The NewSpace 2013 conference gave me a lot to think about, but more than anything, it hammered home the fact that while we would like to think otherwise, humans are driven by their visceral feelings.
At the conference, I listened to several talks and had many conversations where space exploration was thought of as “the cause.” What is belief in a cause except a visceral feeling of support for its goal? Now, I happen to believe in this cause but unfortunately (in my mind) most people don’t. A prevalent thought a the conference held that gaining mass support for space exploration was just a matter of convincing people to believe in the cause.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.
Successful endeavors that require the support of many people are able to tap into visceral drives that are already there. Just look at the support for infant NASA (which turns 55 today) – it was driven by nationalistic pride and fear of the Russians.
This one of the reasons why I am an advocate of private space flight – if space exploration becomes profitable, it can harness the might that is the self-interested pursuit of wealth. While that might seem distasteful, I see nothing wrong with it. In such a situation, everybody wins: those who just want wealth can make money through their investments, and I get to satisfy my visceral desire to see humanity spread to the stars.