Broadcast 3463 Nick Nielsen

  • helix-space the space show sponsor

  • The Space Foundation Conference

  • The Space Foundation Conference

  • The Space Foundation Conference

The Space Foundation Conference

Feedback: What did you think of this show?: 

Guest:  J. N. (Nick) Nielsen; Topics:  Nick's essay which is on our blog, "Bound In Shallows: Space Exploration and Institutional Drift" plus a discussion of the major points offered up by Nick in this important essay impacting space going forward.

Please direct all comments and questions regarding specific Space Show programs & guest(s) to the Space Show blog which is part of archived program on our website,   Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See

We welcomed back to the program Nick Nielsen for an 80 minute discussion concerning his important essay, "Bound In Shallows: Space Exploration and Institutional Drift."  This essay has been uploaded to the blog for this program.  I strongly suggest reading it before listening to the archived program or at the very least, have it available for reference and both Nick and I plus a few listeners referred to pars of the essay throughout our discussion.

We started off with Nick referencing a blog comment he saw a few days ago regarding Dr. Zubrin's recent Space Show program in which he talked about SpaceX actually wanting to go to Mars and settle it, thus Musk and the company were doing what it would take to get to Mars.  Nick linked that to a major theme of his essay in that one has to have a genuine interest in what they are doing and working on to accomplish their goal. SpaceX shows that interest as do other private space actors but NASA does not always show that.  Don't miss all of what Nick said about this and how he transitioned it to one of his essay themes. 

This initial point of discussion led Nick to talking about Apollo during the term of JFK as evidencing engineering leadership which he contrasted to what he called institutional capture using SLS as an example.  Make sure you listen to how our guest defined institutional capture and then listen to why he cited SLS an example.  Before moving on, I asked our guest to explain the title of our essay which he glad did for us.  Note that Bound In Shadows comes from Julius Caesar, Act IV by Shakespeare.  Next up, our guest mentioned Monumental Architecture or the great structures of our time.  Don't miss what he said about this and the one example he used in our discussion, The Parthenon.  In his essay, Nick cited multiple examples of this condition which he fully described and showed how it applied to the space industry.  Other topics we discussed included mythology and history, the space vision with the loss of the space vision and then the Central Project Theory.  Once again, listen carefully because what Nick talked about seemed to be a very good fit for our space reality of today, especially on the government but side but also with private actors. 

Institutional drift was then brought into the mix, along with central project work.  He also worked in The Weston Principle which is Chapter 13 in his essay.  One of the questions I asked Nick was that once we lost the vision, experienced both institutional capture and institutional drift, could we return to the point of loss and recapture everything to get a fresh start.  You want to hear all of what our guest said in response to my question but the quick answer was no.  That said, Nick talked about going forward with a new awareness as things would look different and the new reality would be different from just continuing on in the drift and capture modes. 

Nick responded to several emails and then talked about the importance of science in our world, even to people who might think science was offensive.  He said science was essential for the human future.  This is a discussion you certainly want to hear because along with science, our guest talked about space being essential to the human future. I brought up the fact that many do not see space as being crucial and wondered what he would say to them about their point of view.  Once again, be sure to listen to all of what our guest had to say on this point because what he said and how he said it was somewhat different from what others have said in answering a similar question. 

Marshall called to talk about a Mars colony and the need for a separate mythology and history.  Marshall and Nick went back and forth on this topic which included the history and mythology of the founding of the U.S.  Nick said things would not be that different on Mars in the Martian history/mythology but events, names and such would differ and the story would be different though the theme would be similar.  Marshall asked our guest about the history/mythology of the Soviet space program and their economic issues.  Nick offered us a good Soviet analysis that you will want to hear. We also talked about Middle Eastern countries using some of their wealth to create space for the human future.  Before Marshall ended the call, biotechnology was mentioned.

Ben from Denver sent us an email asking if the private sector was really that different from the government sector.  He wanted to know about central projects for the private actors.  Our guest cited Boeing and the 737 Max along with CST 100 problems as a sort of stagnation that was similar to the government human spaceflight program of stagnation.  Nick then focused on SpaceX and why it was different.

Risk taking was a topic of discussion.  Nick talked about the importance of risk taking and then talked about it with the private actors as compared to public actors.  He did say risk taking with tax payer money was different.  Let us know your thoughts on this and post them on our blog.

Jane asked about the investors for the private sector and could investors suffer their own loss of vision, drift and capture.  The short answer was yes but listen to all of what Nick said on this topic.   I then jumped ahead to Chapter 12 of his essay and asked our guest to tell us what the "sufficient conditions for spacefaring civilization" might be.  Nick talked about the work of Dr. Jim Pass, an early Space Show guest on the topic of astrosociology, and his work on space capable compared to spacefaring.  Nick and Jim said we were at the space capable point at this time. 

I asked Nick the next set of questions which had to do with the discovery of life off Earth, either microbial life or even an ET out there.  I wanted to know what that might do to our mythology and history.  Nick said much on this topic so don't miss a word of our discussion. 

Nearing the end of the program, Nick was asked if the US had a responsibility to do more due to our having more wealth and resources than other nations.  Following that response, Ft. Worth John called to talk about the role of motivation, the Soviet program and Regan's SDI.  Nick and John also discussed the role of having "secret knowledge" and how that might influence an outcome.  This led to talking about choices that society can make as I asked Nick about some of my own worries and concerns that at this time we did not seem to realize or care that space was essential to the  human future.  Nick answered me and addressed my worries but also introduced us to virtual worlds, scientific stagnation, diminishing returns and once again, institutional capture even in science.  As we were near the end of the program, the new concept of the consumer model came up.  Nick said at this time there were no alternatives to the consumerism model. We talked about the relative small size of the space economy and industry and the fact that it was vulnerable.  Before ending the program, Nick reminded us of the role and the importance of legacy in our history.  Before signing off, Nick mentioned his upcoming essays and book plans.

Please post your comments/questions for this show on the blog for this program.  You can reach Nick Nielsen through me or his , "Grand Strategy: The View from Oregon (Wordpress) and Grand Strategy Annex on Tumbir.  His longer essays such as the one we discussed today can be found on Centauri Dreams.

Show Files: 




Nick discusses is excellent essay, "Bound in Shallows: Space Exploration and Institutional Drift"

WARNING: Using Disqus Comments on the Space Show:

To ensure your comments do NOT get caught in the Disqus automatic spam filter systemplease login to your Disqus account or create a verified/approved Disqus account.

Posting multiple URL links WILL TRIGGER the Disqus automatic spam filter system.

18 Feb 2020 Nick Nielsen
Your Amazon Purchases Helps Support TSS/OGLF (see

The Space Show Toll Free Number is only available on live broadcast programs. Please call 1-866-687-7223

Sponsor Banner

  • The Space Foundation Conference

  • helix-space the space show sponsor

  • The Space Foundation Conference

  • The Space Foundation Conference