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Retro: Futurist Malcolm Forbes (1919-1990) on the future of space exploration. Which is where we are living now.

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Suzan Mazur has republished her wide-ranging interview with the Renaissance man (in an age of specialization), first published in Omni in 1981, at Oscillations. The interview as a whole offers insights on how space exploration was viewed back then (for example, habitable planets were not top of mind):

Suzan Mazur: Since every last mineral can be found in space fiftyfold, do you think a principal aim should be to recapture the vision of space exploration that we quickly abandoned after we landed on the moon?

Malcolm Forbes: These high frontiers are surely exciting, but whether it’s economical to go there to support the Earth’s population, I’m not sure. I think it more immediately feasible to concentrate on the planet we are stuck with and on.

But it’s very important that we don’t overlook space, which is such a turn-on to such increasing numbers of people. Space exploration has got to be encouraged. Who can imagine what the horizons are? They’re limitless in terms of what we may learn about life.

As to giving exploration an economic basis now, though, it’s hard to see how the answers could lie out in space. At the same time, if we’re not out there exploring, learning—we’ve already discussed how corporations don’t anticipate the future—it’s a mistake. Considering all the products that have been derived from our space effort, we’d better hoist up our boot straps and get back into the act.

Suzan Mazur: How do you view the Moon Treaty? Should the profits of space be shared equally among all the nations of the world, so that Sri Lanka, for instance, gets material benefits the same as France, even though Sri Lanka has no space program? Could private enterprise and Third World interests both be met in space?

Malcolm Forbes
Malcolm S. Forbes (1919-1990)

Malcolm Forbes: I think it’s a nice academic theory but the point is, who’s going to spend all the money to dig out the ore if all of it has to be turned over to the commune of nations? You obviously can’t go out and stick a flag down, as in the old colonial days, and say the moon is yours. This is your Saturn. But you just can’t remove incentive and say everything belongs to everybody. That would mean nothing belongs to anybody, and nobody then would go get it.

Knowledge brought back from space, I feel, should be universally shared so that Uganda receives 100% of whatever we know. And Sri Lanka would also get 100%. But as for the material things, I think it’s a bridge that may not have to be crossed for a few lifetimes. More.

Note: The Moon Treaty never really went anywhere. As Michael Listner puts it at the Space Review:

The discussion drew the critique that the Moon Treaty is not binding international law since the United States, the Russian Federation, and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have neither signed, acceded to, nor ratified the Moon Treaty. This essay will briefly explore the nature of international law, the Moon Treaty of 1979, and the weight of that accord in the context of international law. More.

For younger readers, Mazur notes that Forbes, besides being a magazine publisher, was the first man to cross the United States in a hot-air balloon and the first foreigner to cross the Soviet Union on a motorcycle. He also cycled to the Arctic Circle and back. He certainly wasn’t your bureaucrat boss.

See also: Suzan Mazur talks with Fermilab associate Craig Hogan at Oscillations about the current state of the hologram universe


Astrophysicist Niayesh Afshordi explains the holograph universe to Suzan Mazur at Oscillations


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