While I REALLY try to limit myself in my threads, often without success, when I am this passionate about something I flat fail. I must draw a simple scenario based on first hand knowledge from NASA and NASA related scientists I know personally and well...and you can take this information on whether you believe Dave or not because I won't even leave a clue as to who they are. The reason is simple. The current official climate in DC is that we are only doing as little anything in space as we can...except for the military...and anybody with a NASA or NASA related job who says what the REALLY think will find themselves looking for a job.
Compared to "generations," the time span for making our economy explode with prosperity and giving this nation world leadership, probably not forever, but for far longer than it has left at the moment, is about 20 years.
We've added X trillion (somebody fill that in if you wish) to the national debt in the past few years and I'm danged if I can see that it changed anything to the tune of what one would expect for that much indetedness. If all it bought us was stasis for a couple of years, what's it going to take to maintain a percent or 2 GDP growth per year? And that while the nations who are still motivated are in the double digits? I am no math wizard, but that is not really deep math.
So, what can we do?
Let's say we require the best ROI possible for any further national indebtedness. From some minds I trust completely, I have been reliably informed that if we partnered with the commercial space industry and cleared the land, our "golden age" would suddenly pale.
Here's the scenario, from various sources:
Let commerce handle LEO and simply set cost per pound to orbit charges we feel achievable and reasonably achievable.
Enlarge and make permanent the ISS.
Build a lunar landing craft with significant cargo capability.
Establish a lunar outpost.
Build a solar powered linear electric motor to make returning people or cargo to the Earth very, very cheap.
Pause to remind all that a couple of years ago Lcross established it as fact that the moon is ROTTEN with easily retrieved water. My sources say that reduces cost and complexity of a lunar colony by 90% immediately and ensures that can be made self sustaining in no more than 10 years.
Subsidize the development of deep space engines such as the well proven VASIMR.
Drawing on our extraordinary record with small reactors built for our Navy, subsidize the development of small, sealed reactors to provide power for the VASIMR related engine technology.
At that point, we have reduced the cost of achieving LEO by 90% or more over the shuttle using the commercial option and have what we need to build ships of any size we wish that will have free run of the solar system just like our nuclear naval vessels do of the sea. Ad Astra, a commercial concern not 10 miles from here, has demonstrated 200kw engines that, if scaled to 2 megawatts or so, can achieve 30 day trips to Mars. Coupled with a nuclear reactor they would be able to cruise the solar system pretty much at will with whatever size ships we wished to build.
With easy, low cost access to all the resources of the solar system the profits roll in. I mentioned earlier that reliable (and public) estimates of the worth of a single small asteriods resources would be 20 trillion. I think we'd have our money back at this point, with profit.
BTW, the fuel for those reactors comes from the moon, so don't sweat trying to launch radioactive stuff to LEO.
We use that profit to build space elevators as required to get the cost to LEO down to every person who needs a job.
After that, all bets are off as to what homo sapiens acheives.
Everything above is supported by known, credible, and established science and I am open to anyone proving otherwise other than "well, if it's such a good idea why isn't anyone persuing it?"
I don't have an answer for that.
Or we can just keep borrowing from our children until the rest of the world cuts us off.
David A. Mallette
"If it sounds good, it IS good!" - Duke Ellington