The following will all be the most important opinion—mine ;-). It’s my “Space Operator’s Manifesto.” It’s about a perspective missing in the United States Air Force—the one of the space operator. Before any of you get hot under the collar because you are a space operator, read my explanation first. You more than anyone else should understand why I’m writing this. If you get angry, that also means you care about space operations, so don’t lose that passion, either.
This manifesto will be changing constantly at first. I’ll be adding more content to it, be it because of something else I thought about, or perhaps because of something one of my readers mentioned (I’ll make sure those are identified). This manifesto is meant to be organic that way: my thoughts spewed into the digital ether for all to see. It’s also meant to be optimistic, as space operators naturally tend to think that way to begin with. What with all that space out there, a person has a lot of room to maneuver.
The Manned Hot Air Balloon: Applicable History?
It’s an exciting time for space operations—and will continue to be for a good long time if we don’t screw things up. We inquisitive monkeys are still fiddling around with technologies and are constantly learning more about space. But we’re still standing before the threshold and there are so many different ways we can cross it. Are satellites really the future of space, or will there be more? What will be the satellite’s successor? History might give use some insight, but keep in mind there’s really no historical precedent for something like space operations. So any historical story will have to be taken in context of the technology of the time.
Probably the closest meaningful historical analogy to the use of technology in space is the history of the manned hot air balloon. From its invention in 1709 AD, the manned hot air balloon was always at Mother Nature’s mercy. Winds, atmospheric temperature, and lightning storms—all were elements the hot air balloon had to acknowledge and abide.
Then, in 1794 AD, the French army thought the manned hot air balloon would be an excellent way to help determine the lay of the land—to observe and maintain awareness of enemy army movements. And mapping. Aside from weather and recreation, balloons pretty much stayed in this weird, interesting but not-so-day-to-day relevant, usage pattern. Generals weren’t interested in talking about “ballooncraft” tactics, airspace domination, etc. Such talk just wasn’t useful at the time. And there were plenty of people who said it was impossible for man to accomplish much more in the air than what was done with the balloon. A machine that could “fly” a person through the air for hundreds of miles? A machine that would take man in whatever direction was desired? Bah, humbug! Impossible!
Trying to apply history
To people familiar with space operations and satellites, this story should sound familiar. Does this mean satellites are exactly like weather balloons? No—of course not! In some ways, they’re worse. Aside from certain space stations, none of the satellites have the option of carrying a human payload. Instead, satellites allow us to be ensconced, in comfort, here on Earth. But satellites do a lot of the things manned hot air balloons did—only higher above the Earth. Observe the Earth and people on it? Check! Environmental observations? Check! Updated maps of the Earth? Check! Look for enemy activities and movements? Check!
But we’re hearing the same “Space Scrooges!” And they’re mewling very similar reasons as to why man will never master true space operations: Too expensive. Have to follow the laws of gravity (well, duh). There’s no incentive to be in space—very low return. It’s a hostile environment (more hostile than falling from an airplane?!?! Hmmm). A moon base? There are no property rights out there. It’s just not possible—bah, humbug!
And generals still aren’t interested in talking about space tactics, space domination. In fact the current Air Force space general just voiced the need to protect his balloo—I mean satellites. Not only does he want to protect current satellites, he wants more, smaller, cheaper ones. Our enemies are gaining on us in capability, he says. So the answer is: let’s build more of the same. This all sounds absurdly familiar.
The thing is, it’s always very easy to dismiss the fantastical—because it hasn’t happened yet. It’s easy to say no to something we haven’t done before, to say that something is impossible. Sure, gravity made flying aircraft hard—and many educated people thought gravity would make flying aircraft impossible. There are many highly educated people today essentially saying the same thing about future technology and man’s role in space. It’s a safe bet for experts to say no to the impossible. But rules and experts, in the minds of creative people, are meant to be bent or ignored.
So the question that probably should be asked is: what are the consequences of moving in to space? And the answer will probably always be: we’re not sure. War? We already do that now. Better communications? Yup—we do that here on Earth pretty well (ever heard of the internet?). Mining? There are a lot of untapped resources here on Earth, but the moon sure looks tempting. Cheap energy? A pipe dream here—a possibility in space?
What’s the Answer?
We just don’t know. We don’t live out there. We don’t deal with low gravity environments and don’t have to worry about micro-meteoroids. We don’t have to worry about sudden shifts in temperature (unless you’re in Colorado). But, anyone who tells you there’s no reason for us to be out in space is trying to sell you a bill of goods—because anyone can give lots of reasons why we shouldn’t be out there. As noted, it’s always easy to say “No!”
But I also can’t give you a reason why it’s good for us to be out there. At least an explanation that might be meaningful to you. A lot of things we’re doing out there currently could be done here on Earth. Don’t misunderstand me—I think we should be out there, but the logic sort of fails me as to why. Maybe it’s a part of the survival instinct—the more spread out we are, the better our chances of surviving a catastrophe. Maybe it’s a part of me thinking man is destined to be out there. Definitely there’s a part that is just the coolness factor. Colonies on Mars? Awesome!
We’re still at the “hot air balloon” stage of space operations, and hot air balloons were used for nearly 200 years before airplanes replaced them. We’ve been conducting space operations for a little over a quarter of that time. Sure, we’ve designed and used cool metal boxes that can “fly.” But, for the moment we’re still observing, mapping, etc. And this is why it’s all exciting—more will come. Earth won’t be the focus, but it will be the origin. There’s no justification for my statements other than history. There’s no motivation for mankind other than a person’s mind. There’s no barrier to the future aside from accepting “No!” But there’s no reason an interesting future couldn’t happen, either. I would rather it was interesting.
It’s with these thoughts in mind that I will give you the space operator’s perspective soon.
2 thoughts on “The Space Operator’s Manifesto–Part 1”
An excellent post John. Anyone who has worked or been closely associated with realtime operations will understand your points and your passion. The trouble is, getting the “man on the street” to understand the same thing. Perhaps with applications like Google Earth, satellite TV and GPS/GLONASS/Galileo location services it will be easier to explain our passion to future generations.
Thanks Matt! Future posts will be using those to help with perspective. I hope to keep it interesting.