The Gravity Well does not look like a well when we consider it from our perspective here on Earth. It seems more like a wall than a well—or, rather, a mountain. This vertical peak has a few flat ledges and a few small valleys, all defined by gravitational forces. The flat places—Lagrangian points—are where the pull of bodies in space cancels each other out, allowing a spacecraft or base to remain stable relative to those bodies, without expending energy. The other side of the Gravity Well’s mountain comprises a downhill slope, this one less steep, leading to Mars.
As the planets circle the Sun, this terrain changes with their relative positions. Unlike terrain on Earth, space terrain is dynamic. But it works the same way as the terrain we know, with hills and even valleys.
This region within the Gravity Well and just beyond it consists of the most rugged frontier we have ever encountered. Rough, hostile, yet filled with riches: precious minerals; energy; water and other means to sustaining life; as well as future scientific discoveries.
This is the new New World, encompassing low Earth orbit, middle orbit, geosynchronous orbit, the Moon, Mars, and a number of potentially valuable asteroids. Low Earth orbit is the frontier equivalent of the American East in the 17th century, with a small but fast-growing economy. Gradually, the farther regions are being explored and “settled,” with public efforts—exploration, discovery, military efforts, and subsidization—gradually giving way to private investors and for-profit corporations.
The Gravity Well is where the next great economy will form, one with the potential eventually to dwarf the one on Earth. The people and nations who understand this best will be the ones who come to profit the most, in terms of the economy, technological prowess, and international leadership. America has a head start in technology and investment, but it has yet to meet its potential. We have other rivals—China, India, and Europe—who are eager to compete in this region.
We will conquer this frontier only if we recognize the third aspect of the Gravity Well. That’s in the next post.