We stopped at the Moon, because the Moon was our goal. In the next great era of space, we must not pull back after achieving a single step. For Americans to support the space program in a way that brings the benefits I’ve described, we must see the overall mission not as a Moon mission, or a Mars mission, or an asteroid mission—but as a mission to ascend the Gravity Well. It’s the space equivalent of the American West. We explore and we settle, and neither our setbacks nor—in the case of Apollo—our accomplishments can make us pull back.
The Gravity Well, in other words, presents a vision for our President, Congress, and other leaders to offer. We can share in that vision—and in the immediate benefits that come in the attempt. With each interim goal met, we gain the confidence to proceed still higher; because escaping the Well is our ultimate, most audacious goal.
Seeing the overall mission as one of conquering and then escaping the Gravity Well lets us focus also on the need to settle as well as explore. It is this connection that makes this investment so practically valuable for everyday citizens. After the scouts (the probes and astronauts) come the outposts (the human bases on a Lagrangian point, the Moon, and then Mars). Behind the outposts, entrepreneurs expand the transportation industry and high-tech manufacturing and even mining. As we rise within the Gravity Well, the economy—jobs, new products, and growth—follows. Private industry “settles” orbital space, then the flat terrain, and eventually the Moon, Mars, and the asteroids.
Each new achievement inspires young minds, wins the admiration of the world, and becomes a new baseline for growth. The beautiful thing about this perspective of the Gravity Well: the effort (technological, economic, and moral) reaps immediate benefits. The previous chapters defined them.
President Nixon had the right idea to weigh and prioritize our needs. The problem was, his calculus was dead wrong. From a system engineer’s perspective, few other national needs can be more important. Because of the value delivered, calculable and incalculable, the Gravity Well must be an American imperative. It represents the single most important program for our future.