Space exploration faces future funding hurdles

By Nabeel Chollampat, Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 4, 2014

Gabriel Rothblatt, a Florida politician, gave a presentation Wednesday night in the Bob and Betty Beyster building that discussed widening space exploration opportunities for average Americans. The talk, given to a handful of students, was hosted by Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.

Rothblatt’s main talking points included the privatization of the space industry, commonly known as NewSpace, and galvanizing public interest in the space industry from a more human perspective. In last month’s midterm elections, he ran as a Democrat in Florida’s 8th Congressional District, which includes Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center, and lost to Bill Posey (R). His primary campaign platform was space exploration.

Rothblatt argued that the problem with the space industry is not one of funding, but of incentive. One of his primary points was the idea of settlement as the main goal of space exploration.

“As long as we focus on cheap, it’ll never be cheap enough,” he said. “If we put everything on the Mayflower and took it back and forth, it would never have been profitable to colonize the Americas. It was only profitable to buy a ticket and come here once we established cities. Let’s make settlement the goal, and then cheap access becomes a necessity.”

Most of the mass and expense of a satellite comes from what it takes to send it into orbit itself, Rothblatt said, proposing the use of space as a location of manufacturing and production.

“The true solution to cheap access to space is to put in space what you need to make the things up there,” he said. “If most of the things we wanted to achieve were built in space, it would be greatly cheaper.”

Engineering senior Derek Napierala, president of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, said his group invited Rothblatt because of his interest in expanding the idea of space exploration.

“I thought that his passion for space as well as his desire to make change not in just the engineering field but also the political field to the populace is commendable,” Napierala said.

Rothblatt’s presentation also touched on space exploration as a common endeavor instead of a science-specific project.

“Too often people think if you're interested in space you have to be an aeronautics person,” he said. “NASA needs engineers, Boeing needs engineers, but Mars needs farmers.”

Engineering sophomore Logan Sisca said the issue constraining development in space is more about bringing the general public into the fold.

“It’s more about really democratizing space and how we can get more involved with this pursuit rather than just billion-dollar government contracts,” Sisca said.

Rothblatt commented on his own identity — he is Black, Jewish, comes from an LGBTQ family, and his father is Martine Rothblatt, founder of GeoStar and Sirius Radio — as a catalyst for his interest in space.

“I’m always on the outside, having to adapt to the group that I’m with,” he said. “And I found that really interesting about humans: we try to adapt it to us, rather than us adapting to the environment.”

Sisca said college students need to become more aware of their potential in regard to space development.

“I think right now students don’t know that they have that opportunity; it’s a very select number of people who are passionate about it,” he said. “By improving our outreach and making more students aware of this, then they’ll get on board and it’ll keep reading.”

Rothblatt said the future of space exploration should not resemble the Space Race, but instead a common, human endeavor.

“I believe space is a message of unification. I believe space is something that creates human nationalization,” he said. “Space is the thing that makes us forget about our differences and focus on a common goal.”