Our History

The Space Frontier Foundation was created in 1988 by a group of space community leaders who were dedicated to opening the space frontier to human settlement as rapidly as possible. These individuals had worked for years—some professionally and some as volunteers—in space research, policy and public outreach. Their experiences lead them to three common but fundamental conclusions:

  • Based on research performed since Apollo (primarily by Gerard K. O’Neill’s Space Studies Institute), that the vision of massive industrialization and settlement of the inner solar system was possible within one or two generations.
  • The barriers to realizing this vision were primarily found in the bureaucratic status-quo of the government space program.
  • The responsibility for realizing the vision fell to individuals outside of the system pushing for U.S. space policy reform in the form of a new enterprise which was inclusive, entrepreneurial, and dedicated to the opening of the new frontier.

At the time of its founding (and this is arguably still the case), the Space Frontier Foundation stood apart from other public space groups who were merely promoting the current paradigm in space policy.  With no existing organization designed explicitly with these three conclusions in mind,  The founders quickly concluded that no existing organization was appropriate to this task. Most citizen’s space groups were trying to promote the current space program; those few entities working seriously to advance the human settlement of space were focused on research (e.g., the Space Studies Institute) or some other non-advocacy function.

And so the Space Frontier Foundation was born. Its vision came directly from the work of Gerard O’Neill and other visionaries such as Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Robert A. Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke. Its strategy would be to wage a war of ideas in the public sphere for a wholly new and ecumenical space agenda.

1988

Space Frontier Foundation founded by a group of space community leaders united by the vision of rapidly opening the space frontier to human settlement. The SFF was founded with the goal of revolutionizing space advocacy—the status quo had to be challenged.

1989

SFF is granted the rights to market then-Princeton Professor Gerard K. O’Neill’s ground-breaking work The High Frontier. In this book, O’Neill developed the dream of permanent human space settlement, inspiring countless people to dream of a new human future.

July

On the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, George H.W. Bush announces the Space Exploration Initiative. The proposal called for a $400 billion mars program but would do nothing to decrease the cost of space access.

1990

July: SFF writes a series of articles in the New York Times, Aviation Week & Space Technology, and others, directly addressing and critiquing expensive space station proposals that served only the contractors who would build them.

Mid-1990

In a multi-year effort, Foundationers spotlighted the new Delta Clipper-Experimental (DC-X) program in the Defense Department to expose the folly of one-use expendable rockets based on 1950′s technology and a nationalized space fleet based on 1970′s technology. The critical fight dominated the discussion of space transportation policy in the trade and general media, and a few Foundation volunteers built up trusted relationships with key broadcast and print reporters. At the same time, volunteers worked behind the scenes in Washington, DC, to educate key decision makers, and through the new media of the Internet, created a knowledgeable and active public constituency that fought for its right to pioneer the space frontier.

1991

The SFF opens its first office in Houston, Texas where it can be directly involved in NASA’s affairs.

1992

March

The Foundation produces its first annual conference, a huge success which included major speakers like former-House Space Subcommittee Chairman Ralph Hall.

1993

The Foundation starts publishing its new quarterly journal Space Front. Largely edited and produced by volunteers, the publication was designed to inform the Foundation’s network of friends and serious professional activists of the most current issues related to the opening of space frontier.

Working with a coalition of other pro-space groups and individual experts, the Foundation helps to articulate a new primary goal for federal investment in space transportation technology: “Cheap Access to Space” (CATS).

1994

The Foundation holds its third annual conference in Houston and introduces a new prize to its proceedings: “Best Presentation of the Vision.” The first award is given to J. Michael Straczynski, the creator of Babylon 5 (the popular science fiction television program situated at an O’Neill-style space colony). This mixing of real-life space pioneers (such as DC-X ‘pilot’ Pete Conrad) with artistic visionaries began the Foundation’s long-planned campaign to use Hollywood and popular culture to help promote the frontier message. Delta Clipper-X team wins the “Vision to Reality” award.

The Foundation begins work on a concept that would eventually be called “Alpha Town.” The goal of Alpha Town is simple: align the space station initiative with the space-settlement movement, turning the station into an enabling technology and platform. Response to Alpha Town is positive from the beginning. Starting in the Spring 1997, NASA Administrator Dan Goldin, made the concepts of AlphaTown a central theme in several major speeches when he declared that NASA would privatize the station after construction was complete.

1995

The Foundation begins using the Internet to distribute a series of short thought-provoking essays titled “The Frontier Files,” in an effort to generate excitement about the incredible possibilities awaiting us in space.

The popularity of Space Front and “The Frontier Files” grows the Foundation’s membership and support to an unprecedented level.

The Foundation moves their fifth annual conference, “Space Frontier Conference IV,” to Los Angeles, taking the space advocacy to the world’s “media capital.” This year’s awards ceremony recognized the Clementine lunar probe team for their work on frontier-enabling technology and the frontier-inspiring producers of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for their episode on solar sails. This fourth conference also initiated another tradition of the television culture: an experts-plus-audience talk show called “Star Council” sponsored by the Sci/Fi Channel’s Inside Space program.

March

SFF’s President Rick Tumlinson testifies on NASA restructuring before the House Space and Aeronautics Committee. During the testimony, criticized the nation’s space program as merely maintaining the status quo and failing to push any boundaries. Tumlinson made a bold call for a “New American Dream,” where space exploration can be the source of American prosperity and ingenuity. Read a copy of his testimony here.

Also in March, the Foundation organizes the first-ever public seminar on “A 21st Century Space Policy from the People.” The seminar attracted bipartisan support and participation from members of both the House and Senate. The then- Speaker of the House, uses this venue to highlight the vision of the Foundation and publicly announces support for the idea of privatizing the Space Shuttle.

1997

November

The Space Frontier Foundation and the Foundation for the International Non-governmental Development of Space (FINDS) jointly announce a $250,000 prize for the first private team to launch a 2 kilogram payload into space (defined as an altitude of at least 100km) by November 8, 2000. The prize, called the Cheap Access to Space (CATS) Prize, required that the launcher be completely privately developed. Though no prize entrant successfully completed the challenge, the project inspired a number of people, such as John Carmack and his Armadillo Aerospace, to form advanced rocket groups and continue to make progress with increasingly sophisticated rocket projects.

1998

February

The Foundation launches the “Keep Mir Alive” project, an effort to convince the Russian space agency and Russian President Yeltsin to maintain or privatize the Mir, rather than de-orbit it. The project becomes an international sensation, eventually culminating with the foundation of MirCorp.

2001

February

The Space Frontier Foundation, ProSpace, and FINDS sponsor a Senate Roundtable on Space Solar Power. The Roundtable was held in the Space Subcommittee Hearing Room, Room 2325, in the Rayburn House Office Building, Washington D.C. A report was generated out of the meeting, and disseminated amongst the space community.

March

Mir Space Station is de-orbited.

June

The SFF launches the Permission to Dream Project. Led by George Whitesides, the project is designed to excite students about astronomy and space by donating telescopes to schools around the world. By the end of the project, telescopes were donated to 25 groups in 13 countries on 6 continents. Read more about the project here.

2003

The Space Frontier Foundation launches the Space Settlment Summit, a conference designed to discuss the issue of sustainable space settlement and to present to the general public and elected leaders a compelling vision equating American and global survival and prosperity with the permanent human settlement and development of space.

2004

The SFF launches one of its most acclaimed and important projects and organizations: Teachers in Space. The organization was begun to stimulate student interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by engaging and fostering the passion of their teachers for the emerging generation of space development, often referred to as NewSpace. The project includes actual spaceflight for some teachers, as well as other extraordinary space related experiences and unique teaching materials for others. Visit the TIS website here

2005

The Space Frontier Foundation beings hosting the annual event, Lunar Commerce Roundtable. The conference is designed to provide startup companies focused on the development of Lunar Commerce a forum for idea exchange as well as crucial investor visibility. The project continues under a different name, “Space Investment Summit,” starting in 2007.

2006

The SFF launches the NewSpace Business Plan Competition, held in conjunction with the annual NewSpace Conference. The competition awards a cash prize to the startup firm that can demonstrate both the ability to make money and contribute to the commercial development of space, advancing the NewSpace movement.

2007

The Overview Institute is started. Initially incubated as a “Project” of the Space Frontier Foundation, the OI is created for the purpose of both researching and informing the world of the reality, nature, and potential of the Overview Effect. The Institute also planned to promote and support widespread experience of the Overview Effect, through direct space travel, and newer, more powerful and more publicly available space art, multi-media, and education. The Space Frontier Foundation continued to support the OVerview Institute until 2012.

The Lunar Commerce Roundtable is transformed into the Space Investment Summit, opening the powerful resources of the LRC to all companies associated with space development and exploration.

2008

SFF Co-founder Jim Muncy launches a public awareness campaign titled “Mind the Gap,” focused on raising awareness about the orbital “launch gap” between the retirement of the shuttle and the development of the Ares rocket family.

The Space Frontier Foundation releases a white paper outlining the importance of Space Solar Power to the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team, resulting in significant political exposure for SSP.

The SFF launches the literary magazine, “The Cosmos Review,” dedicated to space and cosmos related poetry and prose from the ancient to contemporary writers.

The Space Frontier Foundation, in conjunction with SpaceContest.Org and SpaceVidcast.com, concluded the first Space VidVision Contest, in which contestants were asked to post short videos on YouTube answering the question, “What should the future of American human spaceflight be?” This project looked to develop grass-roots videos for the best arguments for or against sending people into space, or for changing current plans, developing compelling cases for what the future should bring.