Last Thursday in Las Cruces, New Mexico the X Prize Foundation held an invitation-only “executive summit” to discuss issues associated with the emerging space tourism industry. The luncheon speaker was a very high-profile individual and a bit of an unusual choice: former vice president Al Gore. The entire event was supposed to be off the record and closed to the media, but the Gore speech (as well as one earlier in the day by NASA administrator Mike Griffin) was on the record, and the organizers allowed a few reporters to attend and report on those talks. (I wasn’t one of them; while Gore talked at lunch I was checking out the X Prize Cup preparations at the Las Cruces airport.)
Most of the limited media attention about Gore’s speech has focused on his comments regarding the national space policy released by the Bush Administration earlier this month, which didn’t get much attention in the broader media until a Washington Post article on it a week ago. Gore was critical of the policy, drawing some parallels to Iraq. Popular Science has a video excerpt of his talk, where he warns that the policy “has the potential, down the road, to create the kind of fuzzy thinking and chaos in our efforts to exploit the space resource as the fuzzy thinking and chaos the Iraq policy has created in Iraq. It is a very serious mistake, in my opinion.” Leonard David, of SPACE.com, also touches on Gore’s space policy comments in a blog post.
(There is some question of whether Gore’s comments were, in fact, supposed to be on the record: Alan Boyle of MSNBC, also in attendance, asked Gore if his comments were on the record and was told no; he also declined to make an officially-on-the-record statement. That distinction loses some of its broader significance with the broader coverage, including PopSci’s video excerpts. Gore does note in the video that he may make a separate, more official pronouncement about the policy at a later date.)
One thing most of the coverage missed, though, was that Gore talked about issues other than the new space policy, including some more positive comments about space commercialization. Several people I talked with in the days following Gore’s speech said that he discussed the importance of encouraging increased commercial use of space. As Charles Miller of CSI said in an email message to me yesterday, a key part of the speech was “Gore’s statement that space right now is in the exact same position that the Internet was in the 1970s… and that space needs to be commercialized in order to achieve its full potential… just like the Internet only achieved its full potential by being commercialized.” (It appears that Alan Boyle got a similar email.) Miller said that this is “a critically important statement”, particularly given the chances that Democrats will take over one or both houses of Congress next month.