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I find it amusing that these folks were clueless as to the purpose of the Google Lunar Prize when they signed up:

In my first blog, I wrote why Harold Rosen formed the Southern California Selene Group. In short, he and I registered our team to compete for the Google Lunar X PRIZE to demonstrate that a low-cost space mission to the moon could be accomplished and could lead to lowering the cost of some future robotic missions to planetary moons. Plus, we intended to have fun! Harold and I both are strong supporters of space science and robotic space exploration. (For one, I'm an astronomy and cosmology enthusiast.) We love the kind of work that JPL is doing, for example. But we most definitely are not in favor of human space missions. That is not our goal, nor do we support such a goal.

The Team Summit turned out to be a real wakeup call. In the Guidelines workshop that I attended just last Tuesday, the cumulative effect of hearing all day from Peter Diamandis, Bob Weiss and Gregg Maryniak that the "real purpose" of the Google Lunar X PRIZE was to promote the so-called commercialization of space (which I took to mean highly impractical stuff like mining the moon and beaming power to the earth, as shown in one of GLXP kickoff videos), humanity's future in space, etc. etc., took its toll. I couldn't help but think "what am I doing here?" When I spoke to Harold about it on the phone later, he agreed - no way did he want to be involved in promoting a goal he does not believe in.

So, what does this mean? It sounds to me like it's not just a goal they "don't believe in" (which is fine--they could not believe in it and still want to win the prize for their own purposes), but rather, a goal to which they are actively opposed, and don't think that anyone should be pursuing. I'm very curious to hear them elaborate their views, but it sounds like they're extreme Saganites. For those unfamiliar with the schools of thought, you have the von Braun model, in which vast government resources are expended to send a few government employees into space (this is Mike Griffin's approach), the Sagan model ("such a beautiful universe...don't touch it!), and the O'Neillian vision of humanity filling up the cosmos.

So when they say they don't support such a goal, does that mean they oppose it, and would take action to prevent it from happening if they could? Sure sounds like it. And they take it as a given that lunar mining is "impractical," but is that their only reason for opposing it, or do they think that it somehow violates the sanctity of the place, and disturbs what should be accessible only for pure and noble science? I'll bet that they'd prefer a lot fewer humans on earth, too.

[Via Clark Lindsey]

[Update late morning]

Commenter "Robert" says that I'm being unfair to Carl Sagan. Perhaps he's right--I was just using the formulation originally (I think) developed by Rick Tumlinson, though Sagan was definitely much more into the science and wonder of space than were von Braun or O'Neill... If anyone has a suggestion for a better representative of the "how pretty, don't touch" attitude, I'm open to suggestions.


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Andy R wrote:

All those engineers, many with PhD's, all that time and effort invested, and none of them read the not-so-fine print? Shame on them.

They do seem to come from the Sagan-Friedman robot exploration only side.

And (snark alert!) you can read a lot into the fact that they call their craft "The Spirit of Southern California".

Edward Roberts wrote:

To Mr. Rosen: Please, please, please don't be saying what I think your're saying. Evil on that scale just shouldn't exist.

Robert wrote:

Calling them Saganites is unfair to Sagan. Sagan's views were too complex to summed up the way you did. His short-term focus might have emphasized science when you would have preferred it to emphasize economic self-sufficiency, but he was hardly against human spaceflight and colonization. Sagan called for the manned exploration of Mars, for the establishment of manned asteroid deflection bases, and, ultimately the human colonies throughout the solar system and beyond. The back cover of Pale Blue Dot said just what lots of us think: ""The exploration and eventual settlement of other worlds is neither a fantasy nor a luxury [...] but rather a necessary condition for the survival of the human race."

One more quote:
"If we were up there among the planets, if there were self-sufficient human communities on many worlds, our species would be insulated from catastrophe… A cataclysmic impact on one world would likely leave all the others untouched. The more of us beyond the Earth, the greater the diversity of worlds we inhabit… then the safer the human species will be." -- Carl Sagan

Rand Simberg wrote:

Sagan called for the manned exploration of Mars, for the establishment of manned asteroid deflection bases, and, ultimately the human colonies throughout the solar system and beyond.

That was later. In the early eighties, when he and Lou Friedman founded the Planetary Society, they were opposed to manned spaceflight (but mostly because they thought it much less cost effective than robots for science, which was their focus). It was only after Sagan realized that human spaceflight could provide an excuse for international cooperation that he really embraced it. When I call them Saganites, I'm referring to the early Sagan, and I'm considering them an extreme case of it. I agree that the later Sagan would strongly disagree with them, but he was no O'Neill.

Mike Puckett wrote:

If that is their attitude, they can expend their precious efforts dispatching a probe to the inner circle of Hell for all I care.

Robert wrote:

Rand, very respectfully (I disagree with your earth politics, but I'm very respectful of your space credentials), I think you are mistaken about the early Sagan as well.

In the Cosmic Connection, from 1973, Sagan writes about how while he was against Project Apollo at the beginning, he was also against stopping it. Mere paragraphs later, he writes about establishing lunar bases by the 1980s (despite the abandonment of Apollo), and he discusses how such bases must utilize lunar resources to become increasingly self-sufficient. Mere paragraphs after that, he discusses manned ballooning in the clouds of Venus. Just after that, he says he favors manned exploration of mars but strongly cautions against forward and even backward biological contamination.

But wait, there's more! He not only writes about terraforming, but writes of his expectation (without any hint of disapproval) that "a more wholesale rearrangement of our solar system will begin, first slowly then at a more rapid rate - astroengineering projects to move the planets about, to rearrange their masses for the convenience of mankind, his descendents, and his inventions."

That's hardly expressing the sentiment "So pretty - don't touch!" Look in the chapters titled "Terraforming" and "Exploration and Utililization of the Solar System" for more.

Also: There is a story about how Sagan used to walk around with a graph showing how funding for human spaceflight and unmanned spaceflight rose and fell in synchrony. (I just did a web search for a reference to this story, and found one reference here: from Brian at

Tom wrote:

Don't want to spend too much time getting caught up on labels.

Assuming these guys are scientists, their analysis is lacking a bit. If space is opened to humanity, cheap space science missions would be the norm.

TallDave wrote:

"("such a beautiful universe...don't touch it!)"

We need to be careful, or corporate exploitation will destroy the delicate Lunar ecosystem.

DoesNotMatter wrote:

We could use an other great man of Sci-Fi to describe them, or rather his words.
Hence, I vote to call them "Oxygen thieves" in spirit of Henlein.

FC wrote:

We could call them BobParkites, but he doesn't deserve the attention.

Rand Simberg wrote:

I thought of Park, too, but he doesn't really fit, either. He's not opposed to human spaceflight, as long as it's not paid for by the taxpayers. We need someone who actively opposes the notion of humans in space at all (assuming that I am correctly inferring Castleman's and Rosen's position).

Laika's Last Woof wrote:

"Saganism" is already taken: when a scientist believes in something without evidence because of an emotional attachment, that's "Saganism".

It comes from the prediction of Carl Sagan that the entire world would be engulfed in a cloud of oil ash that would block out the sun and cause mass crop failure and starvation leading to a global apocalypse if, by liberating Kuwait, we provoked Saddam into burning the oil fields.

That laughable prediction stands in sad contrast to the most memorable and true thing Carl Sagan ever said:
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

Hence the coinage of the term "Saganism" -- even scientists who should know better throw objectivity out the window when their pet cause is involved.

You still need a term for the space Luddites ... why not call them "space Luddites"?

Oligonicella wrote:

TallDave --

"We need to be careful, or corporate exploitation will destroy the delicate Lunar ecosystem."

You may be joking, but there are people like that. In a class called Scientific Investigations, when the topic turned to utilizing the Saturn rings for materials, someone actually said "And destroy that environment too?"

The Original (libertarian) Robert wrote:

One person I can think of who is against human settlements beyond the Earth is Bruce Gagnon. He is the archdruid of space4peace.

Ed Minchau wrote:

Perhaps instead of Saganites you could call them Zookeepers - can't let the animals out of their cages, you know.

Do you really think Von Braun was (or would have been) opposed to the (eventual) commercialization and privatization of space? My impression is that he wanted to help put people into space however he could, and if government was willing to help, he'd do it that way.

Any chance we could just settle for "idiots"?

Electro Dude wrote:

I attended a talk by Robert X. Cringely who is putting together "Team Cringely". He was also somewhat critical of the XPF, particularly regarding how long it was taking them to finalize the rules. So while the XPF won't have the rules finalized for 18 months, RXC thinks that his team will be ready for first launch in 15 months. Because of this delay and other ambiguities in participation, he hasn't signed up as an official team, and may never do so. He thinks that he can make a financial success of a private lunar landing through the sale of TV rights and other means. He was an interesting speaker who I would recommend hearing if you have the chance. I wish him well.

RE: The "look but don't touch" school of thought. I'd just call them "environmentalists"; "space environmentalists" if you want to be more specific, or any of the many less flattering alternatives if you're feeling unkind.

Chris Wren wrote:

I'd have to say you're way off base with your perception of Carl Sagan. Sagan was more "What a beautiful universe: let's explore it", where exploration included, by implication, development, colonization and harvesting of resources. In private, Sagan was also into smoking copious amounts of pot and contemplating the universe, but he was definitely NOT one of those apologists for human existence who think that we're morally obigated to brush away our footprints behind us - or better still to leave none at all.

FC wrote:

Hmm, permanent sunlight for hydroponic marijuana.

Think NASA would fly a zero-g crystal meth experiment? Now there's a lucrative but polluting industry to move off-planet.

memomachine wrote:


"We need to be careful, or corporate exploitation will destroy the delicate Lunar ecosystem."

Are there ... Lunar Bears mayhaps?

Kolohe wrote:

One more view on Sagan:

COSMOS (series and book in 1980, correct?) was very explicit about the desire for manned space program. I remember one of the illustrations having a Greek named ship, with the text saying something like "if Rome and specifically the Library of Alexandria was not destroyed , would have not lost 1000 years of progress and would be in space today."

I concur that he would have been aghast at the commercialization of space. I would guess, but have no evidence, that he would have been aghast at the commercialization of the internet that basically started right before he died.

Just to correct some of the misconceptions around Rick's original "von Braunian, Saganite, O'Neillian", the point that Rick was making was more about people who currently "do space". It's not so much that either von Braun or Carl Sagan held those views but that people today who have those views tend to point back at those men and the communities that surrounded them as their source of inspiration. More "zones of influence" than actual beliefs that Sagan or O'Neill may have held.

For example, the Planetary Society was co-founded by Sagan and Friedman and by and large is the proponent of robots uber alles (although the fact that they have attempted to launch their own private, self-funded missions should shame other space advocacy groups who preach private efforts in space). If you speak to many people in that organization today they will all generally point to Sagan as their intellectual precursor, even if they have almost no clue about his actual views on manned spaceflight. The same goes for many who adhere to the NASA/military view of space. They may not know all of von Braun's personal views on commercial spaceflight but they (insert example reference to Mark Whittington here) still view those Disney movies as what the _governments_ mission should be.

I actually went to the Planetary Societies "Alternative to VSE" traveling road show a few weeks ago when it came through Atlanta and I saw the distinction very vividly. Bill Nye seemed to be extremely invested in towing the Planetary Society line of "robots to Mars but never man because we have to protect the environment" bit. Where as Lon Levin was much more of an O'Neillian. While none of the panelists fell into the von Braunian mode, several members of the audience seemed to only be interested in beating the Chinese.

Jim R. wrote:

I'm with Charlie. Idiots... and not even useful ones.

Craig wrote:

OK wise guys, laugh now all you want. But what are you gonna do when your pollution and waste fills up Space? Then where are you gonna go? Sheesh, Global Warming is already frying your brains!
That was a joke.
Too bad this has to be treated as a zero-sum game.

Philip wrote:

An aside: anytime the topic turns to those who would "prefer a lot fewer humans on earth," the proper formulation is "prefer a lot fewer other humans on earth."

Fletcher Christian wrote:


Wrong. "Prefer fewer humans on earth", at least in my case, means precisely what it says.

It is perfectly possible to limit our numbers without doing anything drastic. However, that also misses the point; that the emphasis that you are assuming is incorrect.

You seem to be assuming this: "PREFER FEWER HUMANS on Earth". For my part at least, it should be "Prefer fewer humans ON EARTH".

There are enough resources, and potentially enough living space, in the Solar System to support trillions at the very least. We ought to be getting on with exploiting them.

red wrote:

I'm going to guess that the SCSG folks are being mischaracterized a bit. As far as their views on commercial space, which I'm sure vary from person to person on the team, these might give a hint. From the SCSG GLXP site:

On Harold Rosen - Harold has earned worldwide recognition for his pioneering work in the field of communications satellites and is widely recognized as “the father of the geostationary satellite” in that he formed and led the team that designed and built the first successful geostationary satellite, Syncom, and subsequently, as Vice President, went on to help build the world’s largest communications satellite business at Hughes Aircraft Company.

On Rex Ridenoure - Rex is CEO and co-founder of Ecliptic Enterprises Corporation. ... In the late 1990s, he successfully transitioned into the entrepreneurial space arena, holding leadership roles at Microcosm, SpaceDev and BlastOff! Corporation.


Their only objection (and the post only indicates the objection is from 2 of them, Deborah and Harold) I see in the post about the types of commercialization the XPF folks apparently were describing at the Summit (lunar mining, power beaming to Earth) is that it's impractical. I totally agree with them that these things are wildly impractical today, and the lunar approach NASA is taking will not improve that at all. The only chance on the horizon of making these things practical is the NewSpace effort, and much as I encourage NewSpace, I think a lot of people underestimate how long, difficult, and risky the NewSpace effort will be before those things are practical.

In the meantime, you don't want to drive off talent that's mainly interested in comsats, or robot landers, or other non-human-spaceflight projects. The vast majority of practical success in commercial space business and engineering space missions is in robotics. That's a talent pool you don't want to alienate. In addition to their talent which may help human spaceflight efforts, their missions (especially if they can get them cheaper a la GLXP) also represent a nice bonus business for new launchers.

You may want to see more on SCSG's reasons for stopping in this newer post:

Andy R wrote:

I agree with Michael Mealing. Sagan the Visionary saw humanity expanding across the Universe. Sagan the Pragmatic Scientist saw our launch vehicle and propulsion capabilities as they exist, and saw robotic missions as more practical and cost effective.

Looking at NASA's budget that way, he and others see too much of the pie eaten up by manned missions. This ignores the fact that it's not robotic launches that make people line the roads west of the Cape, but manned launches. Sure, NASAs bandwidth will occassionally get hit big time by people looking at the latest images from a rover, etc., but without the Buck Rogers there won't be bucks appropriated for anything else - in NASA Space, or Alt Space

Rand Simberg wrote:

I'm going to guess that the SCSG folks are being mischaracterized a bit.

I didn't characterize "the SCSG folks" at all. I was referring only to Deborah and Harold, since none of the other members of the team have expressed such opinions, as far as I know.

Their only objection (and the post only indicates the objection is from 2 of them, Deborah and Harold) I see in the post about the types of commercialization the XPF folks apparently were describing at the Summit (lunar mining, power beaming to Earth) is that it's impractical.

We don't know that that's their only objection. They state that they don't want anything to do with humans in space, which encompasses a lot more than lunar mining and solar power satellites (and in fact it may be that lunar mining and SPS, if done at all, will be done robotically).

In the meantime, you don't want to drive off talent that's mainly interested in comsats, or robot landers, or other non-human-spaceflight projects. The vast majority of practical success in commercial space business and engineering space missions is in robotics. That's a talent pool you don't want to alienate.

If they're "alienated," I'd say it's their problem, not that of the people who established the prize, for their own purposes. What is so horrible about participating in something that may have beneficial effects for humans in space, even if your interest is only in robotics? If it accomplishes their own goals, what's the big deal? Unless, of course, they are ideologically opposed to humans in space. We continue to await elaboration.

red wrote:

Rand: "If they're "alienated," I'd say it's their problem, not that of the people who established the prize, for their own purposes. What is so horrible about participating in something that may have beneficial effects for humans in space, even if your interest is only in robotics?"

I agree with this sentiment, and actually made a similar comment yesterday in their post.

Rand: "We continue to await elaboration."

They have another post on the GLXP Teams site that doesn't reveal much more about their attitude toward human spaceflight (eg do they object to it on grounds of perceived practicality based on what they've seen from government programs, or a strict version of environmentalism?). It does point out some other possible (you'd have to have more details to know if they're real) problems, though. If the roadblocks are in fact real and also unnecessary for the prize, I hope they get removed or reduced.

Rand Simberg wrote:

I'm not criticizing them for pulling out--they may have good reasons to do so. I just think that opposition to human spaceflight (particularly private human spaceflight, which is one of the emphases of the X-Prize Foundation) isn't one of them.

Edward Wright wrote:

The fact that Sagan wanted Apollo to continue does not mean he supported "space colonies." Sagan opposed canceling Apollo because "they had just reached the point where scientists got to go." Two or three scientists on the Moon or Mars does not constitute a "space colony."

There was never any interest in using space for commercial or military purposes.

Those views are still shared by the Planetary Society aka Church of Sagan and his chief disciple, Louis Friedman.

Note that it was the planetary society that created the ESAS architcture. The original report may still be on their website. Saganites turned against ESAS only when Mike Griffin (a Planetary Society alum and co-author of their original report) cut back the number of robots he had promised. (The number of humans never bothered them.)

ray wrote:

I'm sorry, but calling them Saganites is unfair to them. Even though they may share some of the beliefs held at one time or another by Carl Sagan, they do not appear to show any obvious signs of sharing his moral corruption.

In the 1980's, Sagan shamelessly prostituted his public reputation as a scientist to push the nuclear winter theory, that was then favored by the leftists. I undertook a critical, quantitative analysis, using all the non-classified technical data on the nature and effects of ground-bursts of thermonuclear weapons. His numbers and the effects he claimed were so totally bogus it could not have been an honest mistake. It was a deliberate lie. He was also condemned by serious scientists at the time.

To betray the principles of science and scientific truth for popularity and political gain as Sagan did is reprehensible. That is what I think of whenever Sagan's name is mentioned. So labeling them Saganites is a slur.

Edward Wright wrote:

Sagan also opposed the development of the Space Shuttle, not on economic grounds but because it was for commercial and military applications, which he thought were useless, rather than pure science. He was vehemently anti-(US)military but loved the Soviets and wanted space used for "international" scientific cooperation. He derisively refered to human ops in LEO as "going around in circles" -- a phrase still used today. In his view it was infinitely preferable to send a trivial number of scientists someplace cool and far away than to enable a large number of humans to access near space.

Anonymous wrote:

Ray, I suggest you do a bit more research. Friedman is as anti- US military as Sagan was and wants to cooperate with Communist China as much as Sagan wanted to cooperate with the Soviet Union.

Mike Griffin referee to his own relationship with Communist China as a "first date" (no indication whether he went all the way :-)

Casey wrote:

I would also like to take issue with how Von Braun's approach was characterized. If you study his various proposals, it is self-evident he preferred an incremental, modular approach.

It's not his fault the Kennedy administration decided to develop a publicity stunt instead of a genuine program for space development.

Hell, Von Braun could have beaten the Soviets on both artificial satellites and men in space if the Eisenhower administration let them. If they listened to VB and Heinleinian engineers, we would have had a real moon base by 1969, instead of two men in a bug.

But that's just me talkin'...

Edward Wright wrote:

Yes, Von Braun might have gotten an unmanned satellite before the Soviets and (very few) men into space at enormous cost. (Note that "men" refers specifically to male humans -- in his view, women were supposed to stay home).

His approach would have been a dead end. The Air Force knew that. (Read "The Right Stuff," for example.) The real route to space was through the X-15, etc. -- the route that private enterprise is now repeating after a 40-year diversion.

Von Braun was very distrustful of private enterprise even before he began to work for the National Socialists. (Read the current biography.)

Comparing him to Heinlein is like comparing day and night. Von Braun disliked capitalism and opossed the "miltarization" of space (except for ICBMs that put money in his pocket.) Heinlein was a libertarian and believed in a strong national defense. ("Whoever controls space controls the Earth.") You probably know about Destination Moon, where the first moonship was done by private enterprise but did you know he wrote another movie, "Project Moonbase" where the first "man" on the Moon was a female Air Force colonel?

Monkeyfan wrote:

Gee, a National Socialist distrustful of private enterprise/capitalism...Who woulda' thunk?

Ilya wrote:

We need to be careful, or corporate exploitation will destroy the delicate Lunar ecosystem.

I know TallDave is being sarcastic, but replace word "ecosystem" with "environment", and I had seen exact this sentiment for serious.

Robert wrote:

There has been serious discussion on* (by Henry Spencer, so, no, that isn't an oxymoron) about preserving the lunar vacuum by carefully choosing propellents which won't persist as long as others. No matter what propellent you choose, if you use rockets, you will contaminate the lunar vacuum for a time. I've seen impressive statistics on the impact each lunar module had on the density of the lunar atmosphere.

Jim Bennett wrote:

The "O'Neill position" is pretty much the original space exploration position; i.e., that held by Tsiolkovski, Goddard, and Oberth. Tsiolkovski even described habitats in free space, similar to those of O'Neill, although O'Neill had not been aware of that when he first iterated his ideas. Read Tsiolkovski's "Beyond The Earth" - -it's all there.

Mike Combs wrote:

Which just goes to show that there's nothing new under the sun. Nor in an independent orbit around it. ;)

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