For the past 35-plus years, I have been working on an initiative that seems finally to be coming to fruition. It is now called the "Academy in Space Initiative," and it will be launched on April 6, 2016, at Framingham State University, just outside of Boston.
The basic idea is simple: humanity is about to embark on a great adventure---leaving our home planet and exploring the universe, starting with the solar system. So far, this effort has been the stuff of science fiction, and writers like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Philip K. Dick have painted vivid pictures of a future in which we are a multi-planet species.
However, many of our best thinkers, located in universities and colleges around the world, have paid scant attention to this phenomenon. As a result, the population is divided into three groups regarding our foray onto the infinite frontier: Advocates, Opponents, and Neutrals.
We need to go beyond this simplistic division of the population, and begin to think ahead and shape our future with an open-ended dialogue about space exploration and development, and how we want to guide the enterprise so that we don't look back in the future and wish we had done it better.
Let me be clear: I am, and always have been, an advocate of space exploration, and I am not trying to erect barriers to a robust and continuing exploration of the solar system. However, we can do it in a positive way and we can do it poorly.
Surely, if Americans had a "do-over" of our last effort at settling a frontier, we would want to improve on the process. After all, the conflict over whether new Western states would be "slave or free" led to the Civil War, and for the indigenous peoples of the region, the coming of the pioneers was a disaster. Frontiers can play a highly positive role for societies, but they can also bring unintended consequences. Maximizing the former outcome, and minimizing the latter, is the purpose of this effort.
(To be continued)