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Ad Astra
Volume 15, Number 4 September/October/November 2003

Policy Insight
by Clifford R. McMurray

No More Preaching to the Choir

The goal of the National Space Society, as can be found on our membership brochures, is “creating a spacefaring civilization.” That doesn’t mean “standing around watching while other people create a spacefaring civilization.” Each of us has a part to play, however small, in changing the world. We all must help shape the future to our vision, or stand by and watch the world being shaped by others with a different vision.

But how do we do that? Most of us aren’t aerospace engineers or scientists, and we don’t have personal fortunes large enough to invest in a private space program of our own. What can we, as individuals, do to create a spacefaring civilization?

The first thing we must do is stop preaching to the choir.

The barriers to the creation of the future we want are not primarily limitations of technology or funding. Those barriers are not trivial, but they can be overcome. The real barriers are barriers in the minds of our neighbors. Our vision of possibility for the human future is still a minority vision. Even among the millions of people who idly wish for such a future, the “common wisdom” is that it is still many decades or centuries away. To change the future, we must first change minds. And the only way to do that is the old-fashioned way—we have to talk to people who don’t agree with us. We have to take our vision into the public arena of ideas and fight for it with informed and passionate argument that respects our opponents while seeking to convert them into allies.

This year the loss of Columbia and her crew has focused public attention and debate on our future in space to a greater extent than at any time in the last decade. As we wipe our tears away and go back to work, we must not lose sight of the fact that we have a very narrow window of opportunity, while public and Congressional attention is focused on space, to help shape opinion and policy to move toward the future that we and our fallen heroes both want. This happened after Challenger: the policy of flying everything on Shuttle, including commercial payloads, was scrapped, and a commercial launch industry was born. Similar shifts to wiser policies are possible now as they would not have been without this tragic loss.

Don’t mistake this observation for callousness. Like you, when Columbia was lost I mourned the loss of friends I’d never met in the flesh. But the supreme sacrifice of the Columbia crew will be meaningless if it doesn’t lead us forward. And this rare opportunity will be lost if we don’t stop talking just among ourselves and start talking to our neighbors. I urge each of you to take action today. Write your local papers and national opinion magazines, expressing your hopes for America’s future in space. Urge all your friends who care about our future in space to do likewise. Next year will be too late; the media will have moved on to other concerns.

Letters to the editor should include your name, address, day and night telephone numbers (most publications won’t publish letters unless they’ve verified that they come from the person whose name appears on the signature line, and this verification is most often done via phone call), and e-mail address. Short, succinct letters stand the best chance of publication. No letter should be more than a page, and half a page is better. Each of us has a lot to say, but we need to learn to be pithy.

Most newspapers and magazines now accept letters to the editor via e-mail as well as through the post office. Here’s e-mail contact information for a few of the major national opinion magazines and newspapers:

NEWSWEEK
letters@newsweek.com

TIME
letters@time.com

U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT
letters@usnews.com

WALL STREET JOURNAL
wsj.ltrs@wsj.com

WASHINGTON POST
letters@washpost.com

NEW YORK TIMES
letters@nytimes.com

After you’ve written your letter to the editor, you can share it with your fellow NSS members by sending a copy, along with a note as to which publications you submitted it to and whether it was published, to NSS headquarters at e-mail address nsshq@nss.org. A selection of the best letters will be posted to the NSS website as inspiration to other members.

It sounds so old-fashioned, but it’s still true. The only way people will know what you care about is if you tell them. So share the dream—before it slips away.

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