Reopening the Space Frontier

  • Published

Reopening the Space Frontier by John Hickman. Common Ground Publishers, 2010, 198 pp.

John Hickman’s book is a critical review of how our space endeavor has failed to think big and go beyond the euphoric ambitions of the 1960s. Instead, he says, interest in space exploration has declined incrementally every decade since John F. Kennedy declared the American ambition in 1961 to put a man on the moon. Hickman wants to reenergize the debate about space exploration and provides a rationale for why this matters. One reason is the opportunity to create a mutual global defense to protect our civilization from asteroids that could devastate life if Earth were hit.

Hickman, an associate professor of political science at Berry College in Georgia, raises many questions, some of which remain unanswered. He also connects world history to events in space exploration. For example, Hickman explains that the Soviets lost the race to put a man on the moon not because they were unable to build a lunar explorer, but because of internal bureaucratic rivalry between their Artillery Ministry and Aviation Ministry, who had each developed plans for competing rocket designs. He gives other examples of how internal rivalries, petty politics, and lack of vision have undermined the opportunity for space colonization. That is not unique to space exploration, as many fields in society through the years have been halted or derailed by such factors.

Reopening the Space Frontier awakens a debate, a discussion, about space and the opportunities in the future if we explore outer space. This is timely, as the space shuttle recently made its last journey and the American civilian space program is under budgetary scrutiny.

The book is only 186 pages, but it is no quick read. One of its best values is that Hickman questions common perceptions, raises new concerns, and delivers explanations that force the reader to think. He challenges the legal construct created by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which defines outer space as a common where no state or organization can claim ownership. Hickman says the treaty removes the incentive for space exploration. His line of reasoning: if a part of the moon could be claimed by Russia to establish New Russia and the Russians could benefit from the land they claimed, space exploration would be far more attractive for the Russians. The defining of outer space as a common prevents opening of the space frontier. We might first reject the idea that common or not matters, but on second thought, if there is not economic gain in space colonization, where is the incentive for those who will pay for it? So, if we were able to deed property in outer space, would that trigger an era of exploration and a new twenty-first-century Hudson Bay Company of extraterrestrial land ownership?

Hickman also proposes proportionality for space claims relative to the size of terrestrial land territory. This contradicts analogies with historical terrestrial colonies, as they were all claimed by fairly small nations. The United Kingdom claimed North America, South Africa, India, the Caribbean, and Australia in the colonial land grab of the eighteenth century, which was a fairly bold move for a nation the size of the state of New Mexico. Hickman says that those who pay for space exploration should reap the benefits and only sizeable states can afford it; he disqualifies Tanzania, Togo, Tonga, and Tunisia in one stroke. He believes, however, states with a small terrestrial territory could buy claims from larger states. Trading land by states is nothing new, such as the US purchases of Alaska and Florida. The reader will recognize the faulty logic here because, for instance, states like Singapore or Holland could afford space exploration, but what would be the benefit if they could claim only half a moon crater?

Reopening the Space Frontier is intellectually provoking. Hickman’s writing drives the argument well but can be intellectually inconsistent. New ideas, or revised older ideas that are no longer in fashion, are not always perfected. Hickman’s book is a good starting point and worth reading because it widens the mind of the reader.

Jan Kallberg, PhD

Richardson, Texas

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."