The Latest Destination for Human Spaceflight | History | Smithsonian

The Latest Destination for Human Spaceflight

Humans to Venus? The latest proposed destination for human space missions illustrates the essential hollowness of the current direction of our civil space program.

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Next stop?

Of all the idiocies that make up our current lack of a genuine policy for civil space, the imperative to find some destination that is not the Moon is the most telling sign of an absence of thoughtful leadership.  For an example of the pointlessness to which this reasoning can go, take a look at a recent post at Scientific American, arguing for a human flyby mission to Venus.

That’s right – Venus.  The planet that makes Jupiter’s moon Io look like an island in the Bahamas — a locale of sea-bottom pressures, lead-melting temperatures and sulfuric acid rain.  Specially built robotic devices last for (at best) an hour or two before breaking down into an inert lump of metal.  This place is now being advocated (seriously) as a destination for human spaceflight.  How did we arrive at such a state?

Simple – by a deliberate act of programmatic destruction.  The Moon was to be our first destination on the long road into the Solar System.  But that goal was discarded, allegedly on the grounds that “we’ve been there,” but in reality because it was a destination that could be reached on reasonacle reads as a love letter to the state he grew up in and adored, while acknowledging that there may be some hurdles ahead.

I asked Jon Christensen his opinion of Senator Goldwater’s 1962 article. Jon is the executive director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University and he points out that, “Goldwater wrote in an era when the ‘new frontier’ was still something America believed in and yearned toward, before Kennedy was gunned down the next year in Dallas. Growth was the rocket fuel of that dream — population growth, economic growth, wall to wall houses filling the desert with nuclear families.”

Senator Goldwater opens the article by writing about his own family:

Fifty years from now, if things go well, I will be concerned only with heavenly surroundings, so any shortcoming or overstatements of this forecast will be of no concern for me. But my children, then ranging from 68 to 75 years of age, and my grandchildren and great-grandchildren of all ages, will be living in this heaven on earth — Arizona. So I looked into my crystal ball, determined to project the image of my native state 50 years hence with the accuracy of experience and the hope of love, trusting in the ability of man to restrain his bad side so that the good things I predict will be allowed to come true, and conversely to stimulate his good side so that man will make them come true.

Having come to that decision, I loosened my legs from the restraining ceiling of my desk and departed for another long walk across the floor of the desert which has been a part of my life.

Goldwater expresses concern about what the picturesque landscape of Arizona might look like after a growing population spreads into the more rugged and untouched areas of the state:

A desert rain, just passed, accentuated the pungency of the greasewood and I stopped my walk with the dreadful first decision that the man of 2012 would not be able to walk from his doorstep into this pastel paradise with its saguaro, the mesquite, the leap of a jackrabbit, the cholla or the smell of freshly wet greasewood, because people will have transgressed on the desert for homesite to accomodate a population of slightly over 10 million people. The forests will be protected, as well as our parks and monuments. But even they will have as neighbors the people who today enjoy hardships to visit them.

Senator Barry Goldwater in 1962 (Library of Congress)

Goldwater predicted that the city of Phoenix would be either the fourth or sixth largest city in the United States. The 2010 census places Phoenix as the sixth largest city in the country (with just under 1.5 million people) behind New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia. Though Arizona experienced steady population growth since 1962, that growth has slowed considerably in the last five years, which is most likely attributed to the recession and a bad job market.

But it will be the deserts that will support the majority of the new homes. Phoenix will have a population of about three million and Tucson will grow to about one and one-half million. Phoenix and Tucson will remain the two largest cities in the state, with Phoenix being either the fourth or six largest city in the United States.

However, spectacular increases in population will occur in Yuma, Flagstaff, Casa Grande, Sierra Vista and some yet unborn cities in the Harqua Hala Valley, near Cave Creek and east of Tucson. The growth of Glendale, Peoria and Avondale will parallel that of Phoenix proper, so that 50 years from now all of these cities will be contiguous with each other and with Phoenix, and will form a city complex not unlike the present city of Los Angeles.

When the book Inside U.S.A. by John Gunther was published in 1947, Arizona was still the youngest state in the Union. The book notes that “Only 329 square miles of its 113,909 are water, which means that water is by far its greatest problem.” Gunther writes that irrigation has made Phoenix lush: “Pass over in an airplane; the burgeoning green of the irrigated valley overlays the the desert as if painted there with shiny lacquer. This development derives from Roosevelt Dam, which was one of the earliest federal reclamation projects.”

Goldwater explains in his article that he hopes water will be piped in from the ocean to alleviate the growing need for water in Arizona:

Long before this period of 50 years passes by, the large coastal cities will be getting their drinking leasing the inland streams for inland consumption. But to augment our major sources of water we will also, long before 2012, be using water piped from the ocean for domestic purposes.

As farmland gives way to homesite in the central valley, farming will be done in an extensive way in the already developed areas around Yuma and in, as yet, undeveloped areas in the Centennial and Harqua Hala Valley lands with a much greater diversification of crops that we now have. Cotton, our main crop today, will dwindle in importance by the time 50 more years pass because more new man-made fibers will replace to a marked degree the need for cotton that we know today.

Goldwater understood that America’s move west would be even more pronounced in the latter half of the 20th century, and saw technology as a major factor in that growth. Christensen finds fault with Goldwater’s prediction about industry in Arizona: “What’s curious about Goldwater’s vision is that he thought the Arizona economy would be based on manufacturing. Instead Arizona made an economy fueled by service jobs, taken up by people who moved from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt, to serve retirees following the same route, and by construction, to build those pastel Sun Cities where they would live.”

As the population center of the United States continues to move rapidly to the west, so will industry as to be near this new concentration of consumers. Arizona’s principal economic growth will be in the industrial field, with emphasis being on items of a technological nature. It will not be many years before industry will become an important part of the economies of most Arizona cities, whereas today it is more or less confined to a few.

Goldwater goes on to talk about Arizona government and interestingly believes that Indian reservations will radically transform, with the population of Native Americans growing rather than decreasing.

This industrial growth will, of course, depend upon the maintenance of a good governmental climate; but I expect the people of this state in the next 50 years will be able to maintain the same kind of good government in the state, county and local levels that the people of the first 50 years have to an almost complete degree.

Indian reservations as we know them today will no longer exist because the government will have deeded the lands to the Indians who now live on them. Indians will be with us in increasing instead of decreasing number, and as they become more and more educated, they will play a more and more important part in the life of Arizona.

Christensen is “intrigued by Goldwater’s view that Indian reservations would cease to exist, and Indians themselves would become just like other Arizonans; happy individual property owners. That was an old-fashioned view rather than a futurist vision by 1962.” Indeed, as an article in the Arizona Capitol Times noted earlier this month: “Anglos moving into the Arizona Territory during the late 1800s believed that the Native Americans already there should be acclimated into Anglo culture. During that time, Indian boarding schools were built and native children were removed from their homes and placed into these schools.”

Goldwater’s predictions of a wide open U.S.-Mexico border by 2012 may be the most surprising to contemporary readers, given the tenor of the current Republican presidential nomination debates, where candidates to various degrees have proposed tougher border controls to limit illegal immigration and narcotrafficking.

Our ties with Mexico will be much more firmly established in 2012 because sometime within the next 50 years the Mexican border will become as the Canadian border, a free one, with the formalities and red tape of ingress and egress cut to a minimum so that the residents of both countries can travel back and forth across the line as if it were not there.

Basking in the “frontier spirit” that Arizona has historically embraced, Goldwater calls on the rugged individualism that he sees as imperative to America’s progress:

Fifty years from now, even though Arizona’s population density will reach about 100 per square mile, there will still be lots of open space in which man can enjoy himself. Our watershed will improve, our forests will continue to grow, and even the Grand Canyon will be about three inches deeper.

Arizona will continue to be the haven for people who seek an outlet for initiative and a reward for work. The frontier challenges will exist then as they do today, for man’s progress never stops unless man stops it. Fortunately for our state, our men have always and will always want to go forward, not backward.

Goldwater finishes his article by writing about the generations to come that he’s sure will enjoy their lives in Arizona while he’s looking down from the heavens:

My children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be as happy living here as I have been during the first 50 years of statehood, because the people will remain warm and kind and thoughtful. And even though much of what we now know as desert will have disappeared, there will remain a sufficient amount of natural beauty to satisfy all of the desires of the 10 million people who will live here.

In fact, even though I hope to be on Cloud Nine or Ten or whatever they allot me, I am sure that 50 years from now I will look down on this delightful spot on earth and be envious of the people who call Arizona their home in the year 2012.

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