I suggest a National Space Lottery as a new way of funding space flight systems, promoting space tourism and paying for the tickets of those who would fly. Many have spoken of our goals in space, but few offer ways to pay for them. The following proposal offers a possible solution.
The National Space Society should promote creation of a National Space Lottery. Ideally, this might become an International Space Lottery, and would offer the possibility of space flight, as a prize, to every man, woman and child on earth.
Robotic planetary exploration is important, as it prepares the way for men and women. However, only humans in space will excite the imagination of the world and only this can protect us from eventual extinction. Our species is at risk as long as we keep all our eggs in one basket, all our progeny on one fragile planet. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky said, "Earth is the cradle of mankind--but one cannot live in the cradle forever!"
The public will support a robust space program, as they did for the Apollo moon missions. Our race with the Soviets was not the prime cause for their support; it was vicarious experience, the reason "Star Trek" is so popular. It was the exciting idea of human beings doing important dangerous work, and traveling "where no one has gone before."
Inexpensive access to space must be our highest priority. Its lack has kept us in low Earth orbit for 35 years! Finding a cheap way to escape Earth's gravity well is essential.
Expendable rockets are a trap, a dead-end. Inherently wasteful, they are only as reliable as the first flight of each plane. (You would not take passengers on your first flight.) Using throwaway rockets is like building an airliner in Seattle, flying to New York, and then throwing the plane in the ocean! We build a new ship for each flight, only to destroy it. Such a system can never be a permanent solution.
We must build a robust, fully reusable orbital space plane. The likely solution will be two fully reusable stages, or nuclear propulsion. Only government can build the latter. Private industry is more efficient, however, and could make a two-stage system in just a few years.
The Space Shuttle was designed with a reusable first stage, abandoned in a shortsighted attempt to save money. Many ships have been planned, only to be cancelled. Congress can see only as far as the next election! The government should set goals, but not specify how they are to be reached.
The problem with funding space efforts with tax dollars is that many say, "What's in it for me?" To date, space has been reserved for scientists and rich tourists, like Dennis Tito and few imagine themselves as having a chance. A National Space Lottery will offer the possibility of space travel to everyone, rich or poor!
Lotteries generate huge amounts: One multi-state jackpot reached $363 million! The lottery for New York has the motto "A Dollar and a Dream." The dream offered by a ticket in the "space" lottery could be a ride on an F-16 or the "Zero G" airplane, suborbital flight on SpaceShipOne, a
trip to the International Space Station, or eventually to our lunar colony.
Our lottery can encourage creation of reusable ships by offering a series of prizes: Many ideas can be tried; competition will prove which is best. Lindberg won the $25,000 Orteig prize for his 1927 flight from New York to Paris. Those competing raised more than 20 times that amount, and within ten years, we had an airline industry. Burt Rutan won the $10 million "X-Prize" with his 3-passenger suborbital White Knight and SpaceShipOne. Richard Branson's new Virgin Galactic has placed the first 5 orders for an 8-passenger "SpaceShipTwo."
The X-Prize Cup now offers an annual series of prizes to private companies for the highest flight, fastest ship, most passengers, etc. NASA's "Centennial Challenges" program is offering prizes now in partnership with the X-Prize Foundation. Congress should expand this idea.
The question remains, "How can we fund these efforts?" I think the best answer is a lottery. This is the other side of the same coin offered by the X-Prize.
Americans everywhere would pay a dollar a week for a ticket, not only in hope of winning a prize, but because millions want a future in space. They would do it for national pride: to retain our leadership in technology.
Private investors want a likely stream of revenue for their investment. This was provided in the 1930's by a government guarantee of mail service, using the new airlines. A lottery could produce the same result: Prizewinners would represent a series of pre-paid tickets for each new ship. If funded by lottery, each prize would keep growing until it was won!
New York and most states have a monopoly on their lottery money. A National Space Lottery thus might require an act of Congress, or it could be made a part of NASA. Preferably, however, such a lottery should be run by a nonprofit organization like the National Space Society, Planetary Society or the X-Prize Foundation. A "National Space Lottery Foundation" might be formed. The first step may be to create an organization to lobby congress, and raise money for public awareness.
The National Space Society should sponsor this innovative plan to fund our efforts in space. Both its mission and its organization would benefit:
A Space Lottery would generate enormous worldwide publicity, a new fascination with space. Prizewinners would be followed like those of modern "Reality TV" shows. An International Space Lottery would be ideal. People all over the world, rich and poor, would share in the possibility of a ride into space. Space tourism could soon become a reality. Men, women and children everywhere sense that the destiny of humanity is elsewhere, and want to be part of the dream.
NOTE: The views of this article are the author's and do not reflect the policies of the National Space Society.
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