The Space Reviewin association with SpaceNews

Cosmos 1 illustration
Projects like the privately-funded Cosmos 1 solar sail are evidence that The Planetary Society, and other space organizations, cannot be neatly categorized as being “pro-science” or otherwise. (credit: The Planetary Society)

A space nerd responds

The plaintive plea from Michael Huang’s recent essay (see “Can’t all space nerds get along”, The Space Review, July 30, 2007) exacerbates a narrow view of the space community as one only of special interests. While some want to merge all space interests into one, I wish for the opposite: more space interest groups, just like there are many environmental and many health groups with many diverse interests.

Huang’s characterization of three space interest groups as “pro-science, pro-human, and pro-private,” is an oversimplification and creates boundaries even in cases where none exist. The Planetary Society (who fell into his “pro-science” category) has actively promoted human space exploration since the 1980s, both as a national goal and as an international goal. Many astronauts have joined with us, including on our Advisory Council and on our Board of Directors, over that time. We are unabashed supporters of the Vision for Space Exploration and its goals for human exploration beyond Earth orbit. When it was first announced, we privately felt like we could have written it ourselves, and regarded it as a victory in our long advocacy for a human space exploration goal. Later we organized our study Extending Human Presence into the Solar System, chaired by Mike Griffin and Owen Garriott—hardly anti-human.

It could be possible to misinterpret our Save Our Science campaign as only pro-science. But, it is pro-exploration and emphasizes the synergy of robotic and human space exploration. Our congressional testimony and other statements are strongly supportive of human space exploration, of Earth observation, and of private contributions to the exploration of space.

The pro-space community should try to derive strength from diverse interests and motivations, as well as on diverse approaches.

We are pro-private as well, not only leading the development of private experiments on space exploration missions (such as the Mars Microphone and the upcoming Phobos LIFE), but also building and launching a privately-funded solar sail mission. We brought LEGO into the space program to conduct a private education experiment on Mars. We also have privately funded the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence for more than two decades. The Planetary Society is pro-science, as charged; and it is pro-human and pro-private.

So is the National Space Society. They seem to be “pro-science and pro-private,” not just pro-human, and our cooperation with them over the years has been good. I do not understand the basis of Huang’s charge, “Each group argues against the others.” I haven’t noticed that, and indeed, in the case of The Planetary Society, we try very hard to never be negative about a space activity, or a space group.

All that said, The Planetary Society does have a focus: space exploration. We are not about all things space. Just because something is in space doesn’t mean that we need to get involved with that subject. I believe The Planetary Society has succeeded—in both public outreach and with novel projects advancing space exploration—because of our focus. It may seem like a narrow one —“exploration of other worlds, understanding our own, seeking other life”—but it is as broad as the universe and consciousness of the human species. We think that is why we have a large and loyal constituency.

There is a need to apply critical thinking to space issues. The pro-space community should try to derive strength from diverse interests and motivations, as well as on diverse approaches. Speaking for The Planetary Society we will continue to advocate for private-public, national-international, human-robot, and science-engineering cooperation. That, we think, is the way to harness the public passion for the exploration of space.