Frank White

Frank White is a writer who has spent much of his career thinking about the implications of space exploration for human evolution. He has authored or co-authored a total of 14 books, including: The Overview Effect, The SETI Factor, The New Camelot, March of the Millennia and Think About Space (with Isaac Asimov), The Ice Chronicles (with Paul Mayewski), and Decision: Earth, a novel. Frank’s latest book, The Cosma Hypothesis, asks the fundamental question, “What is the evolutionary purpose of human space exploration?” Recent developments in both governmental and non-governmental space exploration efforts appear to vindicate many of the ideas that were initially explicated in The Overview Effect. Frank is now working on a revision of that work, focusing on trends that have begun to appear since the first edition came out in 1987. Frank and his wife Donna live near Boston; they have five children and 10 grandchildren.


What is your background, where did you grow up?

I was born in Mississippi, but lived in Kentucky, Virginia, Germany, and Arkansas because my father was called back into the Army during the Korean Conflict. We returned to Mississippi and I graduated from high school there.


When did you first become interested in space?

My first cousin, who grew up with me, says that I told her when I was four or five, “Anne, you know we can’t remain on this planet forever. We will have to go to other planets in the future.” I don’t remember that, but I do remember my mother giving me a book called Stars when I was 10. It was a “Golden Book” for kids on astronomy. It really “blew my mind” to think of that entire universe out there, just waiting to be discovered. I have been interested in space exploration ever since.


What do you think the biggest issue facing the industry today?

The biggest issue facing the industry today is the lack of understanding of the importance of communications, about products and services, but also the big picture. Although commercial space development is different from government space exploration, people raise the same questions about it, all of which come down to “Why?” and “How does it benefit the Earth?” If these questions are not answered, pushback against commercial space may increase. I have proposed that the industry should fund a strategic communications campaign to deal with these questions. If this does not happen, I think pushback against commercial space will increase.


What do you like to do for fun?

I like to go to the movies with my wife and I also enjoy spending time with my grandchildren. In addition, I enjoy playing softball for the University Development Office “Diamond Dogs” in the Harvard softball league.


What is your favorite movie and why?

2001 because it deals with several subjects that are of greatest interest to me: space exploration, human evolution, contact with extraterrestrial intelligence, and artificial intelligence.

What are some of your favorite books?

This is a difficult question to answer, but a few come to mind: The High Frontier (O’Neill); Foundation and Empire (Asimov), Earthrise (Poole), Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? (DeWaal); Sapiens and Homo Deus (Harari); The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Jaynes); The Way of the Explorer (Mitchell).

What are you reading now?

The Three-Body Problem, Hallucinations, Chasing New Horizons.

Where do you see the space industry in ten years?

The industry will be robust and successful as humans begin to move out into the solar system. The companies having the most success will be those focused on providing value to terrestrial society. Space tourism will be in its early stages and initial efforts at lunar settlement will be underway. Continuing to lower launch costs will be critical. Robotics and AI will be more central to the process than they are today. The industry will be robust, though it probably will not be as successful as some of today’s projections. There will likely be a shakeout similar to what occurred with the computer industry in the 1990s and 2000s.

What would you tell people just starting out in the space industry?

If you have a big vision for yourself in the space field, don’t ever give up on it, no matter what! You may have to go on detours to reach your goal, but always keep your vision in mind.


What three words best describe you?

Thoughtful, curious, innovative.

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