forward the foundation
by Alex Burns (alex@...) In the early 1950s, the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov wrote the Foundation trilogy, a landmark portrayal of a futuristic pan-Galactic Empire. Inspired by Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-88), Asimov's stories featured his alter ego, the scientist Hari Seldon, a Platonic 'Philosopher-King' who battled a corrupt and unsympathetic bureaucracy to collate socio-political and cultural data in an attempt to save civilization from a new Dark Ages. Seldon's Quest had mythical resonances for author Marshall Savage. Since writing The Millennial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps in 1992, Savage, a graduate of the University of Southern California, has been at the forefront of a growing movement attempting to overcome the conceptual gridlock crippling the United States space program since the Apollo moon landings ended. For Savage, the writer turned space advocate, the Dark Ages facing humanity is a world afflicted by 'limits to growth' problems like exponential population increases, world food shortages and the need for non-polluting energy sources. His vision of 'Homo Prometheus' highlights humanity's unique capacity to 'generate futures' by free choice and force of will; recalling Friedrich Nietzsche's description of the mind's "ability to build new horizons for itself beyond mere recombinations of the known." In a remark that takes zoologist Richard Dawkin's controversial 'selfish gene' to its extremes, Savage declares, "We live in the most mythical of Ages and often fail to appreciate that we are the 'Genesis Effect' incarnate. It is our Destiny to colonize space." This imagery recalls the cosmology invoked by the Peenemunde V-2 test site expatriate Wernher von Braun and the early Russian rocket scientist Tsiolovsky. In short, Marshall Savage is a worthy candidate for a modern Hari Seldon. The first step in his quest for space colonization was launched in 1987 when Savage created the non-profit Living Universe Foundation (formerly called the First Millennial Foundation) based in Rifle, Colorado. A dedicated team established a fledgling World Wide Web colony to propagate its memes. Many had been dormant since the mid 1970s when Gerard K. O'Neill co-founded the legendary L5 Society and wrote the book The High Frontier (1977) which rapidly established space migration as a new public fad. O'Neill testified to US Congress in January 1976, later pitching his space station designs to an indifferent corporate America. By late 1977 the public was reading Whole Earth Review publisher Stewart Brand's book Space Colonies, listening to Timothy Leary's 'Space Migration' lectures, and watching George Lucas' film Star Wars. Fantasy had replaced pragmatic idealism in the rush to storm the Heavens. While Savage's model represents the Age of Aquarius' optimism at its peak, it is also "the first 'post-environmentalist consciousness' stab at this problem," according to Creon Levit, a scientist with the Numerical Aerodynamics Simulation Division at NASA's Ames Research Center. "It's not just space colonization for its own sake, but it's an integrated plan of space colonization and 'save the planet' type activities," he says. "Most importantly there is a path � a 'bootstrap process' � to get there that seems like it might actually happen. "The problems with the proposals that came out in the late 1970s and early 1980s were that they all required massive amounts of spending by the industrialized countries in order to get space colonization off the ground. O'Neill and Leary wanted massive chemical rocket launchers to build it, and solar powered satellites were really the only thing that they could come up with to get the thing boot-strapped. That required such a huge investment. They were talking hundreds of billions to get started, whereas the Millennial Project is talking about less than $100 million. "Savage's plan has dropped the start-up cost by three or more orders of magnitude. In contrast to O'Neill or Leary, the first couple of phases occur on Earth. The second stage � a prototype self-sufficient sea colony named Aquarius Rising, is probably the most exciting stage of the whole scenario. If we can get that to work, I'm happy, and space colonization is just one of the things that we can accomplish in the future as a result." Savage initially conceived a theme park concept for Aquarius Rising based at St Croix in the US Virgin Islands. "There were many tourist elements to that development, in order to generate enough economic voltage to carry the rest of the project," Savage explains, "but our chance to purchase an option on a 580 acre piece of land fell through when someone else bought it for cash. Now we're doing site evaluations looking at a more focused project that doesn't need so many of the tourist amenities to carry the economics, and the Grand Cayman Islands is the prime candidate for that project now." "This project is basically just the prototype sea colony for about 100 people, floating in a sheltered lagoon, powered by a two and a half mega-watt Ocean Thermal Energy Converter (OTEC); in the US$50-70 million range, as opposed to the US$200-250 million range for the larger scale project at St Croix." "We really need a viable place to start this 'real world' project; the trick is, it's got to stand on it's own legs economically. There is no subsidy available, so the economic engine has to turn from the beginning bell." LUF Core member Jack Reynolds revealed that "the Cayman Islands imports 95 per cent of its food annually from the US, costing $300 million. International trade prospects in the region make this option viable." "We have a tremendous amount of work that has to be done, in order to paint a pretty clear picture for financiers when you're talking about money at this kind of magnitude," reveals Savage. "Many details � both mechanic and economic � have to be worked out to show exactly how that project would unfold. It would certainly have to be a phased project where you do certain things first, and then as it gathers economic momentum you do others." "There are other options," Levit suggests. "If the organization were to get big enough, and have some medium level of numbers in the tens of thousands, there might be a possibility of at least partially self-funding it. There are numerous possibilities, but the initial plan of building a techno/eco/tourist resort/research station prototype is brilliant!" Reynolds remarks that the Cayman Islands site was selected partly because "its 'deep cold water currents' allow us to use OTEC technology efficiently, the core around which the colony will be built. It is possible to use currently available 'off the shelf' components in building an initial OTEC seed ship, using a closed cycle model." Synergistic spinoffs from OTECs hold the key to the colony's economic prosperity and controllable environmental impact. "These potentially include fresh water production, cold storage and air conditioning, cold-bed horticulture, hydroponics and large scale mariculture," Reynolds suggests. "An OTEC can support mariculture at the rate of about $200,000 per acre of gross productivity, which is many times what you can achieve on the land," reveals Savage. "Once construction begins at the Aquarius Rising site, this will be the turning point � the whole project shifts into second gear," Levit asserts. "The ocean colonization angle is what makes it feasible," agrees Savage. "Ultimately you have these components and you blow that prototype floating community up to about one thousand people, scale up your OTECs and power production to about ten mega-watts, and be doing several hundred to several thousand acres of intensive mariculture at that point, but that takes some getting up to." The LUF plans to have a basic prototype established by 2004 in the Maldives, to confront and deal with resulting socio-political challenges such as political sovereignty, trade, and defence by 2008, and to begin construction of a large-scale Aquarius Rising by 2010, due for completion in 2016. "Unlike the modern megalopolis which is a primitive macro-organism, Aquarius Rising solves the predatory 'zero sum' resource cycle by evolving into a cybergenesis organism; moving urban planning from the level of a slime mould to a lotus flower," Savage declares. Directly confronting doomsayers like The Club of Rome, Savage remarks, "They're clearly right that we've got to do something, but clearly wrong that it's a resource limited question. The sun is beaming down 18,000 times as much power as humanity is using just on the surface of the Earth today." "We're facing a test of human ingenuity and willpower at this point. If we allocated one per cent of the resources we spend on stupid and frivolous things to the proposition of tapping the resources of space, Humanity is looking at a very unlimited future. "As far as the doomsday scenarios of warfare and so forth, it helps if we take a broader view of history. I don't have a Pollyanna view, but I think a lot of human institutions are changing very rapidly. The sociopolitical battle between small elites and the burgeoning population that characterized the Cold War, for example, has basically been waged to its conclusion." This 'evolutionary test' was mentioned by Arthur C. Clarke (who wrote a gushing Preface for Savage's book in 1994) in his story The Sentinel (1958), later filmed by Stanley Kubrick as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and also in the writings of engineer Buckminster Fuller, who designed geodesic domes and developed the efficient structural system known as Tensegrity Structures. "Fuller had that breadth of magnitude of thinking which could not be pigeon-holed, and obviously had a way of penetrating right to the heart of a question and coming up with a better solution than anyone had ever thought of," Savage believes. "I'm trying to benefit by his example in many ways. Right now which is a critical moment in the growth of the LUF, I'm trying to give up control and hand over responsibility of a lot of things to other people. Some people find that very strange, but it's very essential in anything like this. If Fuller had done that with his Dymaxion House, giving up the control necessary to take the next step of mass production when the design was less than perfect, we'd be living in a different world today." Fuller developed the Dymaxion in 1927, a structural design aimed at economical, efficient, trouble free living developed from systems of aircraft and chassis production, intended for mass production. Savage believes that Fuller made a serious business error with the Dymaxion House that the LUF has learnt from. "They apparently had orders on the books for about 250,000 houses before they were even in production. He had the backing and the financial resources lined up to go into production and fill those orders. With that much pump prime - then they could have sold millions of units and the mass production economics that he was talking about for the Dymaxion model would have kicked in, and you and I could be actually living in Dymaxion houses that were actually cool in the summertime and only cost $50,000 for a couple of thousand square feet thanks to mass production. But at the critical moment when he needed to go into production and the thing was less than perfect, he couldn't give up the control necessary to take that next step. He had to hold on and make it perfect. And that can't happen in this world, so the whole thing fell apart and that whole revolution never happened." Important early support came from futurist/author/social architect Barbara Marx Hubbard, and key Hard SF authors like Gentry Lee, Larry Niven, Poul Anderson. Jerry Pournelle featured The Millennial Project as 'Book of the Month' in an August 1993 Byte magazine article. Savage's book also garnered positive reviews from Astronomy and Whole Earth Review. The 1990s saw a resurgence in commercially orientated organizations like the LUF that operate outside NASA's sphere of influence. Key organisations include the Space Access Society, the X Prize Foundation, and the Island One Society. Just as the LUF's project designations are a throwback to mid 1970s New Age optimism and the common practice of using names from ancient mythology for manned space flight programs; this trend remanifests the many private projects that were common in the late 1970s, prompted by feasibility studies of the RAND Corporation and the Smithsonian Institution . These options became more restricted as NASA's space shuttle program became dominated by Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) and other military contracts. Cold War geopolitical manoeuvres by the United States and the USSR, plus fears of uncontrollable world population growth ended such 'selfish' uses of resources, leading to the current NASA bureaucratic gridlock. "We're not part of the general space advocacy community, which is basically a lobby group trying to get money out of Congress, so we're essentially meaningless to them," Savage comments, wary of the political fallout from the post-Challenger disaster caused by revelations that senior management at the Utah based Morton-Thiokol Inc rocket plant that manufactured the defective O-ring nozzle used in the shuttle's solid rocket motors had conspired to cover up safety and design faults, and that the Challenger flight launch date had been pushed forward for political expediency to coincide with a planned televised link-up between astronaut Christa McAuliffe and President Ronald Reagan during his 1986 State of the Union address. However the LUF does have close links with organizations like the United Societies In Space ("a group of scientists investigating human resources issues in space development," remarks Savage), and has established contact with the National Space Society, a powerful Washington DC-based lobby group that includes astronauts Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Alan Shepherd; Majel Roddenberry; Ben Bova; Jacques Costeau; Freeman Dyson and politicians Barry Goldwater and Newt Gingrich amongst its high level members. The NSS Chairperson, Dr. Robert Zubrin, was keynote speaker at the 1996 LUF Conclave in Colorado, briefing them on the planned Mars Direct manned space mission project. Mars Direct received a positive response from NASA officials at the Case for Mars VI Conference, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado in 1996. Zubrin was among several key scientists (another was UK based Probability Research's Dr. Martyn Fogg, a leading researcher on terraforming) who supported the LUF in its infancy. Until recently Savage has self-generated much interest in the LUF, serving as a prophetic writer/leader who has gradually surrounded himself with a core of aerospace scientists and other specialists. LUF's next director after Marshall Savage was Dr. Carol Rosen, who was according to Savage, "a spokesperson for Werner Von Braun for several years near the end of his life, she was a corporate manager for a major aerospace defense contractor, and was with Gerard K. O'Neill at the inception of the L5 Society. She also headed up the project to launch the ashes of O'Neill, Gene Rodenberry, and Timothy Leary into space." The LUF will need to survive its 'Seldon Crises' (major organizational challenges that required Asimov's Foundation to radically alter itself) if it continues to implement Savage's increasingly panoramic steps � a mass driver sled/laser guided launch system (Bifrost), geosynchronous orbit habitable ecospheres (Asgard), miniature Moon communities (Avallon), terraforming Mars (Elysium), colonizing the Solar System (Solaria), and finally creating the pan-Galactic civilization (Galactica) that Asimov envisioned. Judging whether or not organisations like the LUF or the Artemis Project, which both operate outside NASA's strict program, are 'kooks' is impossible to do in the short term, since both derive their models from mainstream scientific models (for example the industry/government OTEC studies for Aquarius Rising have existed since 1978-81, while similar technology for the Bifrost launch system exists in mid 1980s Russian developed maglev rocket sleds). Few remember that the now respected British Interplanetary Society were regarded as cranks in the 1930s, yet in retrospect they had a clearer picture of the progress of space technology than their mainstream counterparts. Like its fictional counterpart, the LUF will only survive if it is able to harness Humanity's deeply mythical and religious impulses and transcend the bewildering array of socio-political fluctuations confronting it. For Asimov's Foundation it was Seldon's 'psychohistory' synthesis, whereas Savage clearly stresses at each step our ability to 'generate futures,' moulding the objective cosmos to our subjective visions like nascent gods. Ironically the two most common criticisms of Savage's book were its New Age-style project designations (hiding a wealth of credibly sourced mainstream scientific information), and a neo-Marxist model of future socioeconomic development that relies on the innate 'goodness' of humanity. Like Asimov's 'psychohistory', it is future extrapolation based on large groups, not individuals. Some critics view Savage�s biological ecosystem analogies with scepticism. Savage concedes that such social re-engineering "is incredibly difficult, and our greatest challenge," echoing a point Robert Anton Wilson made to me that "the information revolution is changing everything so fast that futurism scenarios extrapolated from the current Dominator paradigm are doomed to failure." Thus longterm details of socio-economic ecosystems are impossible to predict, due to the many potential factors involved. Space Migration not only offers lucrative manufacturing industries, but also a laboratory that will radically alter human consciousness � the long-term effects of the current information explosion and cyberculture are a distant rumble before the approaching storm. Savage cites Asgard ecospheres and Avallon domes as examples of 'total environments' structured along symbolic or ideological lines that will further shatter contemporary urban habitats. Space colonization will radically alter civilisation and human consciousness, much like TV or the Internet's alteration of communications, according to Savage. "Once you get large-scale colonization of space, which only occurs after something like the Foundation has succeeded in pioneering the Frontier, humanity will drag those kind of problems along with it; although at a lesser degree than the history of Earth would seem to indicate, simply because in space you probably can�t wage war at a profit. The infrastructure is too fragile, each side is far too vulnerable to the other to make it worthwhile. The resources that are up for grabs are so abundant and so widespread that its always going to be a better bet to colonize further and penetrate further into the Frontier than squabble over resources that somebody else already has." As co-founder of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter and chronicler of the LUF's annual Colorado Conclave, Levitt explained that these organizational aspects were being sped up by using the Internet and other emerging communications technology serving as a social dynamics engineering tool akin to Hari Seldon's 'psychohistory' synthesis. "This is one of the perfect applications of the Web for these kinds of globally distributed information and essentially what is a scientific, technical, political, economic organization on a global scale involving very few people at the start," Levit believes. "It's such a tremendous job to try and influence the very attitudes of the human race enough to get them to take this direction," Savage states. "Its going to take any means at our disposal, and some we haven't even thought of yet. Things are evolving pretty rapidly in the whole multimedia sphere. We have to be ready to jump on the opportunities that present themselves as we go along." "Many of our future plans hinge in particular on the Web. A commercial interactive Web game based on the Millennial Project book is currently being pursued by several Oregon-based software companies. If they can make it an alluring experience for people, it would be a tremendous way to get the word out. A variety of other people are working on other projects, including the publication of a Web-based scientific journal for the LUF, which is a place where people can publish papers that are applicable to the 'critical path' of the project, from OTECs to wave-riders to Dyson Shells and so forth." Virtual Reality Modelling Language models and Quicktime films have been developed by Core members Jim Martens and Yasser Mallinka and Keith Sprangle to promote the Aquarius Rising, Bifrost and Asgard stages. Savage reveals that "Harold Tiejens, one of our Core members, works in a Hollywood special effects studio (he worked on the armor for the SF epic Starship Troopers). Under the leadership of Kail Anderson, he helped create a massive nine-foot scale model of Aquarius Rising that was presented at Conclave!" Already Internet discussion on post-Aquarius Rising stages, particularly the Bifrost launch system has highlighted "the technical problems with Bifrost the way I wrote it," Savage concedes. "One of our best technical scientists, Stanford Linear Accelerator�s Eric Lee, has done a really magnificent job of repairing the whole structure and fixing various technical problems." "There are many good new ideas in terms of space colonization in the post-Bifrost part in the Millennial Project book," Levit claims, "however a lot more new ideas are going to be necessary before it happens. The whole thing is not going to come off like it was described in the very first book on the subject! Importantly for the first time, people who are really interested in looking can see a set of dots that can be connected to get to the stars." "We will never become a space-faring civilization if our payload launch costs continue to be US$12/gm," Savage firmly states. Whilst NASA established the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics research program in 1987 to examine this problem, it has been crippled by low funding and problems with the Delta rocket launch system. "Solutions are to be found by the Fuller means of wandering across disciplines and taking disparate pieces that don't seem to relate to each other, and bringing them together into a new synthesis. For that, almost by definition, you need some kind of generalist � that's what I am." NASA itself comes under considerable fire from Savage. "The place NASA went wrong was at the very beginning. They technologically were on the fast track around 30 years ago; within less than a decade of building prototype rocket planes that could launch with a man at the controls and fly into orbit, and then re-enter Earth's atmosphere and land, essentially just pushing the aerospace envelope up to orbit. Within a decade of that I could almost guarantee you that the large-scale opening of the Space Frontier." Cold War sociopolitical pressures caused "a technological war with the USSR where we plunked men on top of intercontinental ballistic missiles, which is completely the wrong technology for this application, and blasted them off into space." Furthermore, President John F. Kennedy's initiative "was an historical stunt that really had everything to do with the Cold War, and nothing to do with the eventual civilisation of space." "The space project has been at a standstill ever since Apollo," Savage says. Problems with the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station continue to highlight NASA's "political/economical cul-de-sac; there is really no way out for that model. It's going to take something completely different other than a national space program to get the human-civilization-in-space movement going. It will take something like the Living Universe Foundation to do that; a human organization analogous to a focused electron laser, full of people who are motivated to make it happen." Levit believes that "for all the mistakes and stupid things that NASA has done, they're the only game in town right now except for maybe the Russians. There are not too many people who are actually going up and living in space, except if it is involving NASA in some way. A lot of people are working for NASA because they want to participate in this kind of activity, and they're just dying to hear of some way to actually pull it off. "I'm trying to generate some interest from within NASA in what the Living Universe Foundation advocates; there should be a fair amount of interest by the younger and more open minded individuals within NASA or associated aerospace industries and agencies, if only on a personal, individual basis." Ultimately Savage, Levit, Reynolds and associated colleagues are promoting a more Promethean view of humanity in an attempt to overcome the conceptual gridlock and environmental bottleneck they perceive as facing civilization. "That's the appropriate view of ourselves," Savage affirms. "There is far too much of the view of humanity as planetary cancer or Earth as flyspeck on the face of the grandeur of the universe. If you were a psychiatrist and you had a patient who came to you with a self-image that people project about the human race, well you should be getting a prescription for them! "As a species we need a more positive, noble view of ourselves and our future, because if we have that and we believe in it, then we're already halfway towards achieving it! If we don't, we may be doomed to fulfil this negative prophecy. The most important thing that we do is broadcast to the world a positive message about a hopeful future."