Social and Political Aspects
It’s 25 years down the road, and you and I seem no closer to
working our own claims in space than we were in 1974. Some say that
we’ve lost it, that civilization peaked in the Apollo era and we
no longer have the drive to put it on the line for anything risky,
that our dreams are being ground into Webhead fantasies. A parallel
image in the colonization movement of the 70s/80s was that of spaceketeers
escaping an imploding world and forming utopias on the frontier.
Well, history fans, that sort of "pessimism as destiny" is now
as stale as the cold war, having been overwhelmed by a rambunctious
economy that will not stop growing and branching despite the best
efforts of statists to corral it in the names of preservation and
fairness. The future is here, so fear of the future is now moot.
Notwithstanding individual motivations, the race to open space is
now most accurately seen as a natural outgrowth of an expansive
On the technical side, a lot of work is being done to move outstanding
problems from the in basket to the out basket. Meanwhile, the social/political
front has its own pile of challenges:
First, we have the legal entanglements that arise when a world
full of competing nations tries to carve up a new territory that
none has any unique claim to. Pro-space lawyers are on the offensive,
and have had some successes to date.
Second, the financing of space settlements is fundamental to
their planning. Anyone who seriously proposes a settlement needs
to outline the initial investment and the payback. If the payback
is not sufficient or is displaced too far into the future, then
a source of non-commercial funding has to be sought, such as a government
or the participants’ own pockets. Some of the first permanent off-planet
settlements might well be religious colonies that have no other
economic intent than to survive.
And third, the internal structure of a settlement and relations
with outside groups demand a new design that is adapted to modern
technology and desires for personal freedom. This subject will generate
a lot of principled disagreement, but space is big, and each settlement
will be its own experiment in human society.
The faces of those who seek to open the new frontier are varied.
Some are devoting their lives to pounding on the doors of the government
treasurers and keeping the machinery of the "space movement" rolling,
with no thought of actually going to space themselves. At the other
end are those who scorn political activism, but will throw their
lives into the first risky settlement plan that comes along.
A third group are the young children and those yet unborn who
will be raised with a matter-of-fact acceptance of the inevitability
of space colonization. When the time comes, they will go and they
will distinguish themselves.
The field is wide and still thinly populated. Where do you fit
Tom Jaquish, Program Chair, 3/14/99