Travel to Mars on Han Solo’s back

“Star Wars” will re-open this Friday in theaters across America. The film will take most of us back to childhood memories and a time when our world was very different. It was a world in which we had sent our last man to the moon just a few years before, a world in which America fought a Cold War against a real Evil Empire.
“Star Wars” is a widely accepted part of our mythology now. Almost everyone believes that in the future there will be a space race — one in which two rivaling forms of government will battle to determine a winner.
But the world of 1977 didn’t know the degree to which “Star Wars” would predict what would happen in the 1980s.
Lucas’ futuristic fiction told stories of great empires ruling entire galaxies. The empires (governments) provided the accepted means that humanity would use to leave our terrestrial ancestry in the dust.
The “Star Wars” trilogy continued into the mid-1980s, as did the Cold War, and President Ronald Reagan borrowed the term “Evil Empire” to describe our rivals, the Soviets. Just as the rebels fought to bring peace to the galaxy, we pushed ahead in space technology in order to prevent the evil forces of communism from taking a collective hold on the new frontier.
Toward the end, the space race began to show itself for what it really was: a military propaganda game. Reagan shamelessly stole the title “Star Wars” for his new outer space missile defense program. If humanity was to conquer outer space, it would be with guns blazing for king and country.
And then, without much warning, Darth Vader, (the Soviets) laid down his light saber and said, “You win.”
Without a clear and present danger of losing in space, NASA’s enormous budgets were nitpicked and cut back. Rather than setting distance and speed records or pushing seriously for lunar and martian colonies, they tested how long astronauts could stand to sit in an orbital titanium can. It’s as if we don’t have the drive to take on the truly risky missions.
There is some hope for the Old Republic: Last summer, while shootin’ up some food in the Antarctic, a couple of scientists saw come up from the ground the proverbial “bubblin’ crude.” Red gold. Antarctic tea.
A rock from Mars that had a dead germ on it provided evidence of life (albeit controversial).
With the rocks, life sprang up at NASA. Already they’ve started working on a series of progressively cooler space missions.
Mars Global Surveyor headed out on a mission last November to study the atmosphere and map the martian surface. An unmanned craft called the Mars Pathfinder was launched in December to explore the geology of our closest planet. NASA also has tentative plans to send astronauts to the red planet by 2008.
Our noble motivations are shining bright. No longer do we reach for the heavens only to stomp on our enemies. No longer is exploration driven by competing forces. This time, we’re in it for scientific discovery. Old enemies are joining together to discover whether or not we are alone in the universe.
What a beautiful new age for humanity.
What a bunch of crap. By the year 2000, Clinton will be saying “What Mars rock?” and downsizing the whole project. When considering the Apollo flight computers — each had the power equivalent to a Commodore 64 — Washington lawmakers will insist that all we need to fly to Mars is a PowerBook, a 12-pack of bottle rockets and some duct tape.
The old space age is dead, right along with the old world order. Unless there is some ulterior propaganda or military agenda, nobody on Capitol Hill is willing to pay for the fulfillment of science fiction fantasies.
The motivation is gone and NASA is dead in the water unless they start pulling a whole lot of green skeletons out of some Antarctic ice shelf. So, if the government can’t run the space race, who can? Why not Disney? Orlando’s not that far from Cape Kennedy.
Corporations don’t have the same restraints as governments. They don’t need the people’s approval before they do something. Unlike governments, they can blow a couple billion dollars here and there, and no taxpayers will whine or vote them out of office.
Business people care that their money is spent wisely. They need to make a profit, and profit is what has made space the new financial frontier.
Analysts of the telecommunications satellite industry were made out to be the biggest cash cows of the near future.
This is serious business. One company forecasts business booming from $9 billion today to $29 billion by the year 2000.
The idea is to surround our planet with hundreds of satellites. The company with the most and highest-quality satellites will have the best telecommunications resources at their disposal.
Bernard L. Schwartz, chairman of Loral Space & Communications, Ltd.’s Globalstar project, a $2.5 billion, 48-satellite phone system, has given up doing business with the military to pursue a more lucrative field. Last year, he sold Loral’s military business to Lockheed Martin Corp. for $9.1 billion so that he could focus on the communication satellite business.
“We could have stayed in the defense business and earned a nice 15 percent return,” Schwartz said in a recent issue of Business Week. “But with Globalstar,” he said, “we’re going to earn a 40 percent return, and let me tell you, that’s a whole lot more fun.”
Although Schwartz and the telecommunications satellite industry aren’t scheduling trips to Mars anytime soon, this resembles the commercialization of something that used to be exclusively NASA’s.
This is bigger than just a few companies trying to make a buck by playing Buck Rogers. This represents a fundamental shift in power of historical proportions. Not only are corporations taking over parts of the space race, they’re doing it better and cheaper than governments.
The “Star Wars” future makes for wonderful fantasy. A great myth from which we, as children, learned valuable lessons about life, virtue and character.
The landscape of the future is now changing, however, and as a result, visions of galactic empires and republics are becoming less and less plausible.
The idealistic ambitions and heroic intentions of Luke Skywalker have been forced out of the scene.
In their place are Han Solo’s greed and financial ambitions. The future isn’t going to be paved with patriotism; it’ll be paved with money.
The motivations to explore space –inspired by war, honor and nationalism — are fast disappearing, and we are no longer able to challenge ourselves based on them.
Instead, we may have rediscovered a traditional motivation for exploring the final frontier: capitalism.
I would much rather believe we can be motivated by our curiosity and eagerness for knowledge, because it’s not as glorious to be driven by money.
I want to believe that Luke Skywalker will be there, leading us forward in our space exploration. Perhaps that day will come, but for now, we’ll have to follow Solo.
Chris Druckenmiller’s column appears every Tuesday in the Daily.