The Summer of 2022 has been an exciting season of space travel. Entrepreneur Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, unveiled plans for his private space station that will accommodate up to 10 people as a mixed-use business park and exotic travel destination. Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, guided SpaceX to a record-breaking number of rocket launches in an effort to establish a network of broadband satellites. And Billionaire Sir Richard Branson reached the edge of space on board his Virgin Galactic rocket plane, beating Bezos and Musk to become the first space tourism pioneer.
Though far fewer people have heard about it, Tim Chrisman, the founder and executive director of the Foundation for The Future, is also making strides in space travel. Unlike the flashy CEOs and ultra-rich constantly in the media spotlight, Chrisman is proving people don’t need to be billionaires to affect change.
Tim Chrisman dreams of a “boring” future in space
Chrisman envisions a not-so-distant future in which regular people show up to build space homes and plug into air, water, and power supplies. The key to this mundane future, he claims, is infrastructure.
“I want a future where space is boring,” says Chrisman. “When we think space, we think of a billionaire or rocket scientist. Why don’t we think of a welder or truck mechanic?
Growing up on the edge of the Alaskan wilderness, Chrisman appreciates the difficulties of living in a cold and mountainous frontier without roads, power, or towns. By contrast, survival ten miles down the road in a large city like Anchorage or Fairbanks is easy. “Space is hard today because people aren’t there yet,” he explains. “When I say I want to make space boring, I mean I want to build the infrastructure we take for granted here. I’m talking about the metaphorical roads and sewers that will allow anyone to arrive and put a restaurant or hotel on the moon.”
According to Chrisman, settling the “final frontier” won’t look different from other frontiers humanity has explored in the past. Just like the pioneers who crossed the Atlantic, traveled the Oregon Trail, or came to the wild west, early adventurers have already led the way to space.
“The days of the Apollo missions are behind us,” Chrisman remarks. “Now is the time to orchestrate government and private sector partnerships to underwrite the basic components of space settlement.”
While much of today’s innovation revolves around the fantasies of wealthy space tourists, Chrisman believes in working behind the scenes to create a much more real and sustainable future. Though they may not be quite as exciting as flaming rockets, his projects involving outer space mineral and power reserves, space-based solar power, and wireless power transmission are quietly laying the foundation for future generations of life beyond Earth’s atmosphere.
Who will be involved in space travel?
In its efforts to make space infrastructure a reality, the Foundation for the Future focuses on developing a workforce. Currently, the foundation has a bill pending introduction in the US House of Representatives to fund several million tech-centric and blue-collar jobs in the space sector.
“Politicians have told us for decades that they care about blue-collar workers,” observes Chrisman. “It’s time to kick start the economy and get people working. Many will need very little training to help us get to space. If you can weld a plane, then you can weld a rocket. If you can fit a pipe on an oil and gas well, then you can do that for a spacecraft’s fuel system.”
Space-based solar power, building infrastructure one component at a time
One necessary component for humanity’s future in space envisioned by Chrisman is power. The Foundation for the Future is currently investigating the capabilities for space-based solar power that could offer a double benefit, providing energy solutions for those stationed in space as well on Earth.
Harnessing solar power on Earth has historically been hampered by darkness at night and cloud cover during the day, causing approximately 30 percent of incoming solar radiation to never reach the planet’s surface. In space, however, the sun is always shining, and atmospheric occurrences don’t get in its way.
“Solar panels in space will deliver reliable and clean energy wherever we need it to go,” says Chrisman. “By investing in space-based solar power, people in remote communities around the world wouldn’t need to rely on the grid or local power plants. Satellites, reflectors, and transmitters could deliver this same energy to people based in outer space.”
The concept of space-based solar power involves large reflectors or mirrors spread over a vast area above Earth’s atmosphere. These instruments can then direct the sun’s radiation onto solar panels, which convert the energy into sustainable electric power that can be easily transferred wherever it needs to go.
“Much of the technology that makes space-based solar power such an exciting possibility already exists,” says Chrisman, “and the advancements we still need to fully implement it aren’t far behind.”
According to Chrisman, the most significant roadblock to life on the moon or Mars is not a lack of materials or funding — it is people’s inability to think of space as real. When he pitches ideas to congressional staffers, the media, and even friends, they assume he is talking about events hundreds of years down the road.
“We’ve had people living off-world aboard the ISS for two decades,” Chrisman clarifies. “It’s wild to think about it that way, but it’s reality. Once we convince people this is happening soon, the next challenge is establishing rules to ensure we do this right. Every time we’ve ventured into a new frontier, someone has suffered. We are planning ahead to ensure that doesn’t happen this time.”