Let's try a little thought experiment. Suppose that a stranger walked up to you with the following pitch:

"Good morning. I and some friends of mine are planning a trip to Antarctica. We'd like to ask your help. It'll be great fun, a great adventure, the trip of a lifetime, really. I'm sorry we can't invite you along, but it's very expensive, and there's room for just a few of us on the boat. So you can't go - in fact, you can never go - but we'd like to ask you to help financially. We figure if everyone we talk to chips in with a few bucks, we'll be able to make the trip. And in return, we'll send you back some postcards.

"They're really great postcards..."

Would you be inclined to help this fellow out? Or would you be rather more likely to tell him, with varying degrees of profanity depending on your upbringing, that since he's the one who wants to make the trip, he should whittle himself a canoe and stop bothering you?

There are some generous souls who would reach into their wallets. But I suspect that this pitch lacks great appeal for most of us, myself included. Yet it is pretty much the same pitch we've been using with the general public to sell the idea of a space program using government funds.

We will never make it to the stars on handouts. We need to take responsibility for the financing of our own dreams.

 

An entrepreneurial spirit

It is very true that getting to space in any big way will require a lot of money (though people like Burt Rutan are in the process of proving that it can be a lot cheaper than previous methods). But that's not a reason to throw up our hands and haul out the begging bowl. It's a reason to educate ourselves in the ways of wealth.

We have role models showing us the way - people like Paul Allen of Microsoft, who gave Burt Rutan the funds to build Spaceship One, and Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, who are shelling out large sums from their own fortunes to develop launch systems that will be cheaper to operate, and open space transportation as a profitable business. We need more financiers like them every bit as much - perhaps even more than - we need more engineers like Burt Rutan.

All three of these entrepreneurs made their fortunes in software, but that's only the newest route to wealth. Richard Branson, the money man behind Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company, made his own fortune in several other businesses before he turned his gaze in our direction.

The mathematics of making money is a lot easier to grasp than physics and engineering. You don't even have to be particularly good at making money, you just have to be good at saving it. When Albert Einstein was asked what the most powerful force in the universe was, he replied, "Compound interest."

Yet whenever I attend a space convention, the finance track seems to be one of the least well-attended. Most of the space crowd would rather sit in on another panel with brand new viewgraphs of exciting new spaceship designs, most of which will never - never ever - make it off the drawing boards because our community isn't devoting an equal amount of time and effort to the question of funding.

 

A reason to get rich

If you really want to get to space, I have a simple suggestion: devote at least half as much time and study and effort to making yourself wealthy as you give to whatever else you're doing to get there. It's fine to start small, but start. Add a subscription or two to business and financial magazines to your subscriptions to Space News and Ad Astra. Join an investment club. Start saving money, and look for ways to invest.

It would be great to have a few more billionaires on the rockethead team, but a few thousand millionaires will be just as good. Begin planning and working now to be one of them. Even if you don't wind up with enough money to fund The Spaceship Company, you just might wind up with enough money to buy a ticket.

Getting rich(er) isn't just the practical way to get there sooner, it's the morally right thing to do. This is our dream. We should be the ones to pay for it.