Reaching for the High Frontier
The American Pro-Space Movement
by Michael A. G. Michaud
Copyright 1986 by Praeger Publishers and reproduced with permission of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., Westport, CT. Read complete book here or buy from Amazon.
Chapter 5: O'Neills Children
In the fall of 1974, young aerospace engineer Thomas A. Heppenheimer was a passenger on a bus traveling across the deserts of northern Mexico. A few days earlier, this veteran of FASST had visited the Pasadena office of Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer Louis D. Friedman (who later became the executive director of the Planetary Society). There Heppenheimer had picked up a copy of the September 1974 issue of Physics Today. As the bus traversed the sere Mexican landscape, Heppenheimer began to read Gerard K. O'Neill's article.
By the time he finished, he was "entranced." "I knew I had to get into it," he says. What particularly struck him was that he could make a personal contribution and could get in on the ground floor. When O'Neill lectured at the California Institute of Technology in January 1975, Heppenheimer introduced himself and got on O'Neill's mailing list. He gave a paper at the May 1975 Princeton conference and participated in the 1975 summer study. There he was stimulated by an inspirational talk given by Richard Hoagland, who spoke of space colonization as "The High Frontier." Heppenheimer knew an old Kingston Trio song, "The New Frontier," which had been written to honor President John F. Kennedy. Together with its composer, John Stewart, Heppenheimer revised some of its lyrics and called the result "The High Frontier." The words say much about those who responded to O'Neill's ideas:
Heppenheimer went on to make real contributions to the space colonization idea. Through a difficult computer analysis, he showed that the L-4 and L-5 locations for colonies might be less desirable than the "2:1 resonant orbit," taking 14 days to traverse through the Earth-Moon system. With the help of Barbara Marx Hubbard as a go-between, in 1977 he published a book entitled Colonies in Space, which became a Book of the Month Club selection. Partly because of friction between himself and O'Neill, Heppenheimer last participated in a Princeton conference in 1981. As of 1984, he was a full-time writer, publishing books of science fact and science speculation like Toward Distant Suns and The Man-Made Sun.
Heppenheimer was only one of many examples of the strong effect on some younger people of O'Neill's ideas, which offered the prospect of personal participation in the space dream. Mark M. Hopkins recalls trying as early as his junior year in high school to accelerate the space program by finding a way to travel faster than light. He spent nearly all of his time studying, and his only recreation was watching "Star Trek" once a week. By his junior year at the California Institute of Technology, he decided that if anyone was going to discover a way of traveling faster than light, it was not going to be him. He switched his major to economics and entered Harvard, where in 1972 he cofounded the Harvard-Radcliffe Committee for a Space Economy. Members of the committee believed that once space activity reached a certain level, due to dramatic economies of scale and other factors, the economic development of space would "take off' in a self-sustaining way, feeding on itself rather than on noneconomic factors such as exploration, military advantage, and national prestige. In that context, writes Hopkins, O'Neill's September 1974 article "hit like a bomb."
Hopkins recalls calling up O'Neill and asking, "How are you going to pay for this?" O'Neill put him on the mailing list for the May 1975 conference, where Hopkins filled a gap in economic analysis by doing "back of the envelope" calculations. Impressed, O'Neill invited Hopkins to the 1975 summer study, where he did most of the economic work. "This changed my life," says Hopkins. With Heppenheimer, he published an article on "Initial R and D Requirements for Space Colonization" in Astronautics and Aeronautics in 1976. Hopkins, who has devoted thousands of volunteer hours to activism in support of O'Neill's ideas, became vice-president of the L-5 Society, a citizens group inspired by those concepts. He also played the major role in creating Spacepac, the largest space political action committee. As of 1984, Hopkins was an analyst with the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California.
K. Eric Drexler, then a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had been thinking independently about the potential of large-scale space activities even before O'Neill's article. Asking Professor Philip Morrison for advice on whom to contact, he was referred to O'Neill. He was one of those who critiqued a draft of O'Neill's Physics Today article, and he helped plan the 1974 Princeton conference. Drexler initiated a student seminar on space colonization in January 1975 and established the M.I.T. Space Habitat Study Group. He also became O'Neill's first research assistant on space colonization. Remaining closely involved for the next decade, he has been one of the L-5 Society's most active board members. As of early 1986, he was about to publish his own pro-technology book, entitled Engines of Creation.
The first large organization stimulated by O'Neill's vision appeared not at Princeton or M.I.T., but in Tucson, Arizona. There two bright, technologically literate young people named Keith and Carolyn Henson were running a small high-tech firm called Analog Precision, which they had started from virtually nothing. "They lived like church mice," says Mark Hopkins, "and saved every penny to put into the business." Their dedication and entrepreneurial skills were to prove invaluable in creating from scratch the most daring of the major new citizens pro-space organizations.
The blunt, energetic Keith, who has a degree in electrical engineering, says he has had for many years an interest in "high tech space futurist views." Carolyn, a tall, slender, dynamic woman with a presence some find charismatic, is the daughter of astronomers Aden and Marjorie Meinel (he was the first director of nearby Kitt Peak National Observatory). Carolyn recalls being an advocate of asteroid mining even before discovering space colonization.
Like others, Keith and Carolyn learned about O'Neill through the Physics Today article and immediately became excited by the concept and the roles they could play. "I wanted to be one of the people who change history," says Keith. Carolyn was to write in 1979 of "a chance to make history, to make a real difference in when, and how, we reach into space."
The Hensons contacted O'Neill. When a speaker on space colony agriculture dropped out of the May 1975 Princeton conference, O'Neill asked them to step in. There followed a crash research program assisted by experts in closed-environment (greenhouse) agriculture at the University of Arizona. The Hensons' paper was a success. At the post-conference banquet, Carolyn gave a rousing pro-colonization speech.
At that conference, the Hensons met Gerald W. Driggers, an aerospace engineer then with the Southern Research Institute in Birmingham, Alabama. Driggers, although born into a poor farm family, had begun building telescopes at a young age to look at the stars. He was like many others at the conference in that he had discovered O'Neill through the Physics Today article, but he was unlike most of them in having considerable background and experience in the aerospace business. He had been invited to fill another vacant slot, this one to give a paper on the "construction shack" space station that would build the first colony. O'Neill later selected him for the 1976 and 1977 summer studies on space colonization.
At the conference, Driggers expressed his belief that the space colonization idea needed a newsletter. He passed around a sign-up sheet and got a copy of the existing mailing list compiled by student Eric Hannah, then an assistant to O'Neill. When Driggers was unable to follow through on this, the names eventually were turned over to the Hensons. Carolyn obtained O'Neill's own mailing list and used the combined mailing lists in creating the first public group dedicated to the colonization of space.
THE L-5 SOCIETY
Richard Hoagland, then a proselytizer for O'Neill, volunteered to come to Tucson, where Carolyn set up interviews and public appearances for him in June 1975. In discussions among Hoagland, the Hensons, and a few other enthusiasts, the idea emerged of founding a High Frontier Society, which was incorporated quickly. Hoagland then went off on a promotional and fund-raising tour for the new venture.
Meanwhile, the new group was making the first of its many forays into politics. Carolyn, who had been active politically in Arizona, used her contacts to arrange a meeting between O'Neill and Congressman Morris Udall, then a serious contender for the Presidency. Udall reportedly was fascinated by the idea and agreed to support the concept, asking only that his support be recognized publicly. Brian O'Leary, who then was on the staff of Udall's Interior Committee, wrote a pro-O'Neill letter for Udall's signature to Robert Seamans, then head of the Energy Research and Development Administration.
By August 1975, some of the founders of the High Frontier Society had concluded that a break had to be made with Hoagland and that the existing name for the organization should be buried. A new organization evolved out of the structure of the old. Keith, with O'Neill's blessing, decided that it should be called the L-5 Society, after one of the gravitational libration points where colonies might be located. He also invented a striking goal for the society: to disband itself at a mass meeting in a space colony. The L-5 Society was incorporated in August 1975, with Keith as its first president. Even then, he recalls, Carolyn did most of the work.
In contrast to the National Space Institute, the L-5 Society began as a shoestring operation, run out of a corner of Analog Precision. The Hensons and a small band of helpers had to borrow money, labor, and equipment to set up an office.
Some potential donors said they would contribute money if there were a newsletter. The first issue of the L-5 News, featuring Udall's support of O'Neill, appeared in September 1975. According to the new publication, the society was formed to "educate the public about the benefits of space communities and manufacturing facilities, to serve as a clearinghouse for information and news in this fast developing area, and to raise funds to support work on those concepts where public money is not available or is inappropriate." Its short-term projects (dependent on financial response) were to aid O'Neill in completing his book on the L-5 concept and to provide part of the paid staff to help him. Here were the patterns of earlier pro-space organizations, seeking to provide a home for enthusiasts and to educate the public while supporting, if not actually doing, work on the technology.
Sending membership forms to the names on its mailing lists, the L-5 Society quickly attracted a hard core of enthusiasts for the High Frontier, plus a variety of other pro-space people. However, there also was something about the society that appealed to a broader spectrum of opinion than one found in most pro-space organizations. Many who had shown no previous interest in space, including a number of environmentalists and advocates of alternative or utopian societies, joined the new group. Randall Clamons, who served as administrator of the L-5 Society from 1978 to 1984, recalls that the early members tended to be younger and more idealistic and that some were escapist.
Space colonization also attracted some people from the fringes of American culture. Keith Henson wrote in the May 1976 L-5 News:
Carolyn recalls "space groupies" turning up at the L-5 office in Tucson with their life's possessions. In her opinion, some needed psychiatric help ("No," she recalls telling one, "I can't turn your pool table into a starship"). As of late 1979, she still was writing of "harassment by kooks and con artists."
In the meantime, professor and counter-culture leader Timothy Leary also had come to the conclusion that migration into space was the right direction for humanity. Perhaps as early as 1973, Leary had created a group called "Starseed." After completing a prison term for drug offenses, Leary did proselytizing tours for a concept he called SMI2LE: Space Migration, Intelligence Increase, Life Extension. He also became a supporter of the L-5 Society, bringing in some of its early members. In the August 1976 L-5 News, Leary wrote:
The small initial band of L-5 activists, including the Hensons, Thomas Heppenheimer, Eric Drexler, Mark Hopkins, and J. Peter Vajk, showed great energy in making appearances wherever possible. At a "Limits to Growth" conference near Houston in October 1975, some of them made contact with the futurist Herman Kahn, who later endorsed the space colony concept. Peter Vajk, who gave a paper on the world dynamics implications of space colonization at what Keith Henson calls "the gloom and doom" conference, comments that he was "naive enough to think that the people there wanted a solution." In May and June 1976, L-5 activists including Vajk, Magoroh Maruyama, antiwar activist Norie Huddle, and futurist/science fiction writer Robert Anton Wilson went on the road to the Habitat conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, where they participated in the Non-Government Organizations meeting. Enthusiasts in New York made an unsuccessful effort to put space colonization on the agenda of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. In the spring of 1976, the L-5 Society considered moving its headquarters to New York, but it never did so.
Advocating what it called "the new space program," the L-5 Society soon acquired the reputation of being the most extreme of the major pro-space citizens groups, with the grandest dreams and the least modesty in proclaiming them. Some L-5 activists also had a style radically different from that of established space interest groups, being pushy, utopian, and even messianic in the view of some critics. Both the Hensons were considered by many who encountered them to be aggressive to the point of being abrasive.
In part, this style may have been due to the nature of the society's appeal, which offered a special kind of life goal. It also may have been because some of the group's leading personalities had backgrounds in protest movements, notably those connected with the Vietnam war, the environment, and women's rights. Carolyn Henson in particular fell in this category. Norie Huddle, who was associated with Leary as well as L-5, had written a book on the pollution crisis in Japan, and was a coordinator of Mobilization for Survival and the protest against the Seabrook nuclear reactor (in 1984 she published a book entitled Surviving: The Best Game on Earth).
This style, and doubts about the way the organization was being run, led to a growing alienation from the man whose ideas had inspired the society: Gerard O'Neill. "The O'Neill-L-5 rift was deep by 1976," says Gerald Driggers. Concerned about adverse publicity, O'Neill kept the Hensons at arm's length. In a 1984 interview, he referred to them as "those people in Arizona." The other side of this argument should be noted, however. In Keith Henson's view, O'Neill wanted more control of the idea than was possible.
The L-5 Society, which had little money, relied heavily on volunteers from the beginning. Although the society got financial help from Barbara Marx Hubbard, George Koopman, William O'Boyle, and others, money to pay the staff was sometimes scarce. However, the idea was a motivating one, and chapters began to spring up in other locations; there were seven in 1976, including one in the United Kingdom. The society also had organizational allies such as FASST (FASST leader David Fradin was on the L-5 board).
At first, L-5 was a very small society, having only 126 members at the end of November 1975. In September 1976, L-5 established an important link to the science fiction community when writer Jerry E. Pournelle persuaded Keith Henson to come to the MIDAMERICON science fiction convention in Kansas City, where Keith spoke to an estimated 1,500 people. L-5 significantly increased its membership at that meeting. "This was the start of L-5 as a viable organization," claims Pournelle. Keith Henson met the prominent science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein, who later was generous to the L-5 Society with his name, his letters of support, and his money. Pournelle later helped L-5 by putting its address in his column and in some of his books.
Despite its activism, the early L-5 Society was cautious about direct lobbying. "In order to maintain our tax-exempt status, no one in the organization may represent the society in any activity that could be construed as lobbying," Keith Henson wrote in the May 1976 L-5 News.
L-5 activism was given a new stimulus in the summer of 1977. Carolyn Henson, who had left Analog Precision in 1976 to finish her degree at the University of Arizona, quit school and became the salaried second president of the society, quickly putting on it the stamp of her dynamic, if controversial, personality. She may have been the first pro-space leader to also be an ardent feminist; in editing articles for the L-5 News, she would change "manned" to "piloted." She livened the magazine, becoming what sociologist B. J. Bluth calls "the gossip columnist of the space movement." Working with very limited resources, she was effective in keeping members informed about events in Washington, using a sense for politics and an irreverent style to good advantage. One regular feature of the L-5 News was a column of rebuttals to those who claimed the space program was a waste of money.
The Hensons and other space activists, notably Jon Alexandr, proved adept at inventing slogans, including some with a strong environmentalist flavor. "Declare the Earth a wilderness area," said one; "If you love it, leave it," said another, across a picture of the full Earth. In the "small is beautiful" vein, one slogan said "decentralize — get off the planet."
During Carolyn's two-year presidency, the society grew and turned increasingly toward political activism. Noting that Internal Revenue Service regulations had changed to allow educational organizations to spend up to 20 percent of their income on lobbying, Carolyn began moving the society in that direction. In July 1977, she and other L-5 activists campaigned (mostly by telephone from Tucson) to support efforts by space scientists to save the Jupiter Orbiter Probe (JOP) project. By then, Tucson had become a major center for space science; one of the leaders of the floor fight in the Congress to save JOP was John Rhodes of Arizona. The society's leaders believe that it played an important, if supporting, role in getting funds restored. However, congressional staffers and administration officials interviewed on this point generally think the society's influence was marginal at best.
In 1977 advent of the Carter administration, with its negative attitude toward major new space ventures, was a challenge to the growing L-5 Society. Carolyn Henson launched a Legislative Information Service to bring fast-breaking news to "those of you with a special interest in space politics." This included a space politics "hot line" staffed by Marc Boone. This service, funded by separate donations, was a shoestring operation, with a budget of about $500 a month. L-5 used some of its funds to support the activities of young space activist Ken McCormick, who with Eldon James had launched a new organization in Washington, D.C., called the National Action Committee for Space by the spring of 1978. This small and underfunded operation was the closest thing to a permanent presence in the national capital that L-5 then had, and it was a forerunner of other political action arms of the citizens pro-space movement. McCormick, Boone, and others periodically wrote articles for the L-5 News on the basics of lobbying. At the time, the only specific reference material available was a book by Robert A. Freitas, Jr., called Lobbying for Space.
In 1978 the L-5 Society got involved with the satellite solar power station issue, specifically the Department of Energy's outreach effort; L-5 got a contract to poll members and other pro-space people about SSPS. In the end, the society lost money on the contract, which proved to be a drain on the organization's slender resources. Randall Clamons believes this effort interfered with the normal growth of the society, which then had only abut 3,000 members. However, it was typical of the risk-taking L-5 tendency to overreach, taking on tasks other small organizations would have avoided.
In the summer of 1979, the time was approaching for the transition to a new president of the society to replace Carolyn Henson, who then was bedridden and pregnant with her fourth child (born in December 1979, she was named Virginia Heinlein Henson, after the wife of the famous science fiction writer). This and other events led to some infighting within L-5's board, which by then included people representing a wide range of philosophical, ideological, and political views. However, all that was overshadowed when L-5 took on the biggest political fight of its short life, and won.
The issue was the Moon treaty, a proposed international agreement that had been negotiated during the 1970s within the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. The full official title of the draft treaty was "Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and other Celestial Bodies." The L-5 Society's leaders had learned of the treaty during the spring of 1978, when members of the U.N. Committee reached tentative agreement on the complete text. Eric Drexler and others quickly realized that the treaty had potentially ominous implications for the society's goals. The Moon treaty would have established a legal regime for space far more detailed than that in the primary existing agreement on international space law, the 1967 Outer Space treaty. In the opinion of many of the people who favored the industrialization and colonization of space, the draft treaty's provisions on the exploitation of natural resources would discourage private investment and inhibit the mining of extraterrestrial materials, slowing the growth of economic activity in space and delaying the time when large numbers of people would live there. There also was a fear that the treaty would limit individual and group freedom in space, an important issue for many L-5 members. Writing in the October 1979 L-5 News, Houston patent lawyer and space enthusiast Arthur Dula described the Moon treaty as "the most far-reaching international agreement ever written."
The U.N. Committee reported the agreed treaty to the General Assembly in July 1979, with the next step to be its adoption by the Special Political Committee of the General Assembly before it was opened for signature by governments. Some L-5 activists believed that the society should mobilize against the treaty. Keith Henson later wrote, with some poetic license:
L-5 Society leaders quickly realized that they did not have the political clout, the lobbying expertise, or the presence in Washington to stop the treaty. They needed professional help. Keith Henson had read an article about Washington lawyer-lobbyist Leigh Ratiner, who was then engaged in lobbying against some of the seabed mining provisions of the draft Law of the Sea treaty, still under negotiation. Ratiner had considerable expertise in oceans law as it affected mining interests and had directed the Interior Department's Office of Ocean Affairs under the Ford administration. He later became a principal architect of the Reagan administration's position on this issue.
When Carolyn Henson contacted him in August 1979, Ratiner told her that the treaty could be defeated for about $100,000 (it actually took less). Since the natural resource exploitation provisions that either were in the draft Moon treaty or were likely to be considered in its further elaboration were analogous to the seabed mining provisions in the Law of the Sea, Ratiner found it both important and congenial to fight the Moon treaty as well. It was a natural political alliance, based on shared interests.
Carolyn Henson took the Moon treaty issue to L-5' s board in September 1979, where it became entangled with the issue of who should succeed Carolyn as president. Jerry Pournelle, a leading candidate, reportedly thought the Moon treaty was a lost cause, and argued that the society should not waste money on fighting it. International lawyer Edward Finch, another board member, favored the treaty. In the end, the board voted to oppose it, and Ratiner was hired to represent L-5. There began a sustained campaign of telephone calls and letters to Congress and attempts to get the issue into the media. L-5 put together a packet of materials on the question. Although Keith Henson was the titular head of the effort, Carolyn was the engine.
Ratiner played the key role in the lobbying effort, although he had energetic help from L-5 activists, notably Eric Drexler and Chris Peterson. After a briefing by Ratiner, the young lobbyists fanned out across Capitol Hill, briefing staffers on why the treaty should be opposed. Ratiner comments that the L-5 connection added to his credibility; he could say he represented citizens concerned with principle rather than with economic advantage. 
Ratiner contacted his friend Congressman John Breaux of Louisiana, chairman of the House Fisheries, Wildlife, and Environment Subcommittee, and was invited to testify against the treaty. After stirring up concern about the treaty in the House, Ratiner then went to the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he was able to show that "it was not just me plus 3,000 kooks." He provided a draft letter from the committee to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. In November 1979, Senators Frank Church and Jacob Javits of that committee sent a letter to Secretary Vance, urging that the United States not sign the treaty. This occurred just as the Special Political Committee of the U.N. General Assembly passed the treaty, with the U.S. delegate voting for passage. Congressman Breaux, an opponent of some provisions of the Law of the Sea treaty, sent a similar letter. The result was that the Department of State suspended action on the signing of the treaty. Subsequently, an interagency group was formed to study the matter, and the issue was shelved. As of this writing, the United States still has not signed the Moon treaty.
L-5 leaders point proudly to the defeat of the Moon treaty as the first major political victory won by one of the new pro-space citizens groups. Some space activists consider this event as a turning point for their cause. Space commercialization advocate Gayle Pergamit was quoted as saying in 1984 that "the initial defeat of the Moon Treaty had preserved the right for private entities to act in space."
It seems clear that members of Congress (and Ratiner) opposed the treaty primarily for Law of the Sea reasons and not because they were advocates of space development. Their major concern was to prevent restrictions on seabed mining. Support for the treaty was weak and unorganized outside the small group of international lawyers involved in its negotiation and some sympathetic academics; it was relatively easy to kill. What L-5 should have learned from this experience is the value of weak interest groups having more powerful allies. "L-5 was the tail on a very large dog," comments Thomas Heppenheimer. The Moon treaty fight also illustrated the fact that it is easier to organize people against something — a threat to their interests and their dreams — than for something as generalized and far off as living and working in space.
Meanwhile, the infighting within L-5 had led to the selection of Gerald Driggers as the person most acceptable to all factions, and he became president of the society in November 1979. Barbara Marx Hubbard, again acting as an "angel" of the emerging pro-space movement, provided funding to allow Driggers to leave his job and also become a full-time executive director for L-5.
Under Driggers, L-5 in early 1980 shifted its focus to nearer term goals, particularly a manned space station. "We wanted to turn the Society into a respectable public interest organization," says Driggers, "and a space station focus was a way of doing this." The new emphasis not only was more pragmatic but also was a return to the classic spaceflight agenda. In a July 1980 column, Driggers wrote that the society's goals had been reformulated to make them realizable.
Superficially, at least, this seems an almost classic case of an early radical leadership being displaced by a more conservative one as the organization achieved success and greater stability and sought broader acceptance. "You need fanatics to get started," says Pournelle, "but you need other kinds of people to operate the organization." "The talents needed to start an organization are different from those needed to manage it," agrees space writer James Oberg, a former L-5 board member. But Pournelle is quick to add, "Without the Hensons, there would be no L-5 Society."
In early 1980 Driggers and Ratiner went on a tour to raise funds, primarily from aerospace companies. This was largely unsuccessful. Ratiner then came up with the idea of a separate pro-space lobbying organization called the Space Coalition that would be financed largely by aerospace companies while drawing on the grass-roots base of pro-space citizens groups, beginning with L-5. This suggestion led to friction with many members of the L-5 board, who saw the Space Coalition as a rival organization — particularly Jerry Pournelle and Mark Hopkins, who had become increasingly influential within the society's leadership. Forced to draw on his own financial resources to remain a full-time worker for the society, Driggers eventually had to resign.
Meanwhile, a second wave of members was beginning to appear in L-5. Many had been stimulated by reading O'Neill's The High Frontier and Heppenheimer's Colonies in Space, which came out in paperback during 1978. Two good examples were David Brandt-Erichsen and Sandra Adamson, who both discovered O'Neill through Heppenheimer's book. Brandt-Erichsen says he realized that this was a real possibility for his generation; they could do it now, not 200 years from now. He started an L-5 chapter in the San Francisco Bay area and another at Oregon State University, and he became friends with Adamson. Moving to Tucson in August 1982, they became full-time space activists. They note that both came from a background of "trying to make the world better." BrandtErichsen was an active worker for Zero Population Growth but "that was negative"; he was stimulated by O'Neill's ideas, which gave him "something to rally around." Adamson, who is writing a book on the space movement as a sociological phenomenon, argues that the younger members in L-5 were not activists from the 1960s who had been disillusioned before finding O'Neill; they grew up with a positive viewpoint without going through an alienated phase. By the end of 1984, Adamson was secretary of the L-5 Society and Brandt-Erichsen was its treasurer.
Just as L-5 was recovering from internal strife and the Moon treaty effort, the Satellite Solar Power Station issue came to a head. When the administration's budget proposals announced in January 1980 left out $5.5 million for further SSPS studies, L-5 leaders contacted Ratiner, who then was the society's representative in Washington, and got advice on tactics. The society's leaders then asked members for money for a lobbying campaign to save the SSPS.
In April 1980, a large meeting was held in Lincoln, Nebraska, to review the results of studies of the SSPS concept. L-5 activists were among those who presented technical papers. In the face of strong criticism from opponents of the SSPS, Carolyn Henson made an impassioned plea for the system.
At an L-5 board meeting held in Lincoln, Mark Hopkins called for a major political effort to save the SSPS program and formed a "phone tree" of 500 to 700 volunteers. At a signal from L-5 headquarters, members of the phone tree contacted others on their lists, who then contacted others in a spreading net. All then were to call or write appropriate persons in Washington to express L-5 opinions on the issue.
Driggers, the "dyed in the wool technologist," says he refused to stake the society's future on the SSPS. He was quoted in 1980 as saying that the space migration movement did not need SSPS to justify off-planet expenditures. However, Hopkins and others put on an energetic lobbying effort, with telephone calls, letter writing, and personal visits to congressional staffers by Ratiner and a team of L-5 people who included Eric Drexler, Robert Lovell, and David C. Webb, who was to wear many hats in the pro-space movement. They got help from Jerry Grey of the American Institute of Aeronautics and, reportedly, from aerospace workers leader William Winpisinger. One of those involved was Stewart Nozette, who was later to become executive director of the California Space Institute.
After winning in the two authorization committees, SSPS supporters lost when the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy killed the bill for new funding for SSPS studies. According to Hopkins, the main result of this effort was the phone tree, which has grown since then. Getting permission to use the mailing lists of some other pro-space organizations, L-5 activists were able to organize the phone tree from a list of about 18,000 people.
The collapse of the SSPS dream in 1980 took away much of the society's confidence in seeing its dreams realized soon. Kenneth McCormick had written in the June 1979 L-5 News: "No other project on the horizon even comes close to offering the spur to space colonization that SPS offers." Subsequently, the society became more of a mainstream pro-space organization, although one strongly advocating space industrialization and the use of extraterrestrial resources; colonization was mentioned with declining frequency in L-5 literature.
After Driggers left office as its president, the society was run de facto by Mark Hopkins and Jerry Pournelle, with its new president, ex-astronaut Philip K. Chapman, an arbitrator of disputes. A direct mail campaign, urged by Mark Hopkins and Jerry Pournelle, was particularly successful with science fiction readers and increased the society's membership significantly.
Meanwhile, 1981 had seen the divorce of Keith and Carolyn Henson; she resumed her maiden name of Meinel. For a time, Keith moved around the United States in a variety of jobs in the computer industry before returning to Tucson in 1984 to resume the presidency of Analog Precision. He had become a vocal advocate of space-based defenses against ballistic missiles, suggesting that such a program might speed space industrialization and settlement.
Carolyn Meinel, although no longer a leading figure in the society, continued to advocate space development and to publish articles on space and technology subjects. In 1983 she married conservative activist John Bosma, who had been a defense analyst at the Boeing Company and who later was a member of the Reagan administration's transition team, an aide to Colorado Congressman Ken Kramer, vice-president of the Congressional Staff Space Group (see Chapter 9), and, as of 1985, editor of the Washington-based newsletter Military Space. By 1984, Carolyn was working on advanced space system analyses in one of the capital's many "think tank" contracting firms. Like Keith, both Carolyn and her new husband are advocates of a space-based missile defense.
L-5 in 1984
As of 1984 the L-5 Society seemed to have become a relatively permanent part of the space interest group scene, with about 9,500 members. Its new president was Gordon Woodcock of Boeing, and the Chairman of its Board of Directors was physicist and former AvcoEverett Research Laboratory executive Arthur Kantrowitz; both were respected figures from an older generation of space advocates. L-5 remained a highly decentralized organization, with its key figures scattered all over the United States. "L-5 runs by telephone," says Mark Hopkins. The society, which relies almost entirely on membership dues, had a budget of about a third of a million dollars. On a day-to-day basis, it was still run from Tucson by its administrator Gregory Barr. Surveys showed that L-5's membership still included an unusually high percentage of libertarians. Like the National Space Institute, L-5 achieved a symbolic success in 1984 when member Charles Walker flew on the Space Shuttle.
One of the most striking features of L-5 is its national and international network of over 70 chapters, which gives it the strongest grassroots base of any pro-space citizens group. Largely autonomous, sometimes fractious, these chapters often work closely with the local branches of other space interest organizations such as the AIAA in local pro-space activities. L-5 leaders believe that their organization is more in touch with grass-roots opinion on space than any other. This strong tradition of decentralized activism suggests that the L-5 idea has a firm foundation and will survive changes in its national leadership or crises in funding. O'Neill associate Stephen Cheston, a student of Russian history, notes that "the cell structure makes revolutionary organizations hard to kill "
L-5 still relies heavily on volunteers. "Without them, you're dead," says Hopkins, who estimates that 300 members put in 20 or more unpaid hours a week in chapter work or in the phone tree. Only about 20 of these are at the national or international level. Observes Sandra Adamson, "L-5 allows individual participation," one of the most important elements in its attraction and staying power.
L-5 has remained highly active in promoting manned space activity. It has spun off related organizations described elsewhere in this book, such as Spacepac and the Citizens Advisory Committee on National Space Policy. L-5 activists campaigned in support of the permanent manned space station proposed by President Reagan in January 1984, although none testified before Congress until March 1984. Recalling the Society for the Advancement of Space Travel, Jerry Pournelle says "This time we will stay with it until the job gets done."
The L-5 Society held its first Conference on Space Development in Los Angeles in 1982. The second, organized in Houston by Arthur Dula, had as its theme "Doing Business in Space," reflecting a growing emphasis on space commercialization rather than the earlier idealistic visions of utopian communities. About 700 people attended the third Conference on Space Development, held in San Francisco in April 1984. The fourth was held in April 1985 in Washington, D.C.
L-5 remains cheeky and anti-authoritarian in style. "Kiss my asteroids," announces an L-5 T-shirt made for a science fiction convention. Addressing the San Francisco conference, Congressman George E. Brown said he had decided that L-5 members were "5 percent Democrat, 5 percent Republican, and 90 percent anarchist." This drew a rousing cheer. Certainly, liberty remains a powerful refrain. Jerry Pournelle ended his toast to the society in April 1984 with, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you freedom and the stars."
Many L-5 members have a high opinion of their society's role, seeing it as the cutting edge of space advocacy. "Most of the space movement is L-5," says Mark Hopkins. "It has 80 percent of the activists." The society certainly remains the radical wing of the pro-space movement. "L-5 is the credible far-out organization in the space field," says Jerry Pournelle.
L-5 activists also believe that their organization has stretched the limits of the possible in the space field by making it easier for other groups to advocate bold space goals. "L-5 exists to make organizations like the National Space Institute look respectable," says Pournelle. At the first L-5 conference, he reportedly described L-5 as the communists and NSI as the social democrats. L-5 also pushes other groups to be more daring. "L-5 is the burr under the saddle of the space movement," observes James Oberg.
L-5's goals and style have been the subject of considerable criticism. The early L-5 was outside the political culture of existing pro-space activity, and its stridency was seen by many other pro-space people as counterproductive; it has taken years for the society to live down its early reputation.
Those who do not share the desire to live and work in space have been particularly critical. University of Oklahoma anthropologist Stephen I. Thompson has suggested somewhat mockingly that the followers of O'Neillism constitute a revitalization movement (those in the past commonly have had a religious character) and that O'Neill is its "prophet." However, many L-5 members would not object to the definition of a revitalization movement used by Thompson: "deliberate, conscious effort(s) by members of a society to construct a more satisfying culture." Sandra Adamson, a student of anthropology, believes that what L-5 is doing will result in the most radical change in social structure humanity has ever seen.
One of L-5 's most striking achievements has been to bring together believers in the space idea who come from very divergent ideological and political backgrounds, at one time or another including as supporters individuals ranging from Timothy Leary to Senator Barry Goldwater. These differences in political origins were a major cause of the tensions sometimes visible within the organization. It is the shared commitment to space that allowed the alliance and gathering place known as the L-5 Society to survive.
In recent years, L-5 has become somewhat more respectable in style, with its lobbyists dressing in "straighter clothes," notes Sandra Adamson, who refers to "radicals in three-piece suits." But its original purposes have not been forgotten, only expressed differently. "The goal of L-5," says David Brandt-Erichsen, "is to bring space manufacturing from nonterrestrial materials to the point of economic payback." There are still more sweeping visions, more in the tradition of the early L-5. At the society's April 1984 conference, Pournelle told the receptive audience that the L-5 Society was "the advanced planning department of the human race," adding, "This bunch of 'kooks' and 'flakes' just might save the world."
The L-5 Society was not the only space advocacy organization stimulated by O'Neill, who was a significant factor in the launching of the new pro-space movement. Several of the groups included in L-5 's April 1976 listing of other space colonization organizations (all on the West Coast) give some of the flavor of early responses:
Most of these early organizations went out of business or remained small and local. But many other groups sprang up around the United States, and some achieved enough momentum to continue on despite the failed attempt to legislate the High Frontier into existence. Some became L-5 chapters; others have remained independent, in some cases because of disagreements with the L-5 leadership, a distaste for the early L-5 style, or a desire for autonomy. At one time, says Randall Clamons, there were "hundreds" of pro-space organizations that did not want to be L-5 chapters. This proliferation also reflected organizational entrepreneurship, the desire to found one's own group rather than be part of a larger organization.
One of the oldest of these other groups to survive was the Maryland Alliance for Space Colonization, which started in 1977 as an organization affiliated with L-5 at the University of Maryland, near NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. In the fall of 1978, Paul Werbos, Gary Barnhard, and Ray Hoover founded the MASC, which later changed its name to the Maryland Space Futures Association because they thought the term colonization reduced its credibility. (Werbos had been a co-founder, with Mark Hopkins, of the Harvard-Radcliffe Committee for a Space Economy.) The MSFA claims to be the oldest student pro-space organization in the United States and had about 800 members on its mailing list in 1984. Each year, it sponsors a Space Futures Day on campus, with lectures, films, and exhibits. As of 1984, it was completely independent of the L-5 Society.
A related phenomenon occurred in Boston, where Massachusetts Institute of Technology student Peter Diamandis was involved with L-5 in the late 1970s. Feeling that existing space groups did not fully satisfy the needs of the college audience, he founded Students for the Exploration and Development of Space in 1980. SEDS grew to be by far the largest pro-space student organization in the United States, mushrooming to about 120 chapters before the application of stricter criteria reduced the number to about 25. Since 1982, SEDS has held a conference each summer, at which it presents the Arthur C. Clarke award for space education. The group places particular emphasis on space careers and planned a space careers conference in Tucson for March 1985. In 1983, it became affiliated with the American Astronautical Society, and in 1984 it became the student auxiliary of the Space Studies Institute.
The U.S. chairman for SEDS in 1984, Todd Hawley, is a true child of the Space Age. He was born on April 13, 1961, the day after Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth. SEDS leaders Diamandis, Hawley, and Robert Richards, the founder of SEDS Canada, traveled to the UNISPACE conference in Vienna in 1982. There they became friends with Arthur C. Clarke, referring to him as "Uncle Arthur." Clarke has been quoted as saying, "It seems very appropriate that at this moment in time the cycle should begin again, so you [SEDS members] can regard yourselves as the reincarnations of Wernher [von Braun] and his colleagues."
Another example of the centrifugal/centripetal forces within the O'Neill family occurred among students at the University of Arizona in Tucson, home of the L-5 Society. Deciding that becoming an L-5 chapter would make them a little fish in a big ocean, they became the Students of Space and joined SEDS instead. In West Virginia, space enthusiast Cynthia Riedhead wanted to start a pro-space organization but did not want it to be just another L-5 chapter; the result was the Piedmont Advocacy for Space, still active in 1984.
At Niagara University in upstate New York, O'Neill's work inspired a Space Settlement Studies Project, begun in 1978. The project studies the societal and cultural aspects of human communities in extraterrestrial habitats and publishes a quarterly newsletter called Extraterrestrial Society. Co-directors Stewart B. Whitney and William R. McDaniel, both in the university's Department of Sociology, say their intention is to provide stimulation to students, sensitize space planners to the necessity for detailed social planning, provide a focal point for social science knowledge related to space utilization and humanization, and develop a cadre of scholars and scientists in this field.
In Chicago, the bright, aggressive young lawyer Gregg Maryniak founded the Chicago Society for Space Settlement in 1977. As the High Frontier idea suffered reverses, the name was changed to the Chicago Society for Space Studies. The CSSS, which had about 200 members in 1984, has monthly meetings, gives courses on space, and puts out a newsletter called Spacewatch. Maryniak himself became vice-president of Gerard O'Neill's Space Studies Institute.
In June 1978, southern California space enthusiast Terry Savage founded an L-5 chapter of about 30 people in Los Angeles, which became the Organization for the Advancement of Space Industrialization and Settlement (OASIS). Thomas Heppenheimer joined in 1979. OASIS, which grew steadily during the next few years, included conservative aerospace engineers who did not like the "flaky" L-5 style and distanced itself from the "mother" organization. Since then, changes in L-5' s leadership have encouraged OASIS to reinvolve itself, and it looked in 1984 as if it might combine with other L-5 members in southern California to become by far the largest L-5 chapter, with 1,200 to 1,500 members.
Two of the people who met through the social networking provided by OASIS were Howard Gluckman and Janelle Dykes, who later married. Howard remembers being interested in space since the 1961 launch of Mercury 3 when Alan Shepard became the first American to go into space. In 1976 he turned to the National Space Institute but found that it did not provide a way of getting involved. After reading The High Frontier, he joined L-5 instead and then OASIS. Janelle Dykes had her interest in space rekindled by reading Tom Wolfe's book The Right Stuff, but then found it "tough" to locate pro-space organizations. "They did not do good marketing," she says. Each of the Gluckmans went on to serve as president of OASIS, and Janelle applied her professional skills in designing L-5 's first major direct mail membership drive. Although they want to devote more time to their own careers and claim to be "burning out," the Gluckmans remain enthusiastic. As of 1984, they still were traveling to sites near Vandenberg Air Force Base on the California coast to watch space launches. "It's the pyromanic aspect," says Howard, only half facetiously. More seriously, he comments, "A lot of us want to go into space ourselves."