On the surface, private property rights in space may seem like an innocuous, or even positive development. We are on the cusp of a real space age, as private companies begin exploring Earth orbit and our solar system. As a species, we need to come to an agreement over how space assets will be managed and regulated, and private property rights in space would be a major needed component of such an agreement. In general, commercial enterprise in space is good thing for expanding humanity’s reach into the solar system.
But the actual text of this bill raises questions of equity and corporate oversight for humanity’s future in space. The bill is a clear violation of a decades-old treaty that pledges to make space the peaceful domain of all of humanity. Without additional oversight, this law could legally change the role of the United States in space from guarantor of freedom to protector of profit.
I find the issues raised by the law timely, as my upcoming novel Red Soil through Our Fingers that imagines a future Mars where corporations own vast stretches of Mars.
Dr. Linda Billings has published an article entitled “The Inexcusable Jingoism of American Spaceflight Rhetoric” in Scientific American’s Forum. I read the article with great interest, because I find myself on both sides of her argument. On the one hand, human expansion into space is happening, whether we like it or not, and regardless of any government program’s mission statement. Where previous generations perhaps imagined the push into space driven by big national programs, we are seeing now that it is likely to be corporations or private interests staking claims out there at least as much as governments. In fact, multiple companies have already declared near-term space intentions such as orbital tourism, mining lucrative asteroids, extracting fresh water and hydrocarbons, and settling on the Moon and Mars.
But here is where Dr. Billings is absolutely correct: We need to make sure our expansion into space results in an equitable, sustainable, and responsible distribution of the truly staggering amount of resources right here in our own solar system. And that will definitely require a cultural shift in how we talk about spaceflight.
I saw on the Mars Society’s webpage that the Mars One colonization program will debate their MIT critics at the society’s upcoming convention next month. I have a triple interest in the debate. My novel-in-progress, Red Soil Through Our Fingers, a Mars colonization novel. Secondly, as a former aerospace engineer, I have experience and a huge personal stake in the design and outcome of space exploration missions. And further, one of the listed critics of Mars One, Andrew Owens, is a friend and writing group member!
Needless to say, I have a few thoughts on the matter.
I had the honor of serving as a panelist on four panels at Arisia 2015. I’ll be summarizing what I recall from each discussion in a series of posts.
COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey ( Mark L Amidon, Justine Graykin, Gordon Linzner (m), Marlin May, N.A. Ratnayake) Neil deGrasse Tyson hosted a successful season of “Cosmos”. Seen by many as a “remake” of Carl Sagan’s PBS show, others consider it a bold shot back from scientists at the anti-science nabobs of our day. Let’s talk about how much it has (or hasn’t) changed the discussion.
Language is a technology, a doorway, a weapon, and an agent of change and hope. As it shifts both form and function, the metaphors that describe it change too.
Language is a technology that has shaped our brains. Ted Chiang’s novelette The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling (a Hugo nominee last year) particularly struck me as revolving around the same complex issues — how important language and particularly writing has been to the human psyche. Language changes the way we think — it is a tool that can be both used and misused to great effect.