Testimony for National Commission on Space

November 13, 1985
San Francisco, California

By Tihamer Toth-Fejel


 "We ain't got no futchah" -- Sid Vicious of the punk rock group Sex Pistols

 "I'm glad I'm not a young man, and I'm sorry for my grandchildren" -- David Lilenthal, first chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission

 The future doesn't just happen, we shape it with our dreams and expectations. And if we look at the future through the eyes of people like Sid Vicious and David Lilenthal, our future is bleak indeed. When I look at my new-born daughter's face, I wonder what kind of future she will have, and I know I'm going to make sure she gets the best one I can give her. I don't really mind if I never actually go into space, though it would be fun. But my daughter and her generation must have their chance to go. We must reach beyond the narrow confines of our planet for energy, materials, the unique properties of space such as zero gravity, and for a place to exercise the human spirit. We need to expand into space in order to survive, as individuals, as a country, and as a species. As the richest country on Earth, we have a responsibility beyond our present desires for more material goods and luxurious services. We must plan for our children's future, and to make it a hopeful one, we must reach out from the cradle of Earth. As the early Russian rocket pioneer Konstance Tsiolkovski said, "Earth is the cradle of Mankind, but we cannot live in a cradle forever."


 Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, members of the commission. Five weeks ago yesterday, my little daughter Gretchen was born. When I first held her, and looked in her eyes, I wondered what kind of future she has in store for her. Then I realized that much of her future depends on what I do, and that I was going to do my damnest to make sure she had the best future possible.

In the song "God Save the Queen" by the punk rock group Sex Pistols, Sid Vicious says, "We ain't got no futcha." Well, he sure didn't have one - he's dead and gone. But his attitude is shared by others, and this despair often leads to drugs, destruction, and death in many people of my generation. The older generation, including leaders of this country, are not immune to this attitude. David Lilenthal, the first chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, said, "I'm glad I'm not a young man, and I'm sorry for my grandchildren."

The problem is that our expectations and hopes shape our future, and with such a dismal view of our future, we are surely doomed. So we need a hopeful view of the future. But how can we be hopeful when the nightly news is filled with war, rumors of war, famine, and toxic waste spills? The Club of Rome funded MIT to build a computer simulation of the Earth, and they discovered that we will soon deplete our energy and natural resources, overcrowd ourselves to death, and poison ourselves in our own pollution. Is there any way we can have hope?

 With respect to war, there are two basic causes for conflicts on this planet. First, as Gandhi put it so well, there's the devil in my own heart. This source of greed and hate is not easily gotten rid of, especially by someone else. It does not seem reasonably possible that we can change human nature. The second cause of war is economic, and is based on the assumption that resources are limited, and that we are in a zero sum game. In other words, anything I get is going to come out of your pocket and vice versa. Resources on this planet are getting more difficult to obtain, though we are learning ways to become more efficient in using what is available. But more important, we must reject the assumption that our world ends at the edge of the atmosphere. We must reach outside the biosphere of Earth for our future resources. I see from the agenda that Steve Pittman will be discussing later this afternoon one of the most promising sources of energy from space - solar power satellites. We should mine the asteroids for nickel - a single large nickel-iron asteroid could pay the national debt. The refining of this asteroid should be done in space, where there is ample solar energy, and no possibility of polluting the atmosphere of Earth. In addition, it was one of these asteroids that is believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs, and we will be making good use of a potentially destructive object. Finally, the molten nickel could be formed, in the zero gravity of space, into steel foam, a new engineering material that is impossible to create on the surface of the Earth, so we haven't even begun to think of new applications for it.

We have already reaped great rewards from space. The increased accuracy in weather prediction made possible by weather satellites has saved many lives and billions of dollars. Each communication satellite we put up saves us from digging up millions of tons of copper that otherwise would have to be laid as cable, with the accompanying pollution caused by mining and refining operations. Continuing our thrust into space, we will discover new things we don't even know of yet - things that will undoubtedly change our life here on Earth for the better. We are currently in the same position as Europe was shortly after Columbus' discovery. We have an inkling of what is out there, but not even a glimmer of what the new world will be like in a few generations.

The American democratic system was made possible because there was a power vacuum that made a great experiment possible. Similarly, as more people live and work in space, they will be able to try new social forms that will enable them engage more fully in the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.

I would love to get into space, orbit the earth, and walk around on the moon. It would probably be the most exciting time of my life. But there is something that is more important to me - that Gretchen and her generation get to go - not as brief visitors, but as settlers and homesteaders. They deserve the chance for a hopeful future.

So for the present generation, our job is to build space stations, lower launch costs, put up lunar bases, and explore Mars and the asteroids. It is our duty, passed on through the generations, to provide for our children a hopeful future, and to be willing to sacrifice for that dream. Like most other parents, I am willing to pay that price, and gladly. Thank you.


490 L'Enfant Plaza East, SW Suite 3212
Washington, DC 20024
Telephone: (202) 453-8685


Dr. Thomas 0. Paine

Dr. Laurel L. Wilkening
Dr. Luis W. Alvarez
Mr. Neil A. Armstrong
Dr. Paul J. Coleman
Dr. George B. Field
Lt. Gen. William H. Fitch (Ret.)
Dr. Charles M. Herzfeld
Dr. Jack L. Kerrebrock
Ambassador Jeane J Kirkpatrick
Dr. Gerard K O'Neill
Gen. Bernard A. Schriever (Ret.)
Dr Kathryn D. Sullivan
Dr David C Webb
Brig. Gen Charles E Yeager (Ret.)

June 9, 1986

Dear Mr. Toth-Fejel:

Enclosed is your copy of our final report, "Pioneering the Space Frontier." We are extremely grateful to you for participating in the process of developing this report, and you will find your name listed in the acknowledgements section at the end of the report. The ideas and concerns raised by public-spirited citizens like yourself through our public forums, commission meetings, and in letters and computer surveys contributed greatly to our understanding of what the American people want their space program to be over the next 50 years.

We sincerely hope that you will agree that our report reflects the views of the American people, both those who are professionally involved in the space program and those who are concerned about America's continuing preeminence in science, technology and exploration. We have outlined a bold vision of the next 50 years in space, but we stress that we are not attempting to predict the future, but rather to show what America can make happen on the space frontier if we determine to lead mankind to new worlds.

The Commission was established specifically to produce this report, and now that our task is completed, we will go out of existence. Our report is only effective the extent that it is implemented. In our democratic society this responsibility now passes to you, your fellow citizens, and our elected leaders in Washington. We urge you to communicate your reactions to our report to your elected representatives, and to follow closely their actions in response.

Thank you again for sharing you thoughts with us and contributing to our report.

Sincerely yours,


Thomas O. Paine