The Spectacle Blog

Capitalism and Politics…in Space!

By on 4.14.14 | 1:01PM

Outer space is cool. Add “in space” after something and it becomes ten times more interesting. Brussel sprouts…in space!

NASA’s Asteroid Retrieval and Utilization mission not only includes efforts to robotically capture and manipulate an asteroid into the moon’s orbit, but also aims to land humans on an asteroid by 2025. 

If the mission is successful, it will be the first time humans have left low earth orbit since Apollo 17 in 1972. This mission will serve to build capabilities in robotics and launch technology for the eventual goal of landing on Mars in 2030.

Space programs have positive implications for geopolitics. Exploration and curiosity are nascent characteristics in all of us. Russia and the U.S. have a long history of cooperation in this field. Since we scrapped the Space Shuttle program in 2011, we rely on Russian capsules to transport astronauts to the International Space Station. We use Russian systems to launch our satellites. The political situation regarding Russia’s dubious annexation of Crimea has raised the possibility of sanctions on the joint U.S.-Russia space program.

In a testimony to the Senate Science and Space subcommittee, Susan Eisenhower of the Eisenhower Institute warned that a suspension of cooperation between the U.S. and Russia would serve to strengthen political hardliners and compromise safety and trust among astronauts who depend on each other to survive. She also made the point that the scientists in the Russian space industry are progressive thinkers, and the dual space program has had a positive impact on transforming the Russian military industrial establishment.

Cooperating with China on the astronomical frontier, however, poses an interesting problem. The U.S. space program’s mission is peaceful and driven by civilian methodology and purposes. China’s space program is military-run and intent on domination rather than exploration. They are working to have their own operational, manned space station by 2022.

“Great nations do great things,” Senator Marco Rubio said of the U.S. space program, insinuating that the Chinese government has a lot of soul-searching to do before it can be qualified as great.

Space programs also have implications for the expansion of the private sector.

Jeffrey Manber, managing director of NanoRacks, testified that there is a growing role for market economies in space, as well as cooperation between governments and businesses seeking to provide space services so one doesn’t crowd out the other.

“We have Mars in our hearts, but lunar in our business plans,” he said. Nanoracks negotiated contracts to provide services and facilities to the International Space Station.

In a hearing last week, Senator Marco Rubio asked how we are supposed to invigorate a new generation in the same way our parents' generation experienced the lunar landing.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the presenter of Cosmos, who has built a career around getting people excited about space, commented, “Apollo in 1969. Shuttle in 1981. Nothing in 2011. Our space program would look awesome to anyone living backwards through time.”

Could it be as simple as publicizing the asteroid initiative? It's not like NASA is trying to sell overpriced health plans to young people. They are robotically manipulating our solar system!  

The Google Lunar C Prize challenges teams of engineers to send robotic spacecraft to the moon in 2015. Google seeks to provide a modern lunar landing to ignite the global imagination of our generation.

Dutch billionaire Bas Lansdorp has proposed colonizing Mars beginning in 2024. His “Mars One” program would be paid in part by an unscripted TV series. Reality TV…in space!

In 2007, NASA internally released a new slogan to inspire the masses: “NASA explores for answers that power our future.” Predictably, it fell on deaf ears, which is ironic given that space technology gave rise to cochlear implants. Even Marco Rubio’s unwitting catch-phrase “great nations do great things” is light-years better.

Or perhaps NASA could film a less stress-inducing version of Gravity with promotional posters. From the people who brought you temper foam, freeze-drying, and scratch-resistant lenses: asteroids—coming to an orbit near you!

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