IAP: Contemporary Military Topics: Of Starships and Tallships | 2018 | Events

IAP: Contemporary Military Topics: Of Starships and Tallships: Human Spaceflight Exploration in U.S. Grand Strategy
Randy "Laz" Gordon
LTC Randy Gordon, USAF
January 23, 2018
E40-496, Lucian Pye Conf Rm

Why do states explore? The modern version of this question is, “Why send people to explore space?” Idealists answer, “Because humans are inspired by other humans exploring the unknown.” In their view, the imperative to explore space is self-evident and self-sustaining because of the unquenchable curiosity of the human spirit to expand knowledge and tame the unknown. On the opposite side of the spectrum, pragmatists view sending humans to space as a useful endeavor only if the act tangibly addresses a competitive threat to some element of state national security. Absent this clearly defined purpose, human spaceflight is derided as an expensive state luxury with little public importance beyond trite references to Velcro, Tang breakfast drink, or thrilling science fiction media. Both of these views have merit, yet they are also incomplete. The previous 50 years of human spaceflight exists within the same family of strategic exploration campaigns such as the Ming Dynasty journeys of Admiral Zheng He, Vasco De Gama's Indian Ocean voyages for Portugal, or the trek of Norway's Roald Amundsen and Great Britain's Robert Scott across the Antarctic. Surveying these types of campaigns is necessary for building a unified Exploration Model; one that synthesizes the best perspectives of both pragmatist and idealists to produce a better analytic framework for strategists. Once constructed, this model becomes the lens to analyze key episodes in American, Russian, and Chinese human spaceflight exploration. The lessons from these case studies form the basis of a viable human spaceflight strategy to enhance overall American spacepower in the face of rising competition and dwindling resources.