An interview with Dr. P. Q. Collins, by A. Autino.

"How far we've come" - Brian Larsen 

The pictures on  this page appears thanks to courtesy of:



The following interview is part of a bigger one, prepared to be given on a TV Italian satellite network. The network canceled the program, so now we have this excellent material, that's the result of several emails exchanges. And we decided to put it online. 





Questions by AA

Answers by PQC

The post-industrial West Countries depend from few pre-industrial oil producer countries, as far as energy matters are concerned. This situation has a primary role in generating conflicts at planetary scale.

The biggest Asian Countries - China and India - begun their industrial development. The planet' resources, first of all oil, are already drammatically short. And we have proof of this fact by the oil price, en route for the 70 Dollars per barrel.

The western political leaderships seem to be oriented to increase the military deal, instead of looking for alternative ways, to answer such a challenge...

The space frontier, in such a frame, is going to be military occupied and armored, in a very worse way than during the cold war.

Such a deal is maybe the craziest possible one, that was hard to imagine even only 5 years ago. Humanity seriously risks to run into a devastating conflict, in which our cosmic home could be irreparably wasted, besides not being enough as to energy sources and raw materials.

Just few mounths ago we were analyzing and promoting the success of SpaceShipOne as the opening of a new age, for Space Tourism, and what we called "Merchant Astronautics".

We also well now that none terrestrial energy source could really replace oil, as to quantity, process technologies, distribution. The only real alternative is in space: to harvest the solar power in space and then redirect it to Earth and to space clients.

But nowadays such a perspective more and more appears as a fully alternative agenda: to open the world, to use extraterrestrial resources, to promote private undertaking in space tourism, to industrialize the geo-lunar space, to restart the economic development by means of a real space economy. While the establishment is planning the military occupation of space, to extend the wars and the military control everywhere, and to use it to better close our world!

1.1) How do you see this situation, first of all from the economic point of view?

1.2) And from the ethic one?

1.3) Boundless economic growth is the solution of all the conflicts, and condition for continuation of human civilization. Do some earthly alternatives to space exist?

1.4) What can we do? 

1.5) And which possibilities has the Merchant Astronautics, in this frame, to be born and develop?

1.1) I'm not myself convinced that space-based solar power systems will be necessary to avoid an energy crisis (though I agree strongly that they should be researched). And I'm not convinced that the price of oil is going to go on up from now on. I think the environmental and political problems are more important than the technological problems of providing enough energy for everyone. That is, the need to reduce CO2 seems to be a bigger constraint on using oil and coal than the physical limits. And there seem to be potentially plenty of clean energy resources if they receive sufficient research funding.

1.2) However, the old "cold war generation" of politicians in USA and Britain - left over from the past when the most powerful just stole whatever they liked - seem to be trapped in a false view of the world, and of the possibilities for humans' future. This is most clearly expressed in Jacques Delors' horrible phrase "the resource wars of the 21st century". These people apparently believe that humans' situation is "zero sum" - that the rich can only have a high standard of living by taking from the poor - they believe that humans are "running out of resources", and they want to get their hands on most of them. So they are planning to continue stealing the resources of the poorer nations - specifically the oil reserves in weaker countries. It's funny to see this being planned by people talking about "democracy" - and by a Labour Party prime minister in Britain - but these people pride themselves on their "realpolitik".

Of course another reason is that they believe they can. I'm not sure. I expect they'll pay far more in the long run. There is already a high cost in terms of military spending and "Blowback" - certainly far higher than the cost of solving the energy problem through research and investment in renewable energy sources. There seem to be numerous promising possibilities, but they need funding. In the USA the "New Apollo" project - for the USA to become energy self-sufficient - is gaining momentum, and there are some excellent American researchers in this area. There seems to be a battle between the American public and the oil industry, which prefers the government to spend hundreds of billions fighting the last war again (at enormous cost to taxpayers). The "cold war generation" prefer to stick to the "zero sum" ideas with which they are familiar, whereby in order to have energy resources they must take them from someone else - from their legal owners in fact, which uses their old fashioned military strength. So I think it's inevitable that there's going to be a lot more turbulence - and terrible violence in oil regions like the Middle-East. The "cold war generation" are resisting the mental change of paradigm needed to see that, as Buckminster Fuller used to say: "Humans are a success". 

1.3) I agree that boundless economic growth - properly defined - can in principle resolve many conflicts. I think that it would be technologically or theoretically possible to achieve this without using space resources; however it would require major changes in the way societies and the world economy operate which are difficult to imagine being accepted within existing political systems. By comparison, the use of space resources offers boundless possibilities for growth which are technically easy to start, and require no major political changes to start. 

1.4) As you know, I have been arguing for nearly 20 years that the easiest way to open up space resources for large-scale human use is through developing passenger space travel services, since this promises to grow into a much larger market for launch services than satellites - and is quite straightforward to develop.

1.5) How to get passenger space travel services set up and growing as a business? This could be greatly aided by governments - for example if they played the same role as they have played in passenger air travel. Providing a helpful regulatory environment, performing related R&D, helping companies raise investment - there are many ways to help passenger space travel grow steadily from sub-orbital services through orbital services and on to lunar travel. 


Starwars: the clones attack 

Questions by AA

Answers by PQC

The new deal of the Bush's administration re-assign to NASA the strategic task of the exploration - Moon, Mars, Solar System - while the Earth orbit is now delivered to defence agencies and to marine agencies. Observing superficially such a transition, one could also think that a lot of people (soldiers) will fly in the circum-terrestrial space. 

But we will not see the Robert Heinlein's "Space troops" nor "Cadets of the space navy". Nothing such romantic. We are generally speaking about automated space weapons and space robots targeted to intelligence sophisticated operations. So, they are likely planning to use space technologies in order to better close the world, and not open it! 

After all, it couldn't be different: likely no soldier will move himself to shoot on his own planet, when he/she sees it like a small ball lost in the universe. If we want to shoot, we shall sit well on Earth, and delegate the dirty task to automated killers (fully unaware of the famous Asimoov's three laws).

The militarisation of space will neither have any positive fallout, as a multiplicator of astronautic experiences and improvements of astronautic technologies.

And, from an ethic point of view, none step forward as well. We always speak about shooting and killing. 

Of course, if we are not uncurable utopians, we cannot think that human conflicts can be eliminated from one day to another, only because we (European) wish so. But we could at least be hopeful in a kind of progressive "humanization" of the conflicts, by means of progressively less bloody weapon systems. 

I think that, if there was a political will we could profitably develop non-killer weapon systems, suitable to immobilize the people without killing them, being so able to catch the bad ones without killing/hurting the good ones and without destroying their economy. It should not be difficult, being we western people so proud of our Christian philosophy, in which it is clearly written "DO NOT KILL", and even "LOVE YOUR ENEMY".

2.1) In your opinion, could any positive fallout come after the ongoing trends?

2.2) How could space technologies directly contribute to a path of humanization of the conflicts?

2.1) I too feel that the richer countries should be developing a system in which war is not needed. Economically war is extremely negative; putting the same effort into new business development is far more beneficial.

As for optimistic trends, Emmanuel Todd, Chalmers Johnson and others have described the huge and debilitating cost to the US economy of the US government's aggressive policy towards the rest of the world. So we can perhaps hope that the agony of the Iraqi people, like that of the Vietnamese before them, will serve the purpose of re-educating the US people that sitting back and letting their military services as thugs for US corporations is not beneficial to the US people as a whole.

One way in which Europe is ahead of the USA is its millenia of experience of war. This perhaps explains Europeans' creation of the Geneva Convention to try to limit the barbarism of war. It's tragic that the US government is apparently incapable of learning from Europe's experience, and now has a policy of denying human rights and torturing anyone it chooses. Johnson is adamant that this new barbarism will return to hurt the USA. One thing surprising about this situation is that it would have been so easy for the USA to be a genuinely popular leader of the world. Show a little generosity towards the poor, and support for oppressed people everywhere - indeed if the US government just upheld its constitution - which many people agree is an admirable document, expressing many good ideas for how to have a good democratic society. But the US constitution now seems to have been overthrown by the greed of corporations - although every religion in the world agrees that greed is not a good or stable basis for society, or for humans to achieve satisfaction in life. So as Dr Todd and Professor Chalmers describe, the falling incomes and falling educational standards in the USA have many similarities to the Roman Empire in its decline. 

2.2) I'm not very interested in military applications of technology, but in space as on the Earth it seems possible to have a balance of power, through different groups - whether countries or other organisations - possessing mutually unavoidable threat of destruction. What we want is to achieve such a balance at as low cost as possible.


"Manifesto" (detail) - Nick Gaetano

Questions by AA

Answers by PQC

Up to nowadays, the space agencies strategies focused on science (all), exploration (NASA) and Earth observation (ESA). Now the defence and military topics seem to gain primacy, in both the major agencies. One of the space pioneers, founders of NASA, Krafft Ehricke, spoke about industrialization of the Geo-Lunar space, more than 30 years ago. If I had to translate such recommendations into today terms, I would speak mostly about space tourism, civil passenger transportation, and solar power from space, as huge industrial lines, which could ignite the space economy development in few years. Subsequently, we can envisage other very promising segments: space hospitals, zero gravity products orbiting factories, Moon mining, dangerous industrial productions moved to orbit, and others. Neither today, we listen these words "industrialization", in the agencies' strategies. 

3.1) Do you think it is something agencies are genetically  unable to deal with? 

3.2) And shall we, as citizens, keep on leting them to use vagons of public money to pursue priority other goals (Mars missions, and military goals as well)? 

3.3) Could we act, as space-faring movement, on public opinion to get another deal, in which agencies will work encouraging and helping the privates effort to industrialize the geo-lunar space? 

3.4) How could private entrepreneurs to team up, in order to constitute valid lobbies, and collecting capitals, to develop a civil and free space industrialization deal?

3.5) What will be, if the Space Tourism industry will grow up since now, starting for instance from the SpaceShipOne big success, the industries that will arise?

3.6) Which industrial line of the past century could civil passengers space transportation and merchant astronautics compared to? Aeronautics? Cars?

3.7) Will private investments be sufficient to ignite the space economy? 

We cannot discuss the military option only from an ethic point of view. I think we can also demonstrate that the peace periods, in history, were very much more progressive, for the economic development, than wars periods. This also to disprove the theory that war is helpful to the development. The first comparison coming to the mind is between the IXX and the XX century. The hundred years of the so-called Britannic peace (telled e.g. by the UK historian Jeff Frieden) vs. the XX century, which saw two world wars. Someone thinks that the American military control of space would have now the same effect of the Britannic control of seas, in the IXX century.

3.8)   Is that a possible comparison? What's your thought about?

3.1) Yes, the culture of space agencies is strongly affected by their history: they were set up during the cold war to perform government "missions". Nasa was specifically set up to compete with the Soviet Union, and other agencies mimic Nasa closely. So they have no interest in, and no skill at, developing services which the public wish to buy. Towards the end of the cold war they were also given the responsibility to encourage commercial space activities - but they are NOT doing this. They do make efforts to sell technology which they develop for their own purposes - but they do not start by saying "What services would the public like to buy?" and then develop them.

A key problem today is that the public, like the media and politicians, believe that space agencies ARE doing everything possible to "open space to the human race" - but they are NOT. They refuse even to talk about space tourism! The difficulty of changing this is to find politicians who consider they could gain political popularity by trying to restructure the agencies. This is hard. 

3.2) So it seems much more promising just to go around the agencies by getting governments to support space tourism via the civil aviation industry - and we see this already happening in the USA with the FAA's involvement with sub-orbital tourism, and even in Japan where the Japan Aeronautical Association (JAA) has set up a working group on space tourism, now in its third year. As this continues - and I hope accelerates - the cost of getting to orbit will drop far below the cost of expendable rockets, and agencies will kind of "implode" since governments will clearly stop giving them such huge budgets.

3.3) Persuading politicians to recognise the economic importance of space tourism is still difficult. They take advice about space policy from their own agencies, without allowing for the fact that they are firstly self-interested monopolies, and will never advise anything that goes against their own interest. This is made worse by agencies' habit of using invitation-only press conferences, which is a long-established method of controlling the news which governments love to use. This simply should not be allowed. 

3.4) Of course business people have to think up profitable business plans. I think government funding to accelerate this process is highly desirable, but it has to be done in a good way. Just increasing space agencies' budget, as some people advocate, will not succeed - it would make the situation worse! 

3.5) Related industries are passenger air travel, which includes a range of activities, hotels, cruise liners and other tourist activities including entertainments, catering, accommodation etc. 

3.6) As above, the best model seems to be civil aviation. Governments could easily provide funds that would help to get activities going.

3.7) Private funding would succeed eventually, even with no government help, but it will start and develop faster with appropriate government help - like civil aviation. 

3.8) I don't know about the comparisons. The present US leadership of aging "cold warriors" is not impressive, since it appears to be destroying the US economy, as well as everything that was good about the USA. With their massive military spending the USA is able to destroy anything in the world. If something irritates them, they can smash it - like Falluja. But this only seems to benefit weapons makers. There is a nice saying: "To a hammer, everything looks like a nail." But most of the problems in the world can not be solved by fighting.

[006.AAPQ.TDF.2005 - 27.03.2005]