Traditionally the field of space exploration has been closed to the general public. But the human race may now be at the only stage of evolution, forwards or backwards, where we have the capability to colonize space, and the closed models of space exploration do not have the capacity to help us do that before we run out of cheap energy or possibly suffer a global disaster here on Earth. Open Sourcing the entire field of space colonization seems to be the only viable solution to the rapidly increasing number of problems for the human race in the 21st century.
If in the past, as many youngsters do, one wanted to be an astronaut in adult life, the opportunities were extremely limited, mainly to members of the armed forces. This was a highly logical state of affairs given the political climate at the time, the requirement that each crewmember could be relied upon to perform with the utmost discipline, and the peak physical fitness that was required by the space agencies at the time because the effects of journeys into space were unknown.
Similarly, if one wanted to contribute to the various space programs on the ground then it was necessary to get the highest education possible in one of the science, mathematics or engineering disciplines, which is expensive to say the least. Again, highly logical because the technical aspects of any space exploration project, manned or unmanned, are most challenging and are mission critical.
But of course, the number of countries that even had space programs was and is very few, and if you weren’t fortunate enough to live in one of those countries then your chances of contributing to space exploration projects were and are virtually nonexistent.
Additionally, the specific scientific knowledge bases and areas of knowledge acquisition have typically only been available to: the scientific community through subscription journals that the public cannot afford to buy en masse; governments and their space agencies whose goals have been to protect and preserve the best interests of their own countries against others, and so act to restrict dissemination of information; and wealthy academic institutions whose areas of study are often self-serving or governmental, and are closed to the non-paying public in any case.
Because of these factors, and the fact that the financial systems could only afford to educate and support a small number of contributors to space exploration projects at all, the flow of accurate and detailed information about the specific components of space exploration projects has been severely limited to a small sector of society, losing out on the intellectual and creative capacity of society as a whole.
The brain of each and every human being on the planet is a supercomputer, unparalleled by anything technology can yet provide. From birth, aside from some minor structural differences, every human being has more or less the same potential; only the effect of the environment and society upon the individual determines the level of contribution they can make to society.
Traditionally, before the advent of the Internet, the transmission of component technical and scientific information only took place within universities, governments, militaries, and to a limited extent, schools and libraries. Institutionally, these organisations transmitted what each generation learned to the next either through directed education, the written word, or both; and it is these methods of teaching that have given us the world we have today. All of these methods of teaching are founded upon finance.
In the developed and nowadays the developing worlds, finance has found itself able to educate society in a stratified way, and from that education some have been able to use finance to develop the theoretical thinking and technologies that were the prerequisites for creating computers, information theory and finally, the Internet. Remembering that the brain of each and every human being on the planet is a supercomputer, with these tools we have found that far from being limited to graduates of the top 100 most expensive universities in the world, or to the 100 richest businesses in the world, the intellectual and creative capacity of humans the world over is staggering. Further, we have also realised that our current systems of educating people purely for business purposes are flawed in that they compartmentalise individuals, restricting their field of view to their own narrow career subjects within businesses that have narrow, self-serving goals, and always with the ultimate goal of earning money; which is a goal that has managed to usurp evolution as the real purpose of life. Some say that humans use less than ten percent of their brainpower, and it is easy to see that restricting education to single fields of study does occlude the wealth of information from all the other fields, limiting the potential of each individual to completely utilise their intellectual and creative capacity. This is not to say that specialising in a subject is a bad thing, indeed specialising in a field is often a requisite for excellence. It is to say that such specialisations should be taken in their proper place within the larger context of society and evolution as a whole, and within the wealth of information from all the other subjects of study. With the advent of computing, information theory and the Internet as the repositories of much of human knowledge, that diversification is now taking place.
Some examples: Jimmy Wales, the described creator of Wikipedia and one of the co-founders of Wikia, which is the server site upon which the Space Colonization Wiki is hosted, graduated university with degrees in finance. Although he used his specialist financial knowledge to make money, the self-avowed “objectivist to the core” has not allowed himself to be limited to such a trivial concern. Indeed, he has won several awards for his contributions to collaborative and collective intelligence projects, most obviously Wikipedia. It is Jimmy Wales’ objectivism, his ability to think far outside the limited box of traditional education linked with his specialist knowledge of finance, that has given anyone with access to the Internet the chance to access a much wider range of encyclopaedic knowledge than ever before; and most importantly, the ability for us to actually contribute to that knowledge base.
Wikipedia itself deserves special mention here, as it is one of the largest examples of collective intelligence in existence. Behind the scenes, the software that actually makes everything work is called MediaWiki, the very same software that operates the Space Colonization Wiki and many others. MediaWiki itself is a collaborative software-creation project taking contributions from people all around the world, and it is this diversity and wealth of contributors that has lead to such a stable system for controlling the flow of information, both accessing information in terms of reading articles, and creating information in terms of writing articles. But now that the technical side of Wikipedia has made it easy for anyone to contribute, the user side of Wikipedia has taken collaborative projects to a whole new level, culminating in what is now one of the largest and most frequently accessed encyclopaedias in the world. In collective intelligence terms, this “open sourcing” of both the content and the technical sides of the encyclopaedia is one of the greatest success stories in human history, and is a working proof of how an open source business model can effectively tackle extremely difficult logistic problems by breaking them down into more manageable chunks and spreading the workload across far more contributors than financial systems could manage alone.
Another supreme example of how open sourcing a field of endeavour can maximise its level of success is that of Linux, the computer operating system. Unlike pay-for operating systems that have a core team of developers employed for money by a parent company, the many different versions of Linux are constructed and maintained by a community of similarly interested developers throughout the world. Virtually all versions of Linux are free to download and use on your own computers, and they are continually updated to ensure security, just like the pay-for operating systems. But most importantly the source-code, the lines of programming that actually make a computer program or operating system, are made available for free as well, meaning that anyone with programming skills can modify their operating system for their own purposes. Even better, if those modifications turn out to be really useful they can be posted to the central Linux forums for review by the open source community, later to be made available for the next general release of the operating system if that is the consensus. This model of software design is so successful that versions of Linux are now used as the primary server operating system in many of the biggest companies in the world, including Google and Wikipedia; and in places and on computers where pay-for operating systems are too big for the hardware or too expensive to buy, free versions of Linux do almost the same job within the hardware constraints, and in years to come may surpass the expensive options.
In each of these cases, once the goal had been decided and set (creating the free online encyclopaedia or a brand new operating system), the project was declared in full view of the public on the Internet and as time went by more and more people heard about its existence. Those who were interested in the idea took the opportunity to contribute their services and work-time, but more than that they contributed their intellectual and creative capacity to the respective projects. When you multiply work by creativity in a freethinking environment such as an open source community, and then multiply that by the thousands upon thousands of contributors to that community, many of whom demonstrate very high levels of creativity in preferable environments, the results are manifold and beneficial, and if the size of that community were expanded thousands of times, as would necessarily be the case for the Open Source Space Colonization project to succeed, the creative and intellectual capacity of that community could potentially be limitless.
The sense of satisfaction that comes from belonging to a larger community, one that helps other people, cannot be overestimated, and if a way is provided for normal people to contribute to obtaining the potential rewards that will come from human colonization of space, ranging from the limitless clean renewable energy we can collect in space and transmit back to Earth; to the vast wealth of consumable resources in our solar system; to alleviating and eradicating poverty; all the way to guaranteeing the future of human evolution against many of the extinction events facing us, that community will grow. But who are these normal people?
These people are the strangers you see in the street every day. They are the invisible computer programmers who make your mobile phone work. They are the students and teachers at schools and universities, the engineers and architects who build the world around us, and they are the chemists and doctors who quietly make small improvements in the medications you need or who take giant leaps in the field of medicine. They are the psychologists who help us to understand ourselves, and our place in the world.
But consider, a computer programmer is not just a computer programmer. That is simply a compartmentalized name assigned by the business community to someone who has completed a particular course of training. Any and all computer programmers are of course complex individuals whose natures extend far beyond such a limited description, and who may want or know how to make much greater contributions to society than their jobs allow, if a central forum for that purpose existed. The same is true of everyone on the planet: we are not just the compartmentalized icons we have been taught to think we are.
All of us have supercomputers for brains, and all of us have something we can contribute. But under an open source paradigm of space colonization, we all have something major to gain too. For some, the chance to contribute to the greater evolutionary journey of the human race is enough. For others, it is the chance to excel in their chosen fields of study. For others still, the chance to eradicate poverty is the raison d'être. However, for the majority of us who have to pay the bills every week, or who are simply struggling to survive, more tangible gains are required.
The limitless solar power that can be collected in space and transmitted back to any location on Earth is the most immediate and most useful gain. But to go and get it we will have to build some of the largest man-made structures in existence and do it in orbit of the planet, which, although certainly not beyond human engineering capabilities, is an enormous undertaking that our financial systems will not be able to afford any time soon. However, money is simply an inefficient estimation of value, and is not now, nor will it ever be, equal to the value of work. So the incentive to do the work required to actually build solar power satellites must be quantified in other ways.
The solar power collected in space will be transmitted back to any desirable location on Earth and reconverted into electricity. That non-polluting electricity can be provided free of charge to anyone who contributes his or her services and work-time to building the infrastructure in the first place, essentially meaning that this ultimate renewable energy resource will become the currency of payment for building this ultimate renewable energy resource. Due to the fact that space solar power technology cannot directly be used for nefarious purposes, the open source nature of this business model would mean that practical access to the technology, literally a manual on how to build it, would be available online for anyone in the world to access. The potential benefits to the world’s financial systems and society as a whole from providing energy outside of the normal financial business model are essentially limitless in that they cannot yet be calculated, but they would certainly include the following:
- In countries of the world where the most energy is consumed and the largest quantities of pollution occur, the infrastructure to build solar power satellites and the receivers on the ground already exists. The size of workforce that could be dedicated, using the electricity generated as the currency of payment for working, to building these structures in these countries could have the first satellites in orbit and working in a matter of years.
- As a continuing process of launching solar power satellites into orbit and building receivers on the ground, and bearing in mind economies of scale, the biggest polluters of the world, namely the USA, Europe, China, India and Russia could actually meet their emissions targets on time using this technology; and the entire human race, the entire terrestrial ecosystem, will benefit from lessening pollution.
- This technology is capable of providing all the world’s energy needs, which will make redundant any plans for new nuclear power stations. There will be no excuse for further nuclear proliferation.
- As fresh water becomes scarce over the coming century, this clean, renewable energy source will be able to cope with the demands of desalinating seawater.
- Electric vehicles are almost ready (technologically speaking) to replace vehicles that burn fossil fuels for locomotion. The major problem today is that plug-in electric vehicles still get their power from coal-burning or nuclear power stations. Space solar power technology will be able to provide all the power the major transport industries could ever need.
- For any business or organization that contributes to building space solar power technology, the benefits in terms of energy payback could be enormous, freeing up that cash to be used for other things. Consider the case of Google, whose electric bill for their computer servers is estimated to be US $2 million every month, which is money that could more usefully be donated to the philanthropic arm of that company.
There are many other possible benefits to open sourcing the field of space colonization:
- In areas of the world where access to fresh water does not exist or is limited in some way, the fact that space solar power can be transmitted to any location on Earth would mean that emerging technologies for creating water out of thin air would have all the clean energy they need for that purpose, and the open access nature of the technology to receive that energy means that the aid agencies of the world could organize the building of those structures on the ground. For countries of the world who do not have the capability to build and launch their own space solar power satellites, the larger countries will have the opportunity to offer their assistance.
- Another emerging technology that would benefit from large quantities of clean energy is that of capturing carbon from the air. With significant amounts of renewable energy available, we may be able to extract much of the carbon we have put into the atmosphere, repairing some of the damage we have done.
- We are continually bombarded in the media with information showing how the human race is contributing to its own demise, but most are left with no obvious way to contribute to any solutions. Colonizing space, both in terms of getting unrestricted access to solar power and transmitting it back to Earth, and in terms of setting up new colonies in orbit of the Earth (to maintain the solar power satellites among other things), on the Moon and on Mars, is a project that involves and benefits all of us, and is a definite solution to many of our problems. Importantly, being able to contribute to human colonization of space under an open source paradigm may provide the hope for a better future that seems to be missing from so much of human society, and may unite the human race in ways that only fiction writers have yet covered.
- Thanks to Google and Wikipedia among many others, the spread of education across the world is continuing apace. But with a central open forum dedicated to human colonization of space, that education could sponsor the next revolution in creativity, and do it in full public view so that everyone can benefit. Einstein himself said, "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources", which is an elegant admission that good access to specific scientific and engineering knowledge should indeed lead to far greater levels of creativity in the future.