Well, I’m finally done with recapping the Return to the Moon conference, and probably in more detail than anyone else cares for. I figured that after such verbosity, it might be worth a quick summary to pick out what I saw as the most important memes and themes. Clark also has his summary, here.
If I had to sum up the most important thought of the conference in a single word, it would be “execution”. Since nobody who’s been reading this blog actually expects me to stick to just one word, I’ll try to ellaborate quickly.
NASA and commercial space are both at an important crossroads. NASA has an excellent vision before it, but is now admitting that they can’t succeed alone–they need private industry. Private space is also at a crossroads. With the X-Prize victory last year, the giggle factor is dieing. People are starting to get excited about space again, including potential investors. But we have to perform, we have to execute, we have to prove that commercial space isn’t just a “one act wonder”. Both NASA and commercial space are still lacking in credibility, and this is the time to start regaining it.
On NASA’s part, they desparately need to not botch the implementation of their Innovative Programs concept. If they can execute on setting up a system of prizes and contracts, with the right incentives, they can actually go a long way toward catalyzing the development of cislunar space. If they botch it, we’ll probably get a couple of NASA employees on the Moon, and then have our grandchildren scratching their heads 50 years from now saying “if we could go to the Moon back in 2018 and 1969, why can’t we now?”
On commercial space’s part, we have the more critical need to execute. Both with those commercial entities that get these non-traditional contracts, and with those that are pursuing purely commercial enterprise, now is the time to deliver. Rex Ridenoure said it best, if commercial space can beat NASA back to the moon (and do so in a profitable, evolvable manner), it will set the tone for space development for the rest of this century. Coming up with ideas in this area is tough enough, but we need to find ways to deliver.
The next few years are probably going to be some of the most critical (and exciting) ones for the development and settlement of space.