Reasons not to commercialise space

Paul Raven @ 18-11-2010

1) Marx wouldn’t approve! And anyway, we can learn about our relationship to the wider cosmos just as effectively from the surface of the Earth:

So outer space technology can be used for tackling a number of immediate social and political issues. But these strategies do not add up to a philosophy toward outer space and the form humanization should take. Here again, the focus should be on the development of humanity as a whole, rather than sectional interests. First, outer space, its exploration and colonization, should be in the service of some general public good. Toward this end, the original intentions of the 1967 UN Outer Space Treaty should be restored. Outer space should not be owned or controlled by any economic, social, and political vested interest. The cosmos should not, in other words, be treated as an extension of the global environment, one to be owned and exploited. We have seen enough of this attitude and its outcomes to know what the result would be. Spreading private ownership to outer space would only reproduce social and environmental crises on a cosmic scale.

I’d agree that space shouldn’t be owned or controlled by vested interests, but I rather suspect that it won’t be very amenable to such any control, by dint of its, well, space; territorial disputes are a function of limited room for expansion, and it’ll take us a long while to run out of lebensraum at the top of the gravity well. Why fight for territory when it’s less effort to strike out for an unclaimed patch? Indeed, I suspect conflicts in space are more likely to retain the ideological character of those currently popular on Earth’s surface… viz. Ken MacLeod’s Fall Revolution series, Sterling’s Schismatrix. Is that a reason to avoid going there? I’m not so sure; I don’t think we’re any more likely to solve those problems by simply staying put.

Frankly, I’m right behind George Dvorsky on this one, who says “… I couldn’t help but think that Marxist analyses are growing increasingly irrelevant and anachronistic […] Economic determinism ain’t what it used to be.” Marxism is a useful critical framework when used alongside others (especially in literature), but on its own it seems hopelessly idealistic, ignorant of (or uncaring for) post-modern networked global culture, and soundly lodged in the craw of Victorian industrialisation. Cue brickbats from my more radical left-wing readers… but the world has changed a lot since Marx, while Marxism hasn’t changed at all. YMMV. 🙂

2) We can’t survive out there! We’re designed to be planet-dwellers!

What is of greatest concern here is that, unlike muscle loss which levels off with time, bone loss seems to continue at a steady rate of 1 to 2 per cent for every month of weightlessness. During a three-year mission to Mars, space travellers could lose around 50 per cent of their bone material, which would make it extremely difficult to return to Earth and its gravitational forces. Bone loss during space travel certainly brings home the maxim “use it or lose it”.

[…]

The impossibility of an escape to space is just one of many examples of how our bodies, and those of our fellow organisms, are inseparable from the environments in which we live. In our futuristic ambitions we should not forget that our minds and bodies are connected to Earth as by an umbilical cord.

Well, yes, but umbilical cords can be cut and tied off; indeed, to extend the metaphor, cutting the cord is an essential step toward independence from one’s mother. And if our bodies are inseparable from our environments, we can hack one or both of them; if Human1.0 with default settings can’t live in space, we can upgrade her and her environmental surroundings. The biological status quo is not a cage, it’s a room with a door whose lock requires dexterous but doable picking.

There are concepts in development for spacecraft with artificial gravity, but nobody even knows what gravitational force is needed to avoid the problems.

Oh, I’d have guessed something approaching 10m/s² would do it… call it intuition. Anyway, Karl Schroeder’s done a better job than I can of deflating the long-standing “it’s too dangerous!” hand-wringing about space travel; of course there are challenges, but they’re far from insurmountable. Where there’s a will, and all that.

And as a wee bonus, here’s a new twist on an old fandom favourite:

So far, boneless creatures such as jellyfish are much more likely than people to be able to return safely to Earth after multi-year space trips.

Intelligent jellyfish in spaaaaaaaace… why should squid get all the glory, eh? 🙂


Africa to join the space race?

Paul Raven @ 06-09-2010

Well, maybe not just yet, but the African Union has approved a feasibility study to examine the possibility of putting together an African Space Agency.

(I always smile when I see that some group or another has “approved a feasibility study”; it always makes me wonder whether they did an earlier feasibility study to determine whether the newly-approved feasibility study was feasible or not.)


The Lighter Side of Genetic Manipulation Nightmares

C Sven Johnson @ 19-05-2010

Future Imperfect - Sven Johnson

After Alba the fluorescent art rabbit was artificially engineered, and genetically modified zebra fish were cleared for sale to the general public, I began imagining various ways in which playing Frankenstein could bite us all in the collective ass. Vivid as it may be, my layman’s imagination has been no match for the professional efforts taking place inside globally dispersed laboratories; strategically located to best align with antiquated laws, corrupt government officials and/or an oblivious local population.

As a consequence, I … we … have been repeatedly blindsided by some exasperating headlines: the Ruakura “sane cow” vaccination backfire in Australia, the Black Gull 17 contagion in Europe, and the Three Pig Inc virus in North America come immediately to mind. However, I can only take so much bad news. Continue reading “The Lighter Side of Genetic Manipulation Nightmares”


Space Jockeys

Brenda Cooper @ 21-10-2009

I was interviewed twice last week, and both times the topic of space flight came up.  One of the questions one of the interviewers, Annie Tupek, asked me was, “You write about mankind’s future in space.  What do you think is the largest obstacle opposing space colonization today?”

Here’s the short form of my answer to that question:  “…it’s expensive and difficult to get heavy stuff from here out into space. The distances are long and the travel hard. …  We tend to think it’s taking a long time to explore space.  The Wright Brother’s first flight was in 1903.  So in a little over a hundred years we’ve gone from being stuck fact to the surface of the planet to flying all over it all the time with hardly a worry except the TSA search indignities.  We’ve flown past almost every planet and moon in the solar system, landed rovers on Mars, and men on the moon.”

So I decided I’d write this month’s column about what’s happening as private companies compete to get to space. In fact, there’s so much happening, I could write a book about it.  Instead, I’m going to survey the news from LEO, give a little futuristic spin, and discuss one book. Continue reading “Space Jockeys”


Rogue (satellite) hunter

Paul Raven @ 13-10-2009

Things are going to get a little busier up in geostationary orbit… not only are there destined to be an increasing number of broken satellites cluttering up this important orbital region, but soon there’ll be little robot repair bots flying around up there trying to fix them (or push them out of the way):

Their robots will dock with failing satellites to carry out repairs or push them into “graveyard orbits”, freeing vital space in geostationary orbit. This is the narrow band 22,000 miles above the Earth in which orbiting objects appear fixed at the same point. More than 200 dead satellites litter this orbit. Within 10 years that number could increase fivefold, the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety has warned.

Klaus Landzettel, head of space robotics at DLR, said engineering advances, including the development of machines that can withstand temperatures ranging from -170C (-274F) to 200C (392F), meant that the German robots will be “ready to be used on any satellite, whether it’s designed to be docked or not”.

Hellooooo, orbital commercial warfare! Rival communications company squeezing you out in a particular region? Not any longer – not once their sat takes an unscheduled trip to the Lagrange point!


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