ISPCS 2009 – Day 1: Mission and Methods

I am back in Las Cruces, NM, attending this year’s ISPCS, and just like last year each panel and each conversation leaves me with new ideas and new perspectives.  I promise to write a full report on the entire conference when I return to Dayton, but in the mean time I wanted to share the two highlights of Day 1.

First, a reflection on Mission.  One of today’s panels was a presentation by Jeff Greason about his experience serving on the Augustine Committee.  Jeff talked about a number of aspects of the committee’s work including launch vehicles, destinations, and enabling technologies.  But I was most stuck with what he had to say about the committee’s review of the reason to send humans into space, and the difference between the reason we do a thing and the benefits we get from the thing.  Jeff explained that in discussing the reason to send humans into space, we often get caught discussing the benefits (doing good science, building international relations, developing new technologies to name a few).  The problem with getting caught discussing benefits instead of the reason is that there are lots of ways to go about getting the same benefits as space flight, but none of those address the real reason to send humans into space, namely, as the committee puts it: to extend human civilization beyond Earth.

Let me repeat that.  The Augustine Committee’s findings include that the underlying reason we (humanity) should be conducting human space exploration is because humanity will one day be a multi-planet civilization.  Allow me to now direct your attention to the Mission Statement of Mach 30:

“To hasten the advancement of humanity into a spacefaring civilization…”

Of all the material to come out of the Augustine Committee’s work, this may be the most important for Mach 30.  It elevates our mission, though not us specifically, to the national space policy debate in a way it has not been since Von Braun.  And that is a good thing.  All of us involved in human space flight need to be talking about this so, as a country and as a planet, we can have a real conversation about what we are doing and why.

The second thing from today I want to discuss is an idea for a way Mach 30 can directly support the industry that came up in a conversation.  I met two representatives from the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation at last year’s ISPCS.  Both are here again this year, and one of them, Zach Adam, shared a very interesting idea.  It is a kind of mash up of craigslist, sourceforge, rent-a-coder, and a solution archive.  The ideas is to have a website where “customers” can post discrete analysis, report writing, and peer review requests.  Community members of the site could then offer their help (either for free or for a fee).  In some circumstances more than one member may answer the same request and the community and customer could evaluate each answer.  Ideally, the licensing would be very “open” and customers could search through the list of answers in place of, or before, placing a request for assistance.

Reflecting on this idea, I have to say I think there are lots of ways Mach 30 could benefit from having a site like this.  First, it gives new members of the larger open design community a way to get started in open design.  Instead of finding a large project that one could contribute to, one could look for small job requests that one can answer.  And there is no reason a larger open design project could not post requests, so there could be direct benefit to the more traditional open projects.  This may also be a way for commercial enterprises to dip their toes in the open design waters.  There may be slices of their work that are not proprietary that they could shop out to the community for assistance or verification.  Last, though only for now, this process could likely be used to ask for assistance with component fabrication by volunteers or small businesses, which would help iron out one of the kinks of open design (namely what happens when one needs something actually built).

So, once again, ISPCS does not disappoint.  I cannot wait to see what happens tomorrow.

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