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forward the foundation

 by Alex Burns (alex@...)

 In the early 1950s, the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov wrote the
 Foundation trilogy, a landmark portrayal of a futuristic pan-Galactic
 Empire. Inspired by Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman
 Empire (1776-88), Asimov's stories featured his alter ego, the
 scientist Hari Seldon, a Platonic 'Philosopher-King' who battled a
 corrupt and unsympathetic bureaucracy to collate socio-political and
 cultural data in an attempt to save civilization from a new Dark Ages.

 Seldon's Quest had mythical resonances for author Marshall Savage.
 Since writing The Millennial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight
 Easy Steps in 1992, Savage, a graduate of the University of Southern
 California, has been at the forefront of a growing movement attempting
 to overcome the conceptual gridlock crippling the United States space
 program since the Apollo moon landings ended.

 For Savage, the writer turned space advocate, the Dark Ages facing
 humanity is a world afflicted by 'limits to growth' problems like
 exponential population increases, world food shortages and the need
 for non-polluting energy sources.

 His vision of 'Homo Prometheus' highlights humanity's unique capacity
 to 'generate futures' by free choice and force of will; recalling
 Friedrich Nietzsche's description of the mind's "ability to build new
 horizons for itself beyond mere recombinations of the known."

 In a remark that takes zoologist Richard Dawkin's controversial
 'selfish gene' to its extremes, Savage declares, "We live in the most
 mythical of Ages and often fail to appreciate that we are the 'Genesis
 Effect' incarnate. It is our Destiny to colonize space."

 This imagery recalls the cosmology invoked by the Peenemunde V-2 test
 site expatriate Wernher von Braun and the early Russian rocket
 scientist Tsiolovsky.

 In short, Marshall Savage is a worthy candidate for a modern Hari Seldon.

 The first step in his quest for space colonization was launched in
 1987 when Savage created the non-profit Living Universe Foundation
 (formerly called the First Millennial Foundation) based in Rifle,
 Colorado. A dedicated team established a fledgling World Wide Web
 colony to propagate its memes. Many had been dormant since the mid
 1970s when Gerard K. O'Neill co-founded the legendary L5 Society and
 wrote the book The High Frontier (1977) which rapidly established
 space migration as a new public fad. O'Neill testified to US Congress
 in January 1976, later pitching his space station designs to an
 indifferent corporate America. By late 1977 the public was reading
 Whole Earth Review publisher Stewart Brand's book Space Colonies,
 listening to Timothy Leary's 'Space Migration' lectures, and watching
 George Lucas' film Star Wars. Fantasy had replaced pragmatic idealism
 in the rush to storm the Heavens.

 While Savage's model represents the Age of Aquarius' optimism at its
 peak, it is also "the first 'post-environmentalist consciousness' stab
 at this problem," according to Creon Levit, a scientist with the
 Numerical Aerodynamics Simulation Division at NASA's Ames Research Center.

 "It's not just space colonization for its own sake, but it's an
 integrated plan of space colonization and 'save the planet' type
 activities," he says. "Most importantly there is a path � a 'bootstrap
 process' � to get there that seems like it might actually happen.

 "The problems with the proposals that came out in the late 1970s and
 early 1980s were that they all required massive amounts of spending by
 the industrialized countries in order to get space colonization off
 the ground. O'Neill and Leary wanted massive chemical rocket launchers
 to build it, and solar powered satellites were really the only thing
 that they could come up with to get the thing boot-strapped. That
 required such a huge investment. They were talking hundreds of
 billions to get started, whereas the Millennial Project is talking
 about less than $100 million.

 "Savage's plan has dropped the start-up cost by three or more orders
 of magnitude. In contrast to O'Neill or Leary, the first couple of
 phases occur on Earth. The second stage � a prototype self-sufficient
 sea colony named Aquarius Rising, is probably the most exciting stage
 of the whole scenario. If we can get that to work, I'm happy, and
 space colonization is just one of the things that we can accomplish in
 the future as a result."

 Savage initially conceived a theme park concept for Aquarius Rising
 based at St Croix in the US Virgin Islands. "There were many tourist
 elements to that development, in order to generate enough economic
 voltage to carry the rest of the project," Savage explains, "but our
 chance to purchase an option on a 580 acre piece of land fell through
 when someone else bought it for cash. Now we're doing site evaluations
 looking at a more focused project that doesn't need so many of the
 tourist amenities to carry the economics, and the Grand Cayman Islands
 is the prime candidate for that project now."

 "This project is basically just the prototype sea colony for about 100
 people, floating in a sheltered lagoon, powered by a two and a half
 mega-watt Ocean Thermal Energy Converter (OTEC); in the US$50-70
 million range, as opposed to the US$200-250 million range for the
 larger scale project at St Croix."

 "We really need a viable place to start this 'real world' project; the
 trick is, it's got to stand on it's own legs economically. There is no
 subsidy available, so the economic engine has to turn from the
 beginning bell."

 LUF Core member Jack Reynolds revealed that "the Cayman Islands
 imports 95 per cent of its food annually from the US, costing $300
 million. International trade prospects in the region make this option

 "We have a tremendous amount of work that has to be done, in order to
 paint a pretty clear picture for financiers when you're talking about
 money at this kind of magnitude," reveals Savage. "Many details � both
 mechanic and economic � have to be worked out to show exactly how that
 project would unfold. It would certainly have to be a phased project
 where you do certain things first, and then as it gathers economic
 momentum you do others."

 "There are other options," Levit suggests. "If the organization were
 to get big enough, and have some medium level of numbers in the tens
 of thousands, there might be a possibility of at least partially
 self-funding it. There are numerous possibilities, but the initial
 plan of building a techno/eco/tourist resort/research station
 prototype is brilliant!"

 Reynolds remarks that the Cayman Islands site was selected partly
 because "its 'deep cold water currents' allow us to use OTEC
 technology efficiently, the core around which the colony will be
 built. It is possible to use currently available 'off the shelf'
 components in building an initial OTEC seed ship, using a closed cycle

 Synergistic spinoffs from OTECs hold the key to the colony's economic
 prosperity and controllable environmental impact. "These potentially
 include fresh water production, cold storage and air conditioning,
 cold-bed horticulture, hydroponics and large scale mariculture,"
 Reynolds suggests.

 "An OTEC can support mariculture at the rate of about $200,000 per
 acre of gross productivity, which is many times what you can achieve
 on the land," reveals Savage.

 "Once construction begins at the Aquarius Rising site, this will be
 the turning point � the whole project shifts into second gear," Levit
 asserts. "The ocean colonization angle is what makes it feasible,"
 agrees Savage.

 "Ultimately you have these components and you blow that prototype
 floating community up to about one thousand people, scale up your
 OTECs and power production to about ten mega-watts, and be doing
 several hundred to several thousand acres of intensive mariculture at
 that point, but that takes some getting up to."

 The LUF plans to have a basic prototype established by 2004 in the
 Maldives, to confront and deal with resulting socio-political
 challenges such as political sovereignty, trade, and defence by 2008,
 and to begin construction of a large-scale Aquarius Rising by 2010,
 due for completion in 2016.

 "Unlike the modern megalopolis which is a primitive macro-organism,
 Aquarius Rising solves the predatory 'zero sum' resource cycle by
 evolving into a cybergenesis organism; moving urban planning from the
 level of a slime mould to a lotus flower," Savage declares.

 Directly confronting doomsayers like The Club of Rome, Savage remarks,
 "They're clearly right that we've got to do something, but clearly
 wrong that it's a resource limited question. The sun is beaming down
 18,000 times as much power as humanity is using just on the surface of
 the Earth today."

 "We're facing a test of human ingenuity and willpower at this point.
 If we allocated one per cent of the resources we spend on stupid and
 frivolous things to the proposition of tapping the resources of space,
 Humanity is looking at a very unlimited future.

 "As far as the doomsday scenarios of warfare and so forth, it helps if
 we take a broader view of history. I don't have a Pollyanna view, but
 I think a lot of human institutions are changing very rapidly. The
 sociopolitical battle between small elites and the burgeoning
 population that characterized the Cold War, for example, has basically
 been waged to its conclusion."

 This 'evolutionary test' was mentioned by Arthur C. Clarke (who wrote
 a gushing Preface for Savage's book in 1994) in his story The Sentinel
 (1958), later filmed by Stanley Kubrick as 2001: A Space Odyssey
 (1968), and also in the writings of engineer Buckminster Fuller, who
 designed geodesic domes and developed the efficient structural system
 known as Tensegrity Structures. "Fuller had that breadth of magnitude
 of thinking which could not be pigeon-holed, and obviously had a way
 of penetrating right to the heart of a question and coming up with a
 better solution than anyone had ever thought of," Savage believes.
 "I'm trying to benefit by his example in many ways. Right now which is
 a critical moment in the growth of the LUF, I'm trying to give up
 control and hand over responsibility of a lot of things to other
 people. Some people find that very strange, but it's very essential in
 anything like this. If Fuller had done that with his Dymaxion House,
 giving up the control necessary to take the next step of mass
 production when the design was less than perfect, we'd be living in a
 different world today."

 Fuller developed the Dymaxion in 1927, a structural design aimed at
 economical, efficient, trouble free living developed from systems of
 aircraft and chassis production, intended for mass production. Savage
 believes that Fuller made a serious business error with the Dymaxion
 House that the LUF has learnt from.

 "They apparently had orders on the books for about 250,000 houses
 before they were even in production. He had the backing and the
 financial resources lined up to go into production and fill those
 orders. With that much pump prime - then they could have sold millions
 of units and the mass production economics that he was talking about
 for the Dymaxion model would have kicked in, and you and I could be
 actually living in Dymaxion houses that were actually cool in the
 summertime and only cost $50,000 for a couple of thousand square feet
 thanks to mass production. But at the critical moment when he needed
 to go into production and the thing was less than perfect, he couldn't
 give up the control necessary to take that next step. He had to hold
 on and make it perfect. And that can't happen in this world, so the
 whole thing fell apart and that whole revolution never happened."

 Important early support came from futurist/author/social architect
 Barbara Marx Hubbard, and key Hard SF authors like Gentry Lee, Larry
 Niven, Poul Anderson. Jerry Pournelle featured The Millennial Project
 as 'Book of the Month' in an August 1993 Byte magazine article.
 Savage's book also garnered positive reviews from Astronomy and Whole
 Earth Review.

 The 1990s saw a resurgence in commercially orientated organizations
 like the LUF that operate outside NASA's sphere of influence. Key
 organisations include the Space Access Society, the X Prize
 Foundation, and the Island One Society. Just as the LUF's project
 designations are a throwback to mid 1970s New Age optimism and the
 common practice of using names from ancient mythology for manned space
 flight programs; this trend remanifests the many private projects that
 were common in the late 1970s, prompted by feasibility studies of the
 RAND Corporation and the Smithsonian Institution . These options
 became more restricted as NASA's space shuttle program became
 dominated by Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) and other military
 contracts. Cold War geopolitical manoeuvres by the United States and
 the USSR, plus fears of uncontrollable world population growth ended
 such 'selfish' uses of resources, leading to the current NASA
 bureaucratic gridlock.

 "We're not part of the general space advocacy community, which is
 basically a lobby group trying to get money out of Congress, so we're
 essentially meaningless to them," Savage comments, wary of the
 political fallout from the post-Challenger disaster caused by
 revelations that senior management at the Utah based Morton-Thiokol
 Inc rocket plant that manufactured the defective O-ring nozzle used in
 the shuttle's solid rocket motors had conspired to cover up safety and
 design faults, and that the Challenger flight launch date had been
 pushed forward for political expediency to coincide with a planned
 televised link-up between astronaut Christa McAuliffe and President
 Ronald Reagan during his 1986 State of the Union address.

 However the LUF does have close links with organizations like the
 United Societies In Space ("a group of scientists investigating human
 resources issues in space development," remarks Savage), and has
 established contact with the National Space Society, a powerful
 Washington DC-based lobby group that includes astronauts Michael
 Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Alan Shepherd; Majel Roddenberry; Ben Bova;
 Jacques Costeau; Freeman Dyson and politicians Barry Goldwater and
 Newt Gingrich amongst its high level members. The NSS Chairperson, Dr.
 Robert Zubrin, was keynote speaker at the 1996 LUF Conclave in
 Colorado, briefing them on the planned Mars Direct manned space
 mission project. Mars Direct received a positive response from NASA
 officials at the Case for Mars VI Conference, University of Colorado,
 Boulder, Colorado in 1996. Zubrin was among several key scientists
 (another was UK based Probability Research's Dr. Martyn Fogg, a
 leading researcher on terraforming) who supported the LUF in its infancy.

 Until recently Savage has self-generated much interest in the LUF,
 serving as a prophetic writer/leader who has gradually surrounded
 himself with a core of aerospace scientists and other specialists.
 LUF's next director after Marshall Savage was Dr. Carol Rosen, who was
 according to Savage, "a spokesperson for Werner Von Braun for several
 years near the end of his life, she was a corporate manager for a
 major aerospace defense contractor, and was with Gerard K. O'Neill at
 the inception of the L5 Society. She also headed up the project to
 launch the ashes of O'Neill, Gene Rodenberry, and Timothy Leary into

 The LUF will need to survive its 'Seldon Crises' (major organizational
 challenges that required Asimov's Foundation to radically alter
 itself) if it continues to implement Savage's increasingly panoramic
 steps � a mass driver sled/laser guided launch system (Bifrost),
 geosynchronous orbit habitable ecospheres (Asgard), miniature Moon
 communities (Avallon), terraforming Mars (Elysium), colonizing the
 Solar System (Solaria), and finally creating the pan-Galactic
 civilization (Galactica) that Asimov envisioned.

 Judging whether or not organisations like the LUF or the Artemis
 Project, which both operate outside NASA's strict program, are 'kooks'
 is impossible to do in the short term, since both derive their models
 from mainstream scientific models (for example the industry/government
 OTEC studies for Aquarius Rising have existed since 1978-81, while
 similar technology for the Bifrost launch system exists in mid 1980s
 Russian developed maglev rocket sleds). Few remember that the now
 respected British Interplanetary Society were regarded as cranks in
 the 1930s, yet in retrospect they had a clearer picture of the
 progress of space technology than their mainstream counterparts.

 Like its fictional counterpart, the LUF will only survive if it is
 able to harness Humanity's deeply mythical and religious impulses and
 transcend the bewildering array of socio-political fluctuations
 confronting it. For Asimov's Foundation it was Seldon's
 'psychohistory' synthesis, whereas Savage clearly stresses at each
 step our ability to 'generate futures,' moulding the objective cosmos
 to our subjective visions like nascent gods.

 Ironically the two most common criticisms of Savage's book were its
 New Age-style project designations (hiding a wealth of credibly
 sourced mainstream scientific information), and a neo-Marxist model of
 future socioeconomic development that relies on the innate 'goodness'
 of humanity. Like Asimov's 'psychohistory', it is future extrapolation
 based on large groups, not individuals. Some critics view Savage�s
 biological ecosystem analogies with scepticism.

 Savage concedes that such social re-engineering "is incredibly
 difficult, and our greatest challenge," echoing a point Robert Anton
 Wilson made to me that "the information revolution is changing
 everything so fast that futurism scenarios extrapolated from the
 current Dominator paradigm are doomed to failure." Thus longterm
 details of socio-economic ecosystems are impossible to predict, due to
 the many potential factors involved.

 Space Migration not only offers lucrative manufacturing industries,
 but also a laboratory that will radically alter human consciousness �
 the long-term effects of the current information explosion and
 cyberculture are a distant rumble before the approaching storm. Savage
 cites Asgard ecospheres and Avallon domes as examples of 'total
 environments' structured along symbolic or ideological lines that will
 further shatter contemporary urban habitats.

 Space colonization will radically alter civilisation and human
 consciousness, much like TV or the Internet's alteration of
 communications, according to Savage.

 "Once you get large-scale colonization of space, which only occurs
 after something like the Foundation has succeeded in pioneering the
 Frontier, humanity will drag those kind of problems along with it;
 although at a lesser degree than the history of Earth would seem to
 indicate, simply because in space you probably can�t wage war at a
 profit. The infrastructure is too fragile, each side is far too
 vulnerable to the other to make it worthwhile. The resources that are
 up for grabs are so abundant and so widespread that its always going
 to be a better bet to colonize further and penetrate further into the
 Frontier than squabble over resources that somebody else already has."

 As co-founder of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter and chronicler of
 the LUF's annual Colorado Conclave, Levitt explained that these
 organizational aspects were being sped up by using the Internet and
 other emerging communications technology serving as a social dynamics
 engineering tool akin to Hari Seldon's 'psychohistory' synthesis.

 "This is one of the perfect applications of the Web for these kinds of
 globally distributed information and essentially what is a scientific,
 technical, political, economic organization on a global scale
 involving very few people at the start," Levit believes.

 "It's such a tremendous job to try and influence the very attitudes of
 the human race enough to get them to take this direction," Savage
 states. "Its going to take any means at our disposal, and some we
 haven't even thought of yet. Things are evolving pretty rapidly in the
 whole multimedia sphere. We have to be ready to jump on the
 opportunities that present themselves as we go along."

 "Many of our future plans hinge in particular on the Web. A commercial
 interactive Web game based on the Millennial Project book is currently
 being pursued by several Oregon-based software companies. If they can
 make it an alluring experience for people, it would be a tremendous
 way to get the word out. A variety of other people are working on
 other projects, including the publication of a Web-based scientific
 journal for the LUF, which is a place where people can publish papers
 that are applicable to the 'critical path' of the project, from OTECs
 to wave-riders to Dyson Shells and so forth."

 Virtual Reality Modelling Language models and Quicktime films have
 been developed by Core members Jim Martens and Yasser Mallinka and
 Keith Sprangle to promote the Aquarius Rising, Bifrost and Asgard
 stages. Savage reveals that "Harold Tiejens, one of our Core members,
 works in a Hollywood special effects studio (he worked on the armor
 for the SF epic Starship Troopers). Under the leadership of Kail
 Anderson, he helped create a massive nine-foot scale model of Aquarius
 Rising that was presented at Conclave!"

 Already Internet discussion on post-Aquarius Rising stages,
 particularly the Bifrost launch system has highlighted "the technical
 problems with Bifrost the way I wrote it," Savage concedes. "One of
 our best technical scientists, Stanford Linear Accelerator�s Eric Lee,
 has done a really magnificent job of repairing the whole structure and
 fixing various technical problems."

 "There are many good new ideas in terms of space colonization in the
 post-Bifrost part in the Millennial Project book," Levit claims,
 "however a lot more new ideas are going to be necessary before it
 happens. The whole thing is not going to come off like it was
 described in the very first book on the subject! Importantly for the
 first time, people who are really interested in looking can see a set
 of dots that can be connected to get to the stars."

 "We will never become a space-faring civilization if our payload
 launch costs continue to be US$12/gm," Savage firmly states. Whilst
 NASA established the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics research program
 in 1987 to examine this problem, it has been crippled by low funding
 and problems with the Delta rocket launch system. "Solutions are to be
 found by the Fuller means of wandering across disciplines and taking
 disparate pieces that don't seem to relate to each other, and bringing
 them together into a new synthesis. For that, almost by definition,
 you need some kind of generalist � that's what I am."

 NASA itself comes under considerable fire from Savage. "The place NASA
 went wrong was at the very beginning. They technologically were on the
 fast track around 30 years ago; within less than a decade of building
 prototype rocket planes that could launch with a man at the controls
 and fly into orbit, and then re-enter Earth's atmosphere and land,
 essentially just pushing the aerospace envelope up to orbit. Within a
 decade of that I could almost guarantee you that the large-scale
 opening of the Space Frontier."

 Cold War sociopolitical pressures caused "a technological war with the
 USSR where we plunked men on top of intercontinental ballistic
 missiles, which is completely the wrong technology for this
 application, and blasted them off into space."

 Furthermore, President John F. Kennedy's initiative "was an historical
 stunt that really had everything to do with the Cold War, and nothing
 to do with the eventual civilisation of space."

 "The space project has been at a standstill ever since Apollo," Savage

 Problems with the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space
 Station continue to highlight NASA's "political/economical cul-de-sac;
 there is really no way out for that model. It's going to take
 something completely different other than a national space program to
 get the human-civilization-in-space movement going. It will take
 something like the Living Universe Foundation to do that; a human
 organization analogous to a focused electron laser, full of people who
 are motivated to make it happen."

 Levit believes that "for all the mistakes and stupid things that NASA
 has done, they're the only game in town right now except for maybe the
 Russians. There are not too many people who are actually going up and
 living in space, except if it is involving NASA in some way. A lot of
 people are working for NASA because they want to participate in this
 kind of activity, and they're just dying to hear of some way to
 actually pull it off.

 "I'm trying to generate some interest from within NASA in what the
 Living Universe Foundation advocates; there should be a fair amount of
 interest by the younger and more open minded individuals within NASA
 or associated aerospace industries and agencies, if only on a
 personal, individual basis."

 Ultimately Savage, Levit, Reynolds and associated colleagues are
 promoting a more Promethean view of humanity in an attempt to overcome
 the conceptual gridlock and environmental bottleneck they perceive as
 facing civilization. "That's the appropriate view of ourselves,"
 Savage affirms. "There is far too much of the view of humanity as
 planetary cancer or Earth as flyspeck on the face of the grandeur of
 the universe. If you were a psychiatrist and you had a patient who
 came to you with a self-image that people project about the human
 race, well you should be getting a prescription for them!

 "As a species we need a more positive, noble view of ourselves and our
 future, because if we have that and we believe in it, then we're
 already halfway towards achieving it! If we don't, we may be doomed to
 fulfil this negative prophecy. The most important thing that we do is
 broadcast to the world a positive message about a hopeful future."