the Renaissance were more admirable human beings. Unless corrected soon, this futile materialism will destroy civilisation. Yet under "neo-liberal" or "neo-con" dogma, instead of using the opportunity provided by wealth to contribute culturally to society, the already rich exert pressure on governments to reduce their taxes further, to remove remaining restraints on monopolies and illegal surveillance of the general public, while falsely blaming already deteriorating welfare systems for government's fiscal crisis. The lack of new industries described above weakens governments against such pressures. Such psychopathic greed and dishonesty among the upper levels of a society are the prelude to its destruction, and represent the most serious challenge to western civilisation. A new, world-wide Renaissance is urgently needed.
"The Earth is Not Sick – She’s Pregnant"
Healthy societies can revitalise themselves. An interesting explanation of the potential of space travel and its offshoots to revitalise human civilisation is expressed in the idea that "The Earth is not sick: she’s pregnant" . Although this idea may seem strange at first hearing, it is a surpisingly useful analogy for understanding humans' current predicament. According to the "Pregnant Earth" analogy, the darkening prospect before humanity is due to humans' terrestrial civilisation being "pregnant" - and indeed dangerously overdue - with an extra-terrestrial offspring. Once humans' space civilisation is safely born, the current stresses within the mother civilisation will be cured, and the new life may eventually even surpass it's parent. This idea not only illuminates many aspects of humans' present problems, it also provides detailed directions for how to solve these problems, and explains convincingly how successfully aiding this birth will lead to a far better condition than before the pregnancy. A young couple may be happy in each other's company, but their joy is increased by the birth of children and life with them, from which many new possibilities arise.
Likewise, the birth of humans' coming extra-terrestrial civilisation will lead to a wide range of activities outside our planet's precious eco-system. This evolution will solve not only humans’ material problems, by making the vast resources of near-Earth space accessible, but it will also help to cure the emptiness of so-called "modern" commercial culture – including the "dumbing down" by monopolistic media, the falling educational standards, passification by television, obesity, ever-growing consumption of alcohol, decline in public morality, narcotics, pornography, falling social capital, rising divorce rates, and youths’ lack of challenge and lack of "dreams". It will do this by raising humans' sights to the stars, and showing that the door to them is unlocked, and has been for decades - we have only to make a small effort to push it open forever.
Re-opening a true geographical frontier, with all its challenges, will in itself be of inestimable value for the cultural growth of modern civilisation. The widespread sense that we live in a closed world which is getting more and more crowded will be replaced by an open-ended, optimistic vision of an unlimited future. Access to the cornucopia of space resources that await humans' exploitation can clearly make a unique contribution to this.
To the extent that leaders of major industries are motivated by ambition in business competition, they will welcome this opportunity to extend their activities to new fields in the far wider arena of space; to the extent that they are motivated by the attempt to achieve monopolistic control and profits, they may try to hinder development in space, even at the cost of preventing its wide benefits, since this will be more profitable to them. However, implementing the "Pregnant Earth" agenda can stop this cultural regression and start a true world-wide Renaissance, an unprecedented flowering of civilisation of which human culture has been in need ever since the inspiration of the Italian Renaissance was followed by a decline into progressive materialism and war-mongering .
WORLD PEACE AND PRESERVATION OF HUMAN CIVILISATION
The major source of social friction, including international friction, has surely always been unequal access to resources. People fight to control the valuable resources on and under the land, and in and under the sea. The natural resources of Earth are limited in quantity, and economically accessible resources even more so. As the population grows, and demand grows for a higher material standard of living, industrial activity grows exponentially. The threat of resources becoming scarce has led to the concept of "Resource Wars". Having begun long ago with wars to control the gold and diamonds of Africa and South America, and oil in the Middle East, the current phase is at centre stage of world events today .
A particular danger of "resource wars" is that, if the general public can be persuaded to support them, they may become impossible to stop as resources become increasingly scarce. Many commentators have noted the similarity of the language of US and UK government advocates of "war on terror" to the language of the novel "1984" which describes a dystopian future of endless, fraudulent war in which citizens are reduced to slaves.
Expansion into near-Earth Space is the Only Alternative to Endless "Resource Wars"
As an alternative to the "resource wars" already devastating many countries today, opening access to the unlimited resources of near-Earth space could clearly facilitate world peace and security. This is acknowledged by the U.S. National Space Security Office, which started its 2007 report on the potential of space-based solar power: "Expanding human populations and declining natural resources are potential sources of local and strategic conflict in the 21st Century, and many see energy as the foremost threat to national security" . It ended the report: "Considering the timescales that are involved, and the exponential growth of population and resource pressures within that same strategic period, it is imperative that this work for "drilling up" vs. drilling down for energy security begins immediately" .
Although the use of extra-terrestrial resources on a substantial scale may still be some decades away, it is important to recognise that simply acknowledging its feasibility using known technology is the surest way of ending the threat of resource wars. That is, if it is assumed that the resources available for human use are limited to those on Earth, then it can be argued that resource wars are inescapable [15, 27]. If, by contrast, it is assumed that the resources of space are economically accessible, this not only eliminates the need for resource wars, it can also preserve the benefits of civilisation which are being eroded today by "resource war-mongers", most notably the governments of the "Anglo-Saxon" countries and their "neo-con" advisers. It is also worth noting that the $1 trillion that these have already committed to the Iraq war is far more than the investment needed to access space resources.
Industrial and financial groups which profit from monopolistic control of terrestrial supplies of various natural resources, like those which profit from wars, have an economic interest in protecting their profitable situation. However, these groups' continuing profits are justified neither by capitalism nor by democracy: they could be preserved only by maintaining the pretence that use of space resources is not feasible, and by preventing the development of low-cost space travel.
Once the feasibility of low-cost space travel is understood, "resource wars" are clearly idiotic as well as tragic. A visiting extra-terrestrial would be pityingly amused at the foolish antics of homo sapiens using long-range rockets to fight each other over dwindling terrestrial resources - rather than using the same rockets to travel in space and have all the resources they need!
High Return in Safety from Extra-terrestrial Settlement
Investment in orbital access and other space infrastructure will facilitate the establishment of settlements on the Moon, Mars, asteroids and in man-made space structures. In the first phase, development of new regulatory infrastructure in various Earth orbits, including property/usufruct rights, real estate, mortgage financing and insurance, traffic management, piloting, policing and other services will enable the population living in Earth orbits to grow very large. Such activities aimed at making near-Earth space habitable are the logical extension of humans' historical spread over the surface of the Earth. As trade spreads through near-Earth space, settlements are sure to follow, of which the inhabitants will add to the wealth of different cultures which humans have created in the many different environments in which they live.
The success of such extra-terrestrial settlements will have the additional benefit of reducing the danger of human extinction due to planet-wide or cosmic accidents [20, 26]. These horrors include both man-made disasters such as nuclear war, plagues or climate change, and natural disasters such as super-volcanoes or asteroid impact.
It is hard to think of any objective that is more important than preserving peace. Weapons developed in recent decades are so destructive, and have such horrific, long-term side-effects that their use should be discouraged as strongly as possible by the international community. Hence, reducing the incentive to use weapons by rapidly developing the ability to use space-based resources on a large scale is surely equally important [15, 20, 28]. The achievement of this depends on the low space travel costs which, at the present time, appear to be achievable only through the development of a vigorous space tourism industry.
As discussed above, if space travel services had started during the 1950s when they first could, the space industry would be enormously more developed than it is today. Hence the failure to develop passenger space travel has seriously distorted the path taken by humans' technological and economic development since WW2, away from the path which would have been followed if capitalism and democracy operated as intended. Technological know-how which could have been used to supply services which are known to be very popular with a large proportion of the general public has not been used for that purpose, while suffering due to the unemployment and environmental damage caused by the resulting lack of new industries have increased.
In response, policies should be implemented urgently to correct this error, and to catch up with the possibilities for industrial and economic growth that have been ignored for so long. This policy renewal is urgent because of the growing danger of unemployment, economic stagnation, climate change, educational and cultural decline, resource wars and loss of civil liberties which face civilisation today. In order to achieve the necessary progress there is a particular need for collaboration between those working in the two fields of civil aviation and civil space. Although the word "aerospace" is widely used, it is largely a misnomer since these two fields are in practice quite separate. True "aerospace" collaboration to realise passenger space travel will develop the wonderful profusion of possibilities outlined above.
Humans' Urgent Choice: Heaven or Hell on Earth?
As discussed above, the claim that resources are running out can be used to justify wars which may never end: present-day rhetoric about "the long war" or "100 years war" in Iraq are current examples. If political leaders do not change their viewpoint, the recent aggression by the rich, "Anglo-Saxon" countries and their cutting back of traditional civil liberties are ominous for the future. However, this "hellish" vision of endless war is based on an assumption about a single number – the future cost of travel to orbit – about which a different assumption leads to a literally "heavenly" vision of peace and ever-rising living standards for everyone forever. If this cost stays above 10,000 Euros/kg, where it has been unchanged for nearly 50 years, the prospects for humanity are bleak. But if humans make the necessary effort, and use the tiny amount of resources needed to develop passenger space vehicles, then this cost will fall to 100 Euros/kg, the use of extra-terrestrial resources will become economic, and arguments for resource wars will evaporate entirely. This is not a decision for the far future or the 22nd Century. It has to be made very soon if humans are to have a reasonable future.
The main reason why this step has not been taken yet seems to be lack of understanding by investors and policy-makers of the myriad opportunities that space travel will create. Now that the potential to catch up half a century’s delay in the growth of space travel is becoming understood, continuing to spend 20 billion Euro equivalents/year on government space activities while continuing to invest nothing in developing passenger space travel would be a gross failure of economic policy, and strongly contrary to the economic and social interests of the public. As this policy error is corrected, and investment in profitable space projects grows rapidly in coming years, we can look forward to a growing world-wide boom. Viewed as a whole, humans' industrial growth has been seriously underperforming for decades, due to the failure to exploit these immensely promising fields of activity. The tens of thousands of unemployed space engineers in Russia, America and Europe alone are a huge waste. The millions of disappointed young people who have been taught that they cannot travel in space are another enormous wasted resource. The potential manpower in rapidly developing India and China is clearly vast. Correcting this error, even after such a costly delay, is going to ameliorate many problems in the world today.
We do not know for certain when the above scenario will be realised. However, it could have such enormous value that considerable expenditure is justified in order to study its feasibility in detail. At the very least, vigorous investment by both private and public sectors in a range of different sub-orbital passenger vehicle projects and related businesses is highly desirable. Fortunately, the ambitious and rapid investment by the Indian and Chinese governments in growing space capabilities may finally jolt the space industries of Russia, America, Europe and even Japan out of their long economic stagnation, and induce them to apply their accumulated know-how to economically valuable activities – notably supplying widely popular travel services to the general public