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 8: The Space Group Boom
The boom in mass media science fiction and science fact occurred at about the same time as an extraordinary proliferation of pro-space groups, concentrated in the years from 1978 to 1982. Until the late 1970s, the older professional and industry groups — plus the National Space Institute and the L-5 Society — had the field largely to themselves. From 1977 through 1980, space interest groups were formed at an increasing rate all over the United States (Figure 0.1). This surge of group formation appears to have continued at a declining rate through 1984. These roughly simultaneous phenomena — the changing demography of pro-space attitudes, the rising interest in space-related science fiction and science fact, and the formation of pro-space groups — may be interrelated.
The phenomenon of citizens forming organizations to educate the public about the potential of space was noted by Georgetown University Associate Dean T. Stephen Cheston in testimony presented before the Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space in March 1977: "The important element here is that these citizen groups did not exist until very recently and they are growing. It is not unreasonable to expect that they will develop some political force."
The principal chronicler of this space group boom is science writer Trudy E. Bell, who first called attention to it in articles published in the fall of 1980 (a revised version, reaching a larger audience, appeared in Omni in February 1981). Using as her principal criteria nationwide activities or intentions (with the addition of a few of the most important local groups having widespread activities), Bell found that, as of May 1980, there were 39 American space interest groups (this later was raised to 42). If all local chapters and independent local groups had been included, the number would have risen to about 100. Adding on other groups with a positive attitude toward space, such as professional and amateur astronomical societies, science fiction clubs, and certain technical societies, would have brought the number of pro-space or space-sympathetic organizations to about 500. Thus Bell's list of 39 represented the bare minimum of organized space interest.
Dividing the 39 primary space interest groups into two main categories, Bell found that citizens support groups had about 40,500 members as of May 1980 (later revised to 33,800), and that trade/professional groups had about 39,500 (later revised to 47,000). This gave an initial total of 80,000 members, later revised to 80,800. The citizens support groups had an estimated total budget of over $4 million (the figure for trade and professional groups, about $10 million, is far too low because the Aerospace Industries Association declined to reveal its budget). Bell noted that the citizens groups' budgets did not include the value of volunteer labor and access to borrowed or donated equipment.
As a measure of geographic distribution, Bell used the locations of group headquarters. One third were based in Washington, D.C., and another third in California; the rest were scattered across the United States. Washington, D.C., with four of the seven trade/professional groups, had been a home for space interest groups for many years. California, by contrast, emerged as a center for pro-space citizens activist groups only after 1977.
Bell did a second survey in 1982 (it was to have been published in the second volume of the Space Humanization Series put out by the Institute for the Social Science Study of Space, but had not appeared as of 1985). She found that the number of space interest groups with nationwide activities or intentions had increased to 50. Ten of the groups listed in 1980 had disappeared; 4 merged with others, 2 became defunct, and 4 could not be traced. Bell noted that most of the citizen support groups which had grown to have some influence were two to seven years old, suggesting some stability.
As of July 1982, the aggregate membership of these space interest groups had risen to just under 250,000. While trade and professional groups had grown by a respectable 15 percent, citizens groups had quadrupled in total size. The Planetary Society, which then had about 120,000 members, accounted for fully half of what Bell called "the formal space constituency." Other large groups were the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the National Space Institute, the L-5 Society, and the Space Studies Institute. Allowing for overlapping membership, Bell estimated that between 150,000 and 200,000 people belonged to space interest groups in mid-1982. The number of people with a strong interest in space almost certainly is much larger, since formal memberships normally are only the tip of an interest iceberg. Subsequently, the numbers rose further, primarily because of the growth of the new American Space Foundation, which claimed 22,000 members in the spring of 1984.
Budgets had risen also, to an aggregate total of more than $23 million. This does not include the Aerospace Industries Association or the World Space Foundation, which declined to provide figures. Again, Bell pointed out that a number of active and influential groups, such as Spaceweek Inc. and the Chicago Society for Space Studies, had formal budgets that were deceptively low because they did not necessarily reflect the value of donated services, volunteer labor, or access to facilities such as photocopy machines. Conversely, some of the newly formed groups appeared to be projecting unrealistically high budget figures.
One of the most striking features of this surge of space interest group formation is the variety in purpose and function of the new organizations. Although the National Space Institute had been a generalized space interest organization, many of the new groups were specialized. In her 1980 study, Bell divided space interest groups into four types by primary objective:
Groups in the first category, in Bell's view, function much like typical astronomical societies with meetings, lectures, and other public events to promote awareness of space. The last three types of space interest groups, which aim to turn awareness into action, were virtually all under three years old in 1980. It is this turn toward building hardware, funding research, and lobbying that made the new pro-space "movement" different from existing space interest groups. Nathan C. Goldman and Michael Fulda have noted that the advent of more purposive groups may have limited the future for such a generalized group as the National Space Institute.
In her 1982 study, Bell noted the advantages of a typology suggested by veteran space activist Stan Kent. According to Bell, Kent sees space groups divided into three "arms" of the space movement: (1) the talking arm, (2) the doing arm, and (3) the political arm.
All categorizations encounter the problem of multipurpose groups. For example, the Planetary Society is largely educational but also funds research. Bell's category "educating and informing the public" and Kent's "talking arm" include a wide variety of activities. I will use the following categories:
In the sections below, only the most significant organizations are described. A more complete list is in Appendix A.
Educational and Mixed Purpose
The educational and mixed purpose group includes some already discussed, such as the National Space Institute and the L-5 Society, and some which will be discussed under other headings, notably the Planetary Society. Other important or interesting examples are discussed below:
Hypatia Cluster (1981)
One of the criticisms sometimes directed at the pro-space movement is that it is largely a male enterprise, generally shunned by women. After the first flight of the Space Shuttle, Amy Marsh and Marita Dorenbecher founded the Hypatia Cluster in San Francisco in May 1981 to motivate other women to participate in space science and to support space exploration, with the hope of getting more women into policy-making positions in the space field. According to Hypatia activist Mickey Farrance, a systems engineer with Lockheed Corporation, the name was inspired by Carl Sagan's treatment in "Cosmos" of the famous female scholar Hypatia, who directed the great library at Alexandria, Egypt. Sagan reportedly included this material at the urging of his wife, Anne Druyan, who is a member of the Hypatia Cluster's Board of Advisers. Other board members include science writer Richard Hoagland, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Stan Kent, space arms control activist Carol Rosin, and veteran space activist David C. Webb. More of a network than a formal organization, Hypatia conducts courses and workshops and encourages young people to prepare for space careers.
Spaceweek Inc. (1980)
One of the most interesting and successful of the grass-roots space interest organizations, Spaceweek grew out of a 1979 effort in Houston to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the first Moon landing. (David C. Koch, who played a major role in starting Spaceweek, went on to found the American Society of Aerospace Pilots in 1981.) Not a membership organization, Spaceweek provides guidance and information kits to other groups organizing events in July of each year to celebrate space achievements. Spaceweek programs, organized by unpaid volunteers, spread from two cities in 1980 to 100 cities in 1983. The local committees that organize Spaceweek programs often are composed of members of the L-5 Society, AIAA, and other pro-space groups, who work together to present lectures, exhibits, and films, and to get materials into the media. Spaceweek headquarters in Houston, which operates on a shoestring budget, gives local committees virtually complete autonomy, much in keeping with the ethos of the new space movement. Spaceweek President Dennis Stone, a pleasant, articulate young engineer who moved from Ford Aerospace in Houston to NASA's Johnson Space Center in 1983 to work on Space Shuttle payload integration, is the linchpin of the operation.
Economic Interest Groups
The Aerospace Industries Association and the GEOSAT Committee already have been described. One organization in this category that emerged during the space interest group boom was the Sunsat Energy Council (1978), founded by Peter Glaser and others to support the solar power satellite concept and to foster research into that idea. Sunsat began to publish Space Solar Power Review and Space Solar Power Bulletin but appears to have been inactive since funding for further satellite solar power station studies was defeated in Congress in 1980.
The nonprofit interests category exists essentially because the Public Service Satellite Consortium, described in Chapter 2, does not fit in any of the others. Made up of a number of nonprofit member organizations, the PSSC is not a typical economic interest group nor a typical educational organization.
We already have looked at the older professional organizations in the aerospace field: the AIAA, the American Astronautical Society, the Aerospace Education Association, The Aviation/Space Writers Association, and the IEEE's Aerospace and Electronic Systems Society. The early 1980s saw the creation of two others of interest.
American Society of Aerospace Pilots (1981)
The American Society of Aerospace Pilots (ASAP) seeks to train civilian pilots and other personnel to operate the Space Shuttle when it is commercialized and to accelerate the coming of routine commercial space operations. In the mid-1970s, United Airlines pilot David C. Koch pursued his interest in spaceflight to the Johnson Space Center, where he learned a great deal about shuttle operations and tried his hand at flying the Space Shuttle simulator. Convinced that space-based businesses would create an astronomical demand for space transportation, he persuaded his peers in the Air Line Pilots Association to form a committee to look into the possibility of flying commercial space shuttles. In September 1981, less than five months after the first flight of the Shuttle, Koch and nine other United Airlines pilots formed the ASAP, which grew to include over 200 United pilots. In 1982, ASAP was reorganized to allow non-United pilots and nonpilots to join, and it later created a Pilot Division, a Spacecraft Crewmember Division, a Spaceline Operations Division, a Space Station Operations Division, and a Youth Division. By 1984, the group had over 1,000 members, 400 of them professional pilots. In that year, ASAP moved from a Chicago suburb to Grants Pass, Oregon, where it planned to create an entrepreneurial enclave including condominiums, an airstrip, and recreational and seminar facilities (an "Oregon trail to the stars," writes Koch). There ASAP is setting up the first private spaceflight ground school. Twenty-one high school students participated in ASAP's first Youth Aviation and Space Camp at the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls, Oregon, in 1984. In tune with the new space movement, ASAP is dedicated to creating opportunities for its members to participate personally in routine commercial space operations and to helping to create the proper environment for participation in space operations by the broadest possible segment of society. Its literature is sprinkled with visionary rhetoric, and Koch's writings make clear that he accepts Gerard K. O'Neill's vision of unlimited growth through space colonization and the mining of extraterrestrial resources. "The challenge of conquering the virtually unlimited new lands in our solar system," he writes, "should test the capabilities of those of us who are seeking new adventures and provide all of us with new hope for the future." Elsewhere he writes, "The ultimate goal of ASAP is to prepare the pioneers who will settle the frontiers of space, and to launch those pioneers on the exodus from this planet that will sow the human seed throughout this solar system, our galaxy, and beyond." Picking up another strain of the new pro-space movement, Koch argues that "the American Free Enterprise System is being unleashed to bring the wealth of space home to us here in America."
Society of Satellite Professionals (1983)
Reflecting the growth and professionalization of the communications satellite industry, the SSP was put together during 1982 and 1983 to "provide an international forum to increase public awareness, stimulate public discussion, distribute educational materials, and encourage professional development in the satellite industry." Emphasizing professionalism, the SSP states that "it is in no way intended to be a trade association, a lobbying group, a technical standards-setting entity, or a labor or employee representation group." The SSP, which had about 300 members in mid-1984, is based in Washington, D.C., which a Washingtonian article called "the satellite capital of the world."
Several groups were founded in the late 1970s to provide alternatives to federal funding for space-related research. (Bell notes that funding research and development through contributions from citizens repeats the pattern of the 1840-60 American observatory-building movement.) Gerard O'Neill's Space Studies Institute is in part a funding organization for research. The other principal groups are discussed below.
California Space Institute (1979)
Growing out of discussions between University of California at San Diego space scientist James Arnold and Scripps Institute of Oceanography Director William Nierenberg, CalSpace was pushed through the California legislature in 1979 with the help of former astronaut Russell Schweickart, who had been an adivsor to Governor Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown. A statewide research unit of the University of California, CalSpace is headquartered in a white frame house idyllically located atop a seaside cliff in La Jolla, north of San Diego. The organization supports space research with an emphasis on practical applications. Its main areas of concentration are remote sensing, long-range weather forecasting, the production of energy and materials from space, and pure space science research, especially astrophysics. CalSpace, which received $900,000 from the State of California during its first full year of operation, provides "seed money" to university researchers for projects. As of 1984, the institute had three staff members who also do research themselves: (1) Director James Arnold, who is a long-time advocate of mining lunar and asteroidal resources; (2) "idea man" David Criswell, who has produced a wide variety of concepts for space industrialization; and (3) young, aggressive Executive Director Stewart Nozette. According to Nozette, CalSpace hopes to branch out into related scientific and technological fields, with an emphasis on those that will have an economic payoff. Nozette, who learned some of his lobbying techniques from Leigh Ratiner, comments that making the institute a part of the university gives it a legitimacy that some other organizations lack. CalSpace hosts conferences on space-related subjects, including one on low-cost approaches to space industrialization.
Delta Vee (1980)
In 1979, members of the San Francisco section of the American Astronautical Society launched a "Viking Fund," which raised over $100,000 to help keep going the flow of data from the Viking landers on Mars ("Feed a Starving Robot," said the advertisements). The first $60,000 was turned over to a somewhat bemused NASA in a public ceremony in January 1981. The leader of this effort was English-born space activist Stan Kent, who came to the United States to get involved with the space program. Kent formed Delta Vee (a term having to do with the amount of energy needed to change the trajectory of a spacecraft), an unusual form of corporation whose "stockholders" were its contributors. He and Van R. Kane launched a Halley Fund — an appeal to support a Halley's comet mission, which the Carter administration declined to approve. After Senator William Proxmire ended NASA funding for a radio search for extraterrestrial civilizations, Kent and Kane also launched an Extraterrestrial Connection Fund to help finance public and private radio searches. When the magazine Cosmic Search, the only American publication devoted to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, went out of business, Delta Vee started a successor magazine called Astro Search. That, too, has since folded. Delta Vee, based in northern California's "Silicon Valley" area, appeared to be inactive as of 1984.
The Space Foundation (1979)
The Space Foundation came out of an amalgamation of Texas oil and business people and space science academics at Texas universities. Among its founders were Houston real estate developer David Hannah, who started the private launch vehicle company Space Services Incorporated; Samuel Dunnam, an Austin businessman; and Arthur Dula, a Houston patent lawyer well-known for aggressively advocating space development led by private enterprise. The foundation was intended to fund research in commerical enterprises, with special emphasis on projects dealing with recoverable large-scale space resources of energy and materials. It is best known for its space industrialization fellowships to students for research and prizes for achievement. Among the recipients of the fellowships have been Stewart Nozette of CalSpace and three young Harvard MBAs who founded Orbital Systems Corporation (see Chapter 12). In addition, the foundation sponsors the Space Business Roundtable, a monthly luncheon for prominent residents of Houston featuring speakers on space subjects. Foundation activists also are involved in arranging conferences on doing business in space. One of them, the dynamic Nancy Wood, runs a networking and information exchange operation called the Space Applications Network. "In Houston, we have the nucleus of a major space business center," she says. "Where else in the nation do you have this kind of venture capital and risk-taking mentality?"
Do It Yourself
The do-it-yourself category, which consists of private, nonprofit organizations doing hands-on technological development or space-related research with private money, is representative of a strong ideological strain in the space movement, one that can be traced back to the experimenters of the 1920s and 1930s. These groups provide useful outlets for technically trained pro-space people, particularly younger ones, giving them a chance to participate. They also are a limited alternative to government programs, which are vulnerable to political changes and fiscal stress; they can do projects that probably would not get government funding or that had it and lost it. In 1983, most of these groups sent representatives to Cocoa Beach, Florida, for the first conference on Private Sector Space Research and Exploration and formed an Independent Space Research Projects Committee. In addition to the Space Studies Institute, described in Chapter 4, these groups include the following:
Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (1969)
The oldest of these groups, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (AMSAT) is an organization of radio amateurs ("hams") who design, build, and operate the series of satellites called OSCAR (Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio) for experimentation and message relay by radio amateurs and amateur scientists. The first satellite, OSCAR-1, was built in California workshops for $65 and piggy-backed into space on a military satellite launch in December 1961. The Californians formed a group called Project Oscar, which still exists on the West Coast. AMSAT, formed in the Washington, D.C., area as the East Coast analog of Project Oscar, has grown to 6,000 members. Although most are in North America, AMSAT is an international organization with chapters and affiliated groups around the world. Eleven satellites had been launched as of 1984. The OSCAR program is now in phase 3 (high Earth orbit) and is aiming for phase 4 (quasi-geosynchronous orbit).
Independent Space Research Group (1980)
In the latter part of 1979, three students at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, heard about the "Getaway Special" canisters in which private groups could send payloads into orbit on the Space Shuttle (former NASA official George Low was president of Rensselaer until his death in 1984). The students got the idea of building a six-inch diameter amateur astronomical telescope that could observe from space. After hearing about AMSAT, they expanded their horizons and founded the Independent Space Research Group (ISRG) as a membership organization in the spring of 1980, with the purpose of designing, constructing, and operating a series of increasingly advanced astronomical satellites for serious amateur astronomers, students, and professors. The group's main project is the Amateur Space Telescope, an 18-inch reflector that will orbit independently, perhaps as early as 1987. Although the ISRG wants to do real science, it hopes to design the system so that images can be picked up on home televison sets connected to amateur radio equipment, thereby widening participation. AMSAT is to help track the satellite. As of 1984, the ISRG had hundreds of members in more than 20 countries and was having work done by optical experts in Rochester, New York, as well as by students and faculty at Rensselaer. ISRG President Jesse Eichenlaub points out that such projects can be done very cheaply by using volunteer labor, donated equipment, and existing technology. The ISRG's Ronald Molz is the chairman of the Independent Space Research Projects Committee.
World Space Foundation (1979)
As long ago as 1975, young aerospace engineer Robert L. Staehle was hoping to establish a practical way for people to express their enthusiasm for space. He joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1977, the year NASA suspended research into solar sailing, an aesthetically attractive form of space propulsion in which spacecraft would be driven by the impact of energy from the sun on large, thin sails stretched before them. In January 1979, Staehle and some of his colleagues formed the World Space Foundation (WSF). Two months later, the WSF began working with a group at the University of Utah doing research on solar sailing. A half-scale model of a solar sail was displayed at the Planetary Society's "Planetfest" in Pasadena in August 1981, and a full-sized prototype was completed in WSF's Pasadena workshop in 1983. The group hopes to launch an engineering development model of the sail from the Space Shuttle or the European Space Agency's Ariane launcher in 1987 or 1988 and to someday use a sail to propel a mission to an asteroid. (A French group, following up on an idea in a story by Arthur C. Clarke, is advocating a solar sail race to the Moon.) The project received a boost when the Hughes Aircraft Company donated a rocket motor that will propel the sail from low Earth orbit to higher altitudes, where it will function more efficiently. The WSF, which received early help from the Charles A. Lindbergh Fund, collaborates on this project with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, AMSAT, the University of California, the Technical University of Munich, and the Popular Astronomy Society of Toulouse. The WSF, with the help of the Planetary Society, also supports a search by astronomer Eleanor Helin and her colleagues for asteroids that approach or cross the orbit of the Earth. That group already has discovered almost half the known near-Earth asteroids, which may be the most desirable sources of extraterrestrial materials for space industrialization. As of February 1984, the WSF had 40 to 50 volunteers, supported by a much larger but undisclosed number of subscribers. The group periodically publishes Foundation News and a series of papers intended to make up a Foundation Astronautics Notebook. Inspired by the 1984 poll that showed that 45 percent of Americans wanted to fly in the Space Shuttle, the WSF launched its "I want to GO" slogan and planned to publish a book entitled Why America Wants to Fly the Shuttle.
One of the features that distinguishes the new space movement from its predecessors is the formation of organizations explicitly intended to lobby for space or to exert related influences in the political arena (for example, through political action committees). Some groups, notably the L-5 Society and small, temporary operations like the National Action Committee for Space, had engaged in lobbying in the late 1970s. Beginning in 1980, politically oriented groups suddenly began to sprout. These included Campaign for Space (1980), Spacepac (1982), and the American Space Foundation (1982). A related phenomenon was the formation of the Congressional Staff Space Group and the Congressional Space Caucus in 1981. These political arms of the pro-space movement will be examined in Chapter 9.
Space Defense/Space Arms Control
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, groups began to be formed to advocate space-related defense concepts (for example, High Frontier and its political arm, the American Space Frontier Committee), to oppose such concepts (for example, the Progressive Space Forum, the Institute for Space and Security Studies, and the Institute for Security and Cooperation in Outer Space), or to advocate a new space-based world security system (War Control Planners, Strategic Arms Control Organization). These groups will be described in Chapter 11.
Other Special Interest Groups
This catch-all category includes some small, highly specialized interest groups with a space-related theme. Examples are Save the Apollo Launch Tower, a conservation-minded group that wants to preserve the rusting structure from which the Moon landing missions were launched, and the International Society of Space Philatelists, a stamp-collectors group.
One of the most striking things about the post-1977 proliferation of space interest groups is that it was concentrated heavily in one state — California. Most of the California groups were small and local and could be described as grass-roots organizations; while a few proved to be durable and even significant, many turned out to be ephemeral. In order of founding, those included on Bell's 1980 and 1982 lists were as follows:
This was not all. There were earlier groups that had gone out of existence by 1980. There were small private companies started by space enthusiasts (see Chapter 11). And there was the publication Space Age Review, based in San Jose and founded by peace activist Steve Durst. Although that publication folded, the Space Age Review Foundation survived and started the useful publication Space Calendar, which was still in business in 1985.
Of the California groups on Bell's lists, nine were in the San Francisco Bay-Silicon Valley area, seven were in Los Angeles, two were in San Diego, and one was in Santa Barbara. The combination of aerospace industry activity and concentrations of educated, technology-oriented young people appears to have provided fertile ground for space group formation. Jim Heaphy, leader of the Progressive Space Forum, observes that in 1979 one could joke about "the space group of the week" in California.
One key element in the California space group boom may have been the enthusiasm of California Governor Edmund "Jerry" Brown, who appears to have been "converted" at least partly through the efforts of Coevolution Quarterly publisher Stewart Brand and ex-astronaut Russell Schweickart, both of whom were advisers or consultants to the governor at one time. Brown was the principal speaker at an August 11, 1977 convocation in Los Angeles known as "Space Day," which was attended by aerospace executives, media people, and space enthusiasts. Organized by Schweickart, the meeting was cosponsored by the state and the aerospace industry. (New Times magazine reported that Rockwell International Corporation, prime contractor for the Space Shuttle, paid the bill.) Space Day was held the day before the first Space Shuttle "drop test," when the orbiter was released from its Boeing 747 carrier to glide to a landing in the California desert.
Brown became the first major political figure to offer a national vision of space adventure since Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. This occurred at a time when the Carter administration seemed determined to cut space spending, including the Shuttle program (Brown, of course, had been a rival to Carter for the 1976 Democratic Presidential nomination). Although it is not clear that his space advocacy did him much good politically (critics called him "Governor Moonbeam"), Brown did enunciate some of the themes of the new space movement, particularly that part of it inspired by Gerard O'Neill:
Space Day was followed up by Space Day Two, organized in the San Francisco Bay area in April 1978 by the "April Coalition," which, according to a February 1978 press release, was to bring together the following constituencies: "non-nukers," "human rightists," "radical ecologists," and "spacers." Pro-space groups in the April Coalition later formed the Futurian Alliance. One of the organizations involved in creating this coalition was United For Our Expanding Space Programs (UFOESP), noted in Chapter 5. Some of the groups had a leftist flavor, and Heaphy recalls that the annual Space Days became "classic counterculture rallies." By 1980, Space Day drew 2,000 to 3,000 people in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.
The April Coalition/Futurian Alliance represented, in space activist Tim Kyger's words, one "tree" of organized space activism in the bay area. (Kyger, a space enthusiast and science fiction reader whose father was in the Air Force, had come to the bay area in 1979 from Arizona.) The other was the L-5 "tree," beginning with the L-5 Society chapter organized at the University of California at Berkeley in 1977 by David Brandt-Erichsen and others. Other L-5 Society chapters were formed, moved, merged, died, and reborn and interacted with the other organizational "tree." After 1980, says Kyger, the groups in the bay area began to drift apart, but many of the individuals involved showed up at the L-5 Society's convention in San Francisco in April 1984.
Meanwhile, space enthusiast Joseph "Jay" Miller, leader of the San Francisco Space Frontier Society (a former L-5 chapter), had launched an unsuccessful campaign for a California Astronautics and Space Administration. L-5 Society and related groups also sought the establishment of a space museum in Los Angeles. After the election of Ronald Reagan, several bay area space groups met in San Jose in January 1981 to draft a joint statement on space policy, but the result was a bland compromise. The groups also failed to form a coalition that could join the National Coordinating Committee for Space as one organization. In 1983, space activists scored a success when the California legislature passed a joint resolution, pushed by State Senator Art Torres and his aide Jay Miller, urging the President to initiate a manned space station.
Most of the new pro-space groups were small. Of the citizens groups, only these claimed memberships of a thousand or more in Bell's surveys:
Since Bell's 1982 research, the political action-oriented American Space Foundation, described in the next chapter, has joined these groups with a claimed membership in early 1984 of 22,000. However, most citizens groups numbered in the hundreds or less, and some were little more than mailing lists; some groups had contributors rather than members.
By contrast, the professional groups surveyed by Bell tended to be fewer and older. Here are those with memberships of a thousand or more:
During 1979, several people saw a need to try to bring pro-space groups into a coalition to allow the "movement" to speak with one voice and to make it more effective politically. The most important experiment in cooperation began that year when leading figures of the AIAA, the American Astronautical Society, the National Space Institute, the L-5 Society, Campaign for Space, and other organizations started getting together informally under the name Ad Hoc Coordinating Committee on Space. Among the individuals active in trying to bring the groups together were Jerry Grey of the AIAA, Ben Bova, then with Omni, and space activist and organizational entrepreneur David Webb. This Ad Hoc Committee evolved into the National Coordinating Committee for Space (NCCS). Meanwhile, political scientist Michael Fulda, who had been active in getting a space plank into John Anderson's 1980 Presidential campaign platform, unsuccessfully proposed a national conference on space advocacy, with Webb's support.
Although that conference never took place, the NCCS held its first formal meeting in Washington, D.C., on June 17, 1981, two months after the first flight of the Space Shuttle. As of August 7, 1981, the NCCS Steering Committee consisted of National Space Institute Executive Director Mark R. Chartrand III, Planetary Society Executive Director Louis D. Friedman, AIAA Public Policy Administrator Jerry Grey, American Astronautical Society President Charles Sheffield, and David Webb of Campaign for Space. (Notably absent from this list was the L-5 Society.) The National Space Institute agreed to act as the secretariat for the NCCS. Membership criteria and procedures of operation were established. Meetings were to be held at quarterly intervals.
The member groups of the NCCS took their first major collective action after an important gathering of space enthusiasts in Pasadena, California, in August 1981. Called "Planetfest," the event was sponsored by the Planetary Society. By the next month, representatives of 30 space interest groups had agreed on the text of a letter to President Reagan on future directions for national space policy. The consensus that they reached included the following elements:
This statement was very general, reflecting the diverse interests represented in the NCCS. The document avoided endorsing specific hardware projects, saying only that NASA funding "should allow for a more vigorous pursuit of high orbital capabilities, astrophysics, planetary science, materials processing, biomedical research, robotics, and technology for both manned and unmanned missions." This gave something to each of the major sectors of the pro-space community, notably the space developers and the space scientists. However, Victor Reis, then handling space policy issues for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, believes that the statement had no effect on national space policy.
According to Bell, the NCCS grew to include 33 member groups, including more than two thirds of those in her 1980 directory. However, momentum was lost over the next year; the NCCS met with decreasing frequency for the rest of 1981 and 1982 and produced few agreed statements. By the time of Bell's 1982 survey, membership had declined to about 18 groups. After November 1982, the NCCS did not meet again for a full year.
The NCCS was revived at a meeting in Washington, D.C., in November 1983, attended by representatives of 18 groups. There was considerable discussion of a possible new space initiative by the Reagan administration, but no agreement was reached as to what that should be. As Chartrand was leaving his post as NSI executive director, he was replaced as NCCS chairman by David Webb, who seemed more inclined to use the NCCS as a vehicle for statements on space policy. Under Webb's leadership, NCCS participants in Washington met over the next few months to develop a stance toward the expected Reagan administration space station initiative, discussed in Chapter 13. By mid-1984, with the first year of space station funding approved by the Congress and Webb working on a study related to space commercialization, the organization once again seemed inactive.
In her 1982 paper, Bell commented that, in attempting to be a unified voice representing all the interests of its member groups, the NCCS "found itself trying to mediate between the necessity of forcing priorities for the citizen-support space community as a whole, and the individual and sometimes divergent administrative agenda (and, in some cases, egoism) of each group as a part." These were among the reasons that the NCCS never was politically effective.
The Space Coalition
After their early 1980 tour seeking funds for the L-5 Society, lawyer-lobbyist Leigh Ratiner and L-5 President Gerald W. Driggers saw the need for a different mechanism. Driggers recalls that his concept was to pull the aerospace community together behind some objective. Seeing many pro-space groups with slightly different objectives, Driggers wanted to form some kind of federation.
Ratiner came up with the idea of an alliance of citizens groups and aerospace companies, which he called the Space Coalition. This new organization would have the specific function of lobbying for space. Initially, it was to be associated with the L-5 Society. According to one of its own documents, the Space Coalition
Ratiner believed that the initial focus of the Space Coalition should be a manned space station, a position that agreed with that which Driggers had taken after he became president of the L-5 Society at the end of 1979. If the space station effort proved to be successful, the organization would come back with a larger agenda. It was hoped that the coalition would get support from other citizens groups in addition to the L-5 Society.
Driggers, seeing the coalition as a bridge as well as a lobbying arm, seemed more interested in bringing pro-space forces into alliance. Seeking to persuade NSI President Hugh Downs of the virtues of the new organization, he wrote the following:
Clearly, this went well beyond a coordinating committee like the NCCS. The goal was a large, pro-space organization explicitly oriented toward influencing public policy. As Driggers explained in an article in the July 1980 L-5 News, "The L-5 Society cannot, within the legal limits of its tax-exempt status, meet this need." He concluded his plea with a certain note of desperation by writing the following:
Seeking support for their idea, Ratiner and Driggers visited a number of aerospace companies during the period April to June 1980. However, the response was skeptical. According to Ratiner, company executives were afraid that a new space program would be pulled out from under them again. With the help of Northrup Chairman (and former NASA Administrator) Thomas O. Paine, Ratiner and Driggers did manage to attract modest donations from four companies but never were able to put together a "critical mass."
The Space Coalition was formally incorporated in June 1980. Trying to bring aboard other pro-space citizens groups, Ratiner and Driggers concentrated their efforts on the National Space Institute, having discussions with former NASA Administrator James Fletcher and others. Barbara Marx Hubbard tried to help through social functions at Greystone. However, says Ratiner, "we couldn't make it happen."
Meanwhile, Ratiner had been approached by New York businessman Robert E. Salisbury, who wanted to play a role in the pro-space cause. Salisbury and Hubbard provided funds that allowed Driggers to move to Washington for the summer of 1980 to work full-time out of Ratiner's office, promoting the coalition. Salisbury was elected chairman of the Space Coalition in December 1980, with Driggers as president. The other two initial directors of the coalition were G. Harry Stine and ex-astronaut Philip K. Chapman, who later became president of the L-5 Society. Meanwhile, a gap was growing between the coalition and some L-5 board members who did not support the new venture or who wanted more L-5 control. Driggers became increasingly disillusioned.
Salisbury and Ratiner attended some of the early meetings of the Ad Hoc Coordinating Committee. Ratiner says he told the committee that the space movement needed one organization with 100,000 members and a lobbying arm and explained his Space Coalition proposal. However, Ratiner and his ideas were greeted coolly by the representatives of other space interest groups, some of whom suspected a takeover bid or saw Ratiner as a "hired gun."
Seeing that this was not "coming together," Ratiner said the Space Coalition would go ahead on its own and offered to have it serve as the lobbying arm for a loose coalition of space organizations. Nothing came of this.
As of April 1981, the Space Coalition was describing itself as "a not-for-profit advocate for accelerated systematic space development." Its board of directors by then consisted of Professor James R. Arnold of the University of California at San Diego; Philip K. Chapman of Arthur D. Little, Inc.; Gerald W. Driggers and Marne A. Dubs of the Kennecott Corporation; Thomas 0. Paine, Robert E. Salisbury, and G. Harry Stine. However, the Space Coalition never went any farther as an effective organization. Driggers and Ratiner dropped out, as did Salisbury later.
Between his work on the Moon treaty and his efforts on behalf of the Space Coalition, Ratiner had put considerable time and effort into pro-space activity, at no small cost to his earnings ("I have put more of my personal money into the space movement than anyone," he says). In the end, he concluded that there was no critical mass of serious people interested in space, and no real space movement.
At the end of 1984, there was yet another effort to bring the pro-space community together. Under the auspices of the Aerospace Education Association, Brian T. O'Leary invited addressees of a direct mailing campaign to join the National Space Council, which was to speak for the entire space community and to publish the Space Newsletter. As of this writing, it is too early to tell whether or not this effort will share the fate of the NCCS and the Space Coalition.
There have been other, more modest efforts toward merger or improved coordination. Bell noted that the World Space Federation and United for Space (both small, rather weak groups) merged into the L-5 Society and that Citizens of Space merged into OASIS. Several campus-based groups became chapters of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. There also were plans for creating pools of resources, such as mailing lists, visual aids, and bibliographies. Two thirds of the organizations responding to Bell's 1982 queries reported that they had cooperated with other space groups in some kind of joint project. One of the most positive examples was the sharing of mailing lists for specific lobbying campaigns, notably that conducted for the space station in late 1983 and early 1984. Leaders of the National Space Institute and the L-5 Society discussed the possibility of merger during 1984 and 1985.
Clearly, the diverse interests involved in pro-space activity have found it difficult to coordinate their efforts, much less to merge. Catalyzing events, such as a threat to the space program, the arrival of a new administration, or the prospect of a major new space project, brought them into temporary cooperation, but the generalized desire to do something has proved inadequate to maintain effective coordination. In striving for consensus positions, the space advocacy has risked losing the support of one or more organizations.
The most fundamental problem is divergent interests. Space is a macro-concept arching over many fields of activity and is an umbrella for very diverse user communities. Although they all favor increased activity in space, the citizens groups often have different agendas for action. One of the most basic divisions (which is as old as the space program) is between those who support manned spaceflight and space "development" and those who give first priority to unmanned applications and scientific exploration. Among the pro-space groups, this is reflected in the policy differences between the Planetary Society and most of the other groups. It is no surprise that the space "movement" often appears to be in disarray. "The fewer the purposes of the organization," observes John Kenneth Galbraith, "the greater its internal discipline will be."
Another problem might be called organizational jealousy or rivalry among organizational entrepreneurs. The newness, small size, and fragility of many pro-space groups appear to make them wary of each other. In addition, space activist James Logan has written that "space enthusiasts, I have found, have a very developed sense of territory." Group leaders sometimes worry about inroads on their potential memberships by other groups, as if mobilizing the pro-space community were a zero-sum game. National Space Institute Executive Director Mark Chartrand, criticizing the then new American Space Foundation, once wrote
Interorganizational frictions have been heightened by personality conflicts and differences in operating style. The activists of the early L-5 Society in particular sometimes grated on people in older organizations. Conflicts between technological utopians and pragmatic engineers or critical scientists remain a familiar story to observers of pro-space organizations. These factors are sometimes intensified by the fact that many pro-space organizations revolve around a small nucleus of activists, in some cases one person.
Citizens groups in general often depend on volunteers who are motivated by "psychic rewards," not only by dedication to a cause, but also by a desire for recognition. One may need a stronger than average ego drive to persevere as an unpaid leader of a citizens activist group. One analysis of earlier American protest movements may add another dimension in suggesting that personal power was a significant motivation for many of their leaders.
So it is with space. "There are more egos per square inch in the space movement than anywhere else I know," says veteran space activist Charles Chafer. This common phenomenon may be intensified in the pro-space movement because of the transcendental element in the pro-space cause. There is a hint of immortal reputation in being visibly associated with developments of historic significance and open-ended promise.
Leading the Coalition
Several people have aspired to lead the modern American pro-space movement at one time or another, and there have been suggestions that the right individual could have brought it together. The names usually put forward are Wernher von Braun, whose background was controversial and who died before the pro-space phenomenon really blossomed; Gerard K. O'Neill, who many believe did not have the political skills required; and Carl Sagan, whose liberal political stance alienates him from many pro-space people and whose criticisms of the manned space program have not endeared him to groups such as the L-5 Society. As for organizations, the National Space Institute, the L-5 Society, and later the Planetary Society each may have had the chance to become the nexus of a pro-space movement, but none succeeded. Pro-space citizens groups have not coordinated successfully with other parts of the space interest constituency, such as the Aerospace Industries Association. The pro-space community remains without a joint organization, a single dominant leader, or a universally agreed platform.
This is not necessarily fatal. The environmental movement, which has provided a model for the pro-space movement despite its much greater size, never coalesced into a single organization under a single leader. Its separate groups have been able to focus most of the time on separate agendas, occasionally forming tactical coalitions to deal with major questions. As of 1984, pro-space groups seemed to have a long way to go in learning coalition politics. This has reduced their impact in the political field.