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The romance versus the reality of man in space.
December 5, 2001 8:35 PM   Subscribe

The romance versus the reality of man in space. According to this article, unless NASA gets an innoculation of a whole bunch of money, we are likely to be limited to maintaining no more than three longterm residents of the space station we are committed to building. How does this bode for our Star Trek vision?
posted by MAYORBOB (18 comments total)

 
Hey look! Another reason to privatise the space program.
posted by phalkin at 10:31 PM on December 5, 2001


Privatizing wouldn't necessarily help. Remember a year or two ago? When the people behind Survivor were trying to make a TV show where contestants would compete and the winner would get a day on the MIR space station? And then the MIR space station responded to that by falling apart finally and burning up in the atmosphere? I kinda sensed the space program on an international level was kinda on its last legs back then.

We got to the moon and that was great, but then we found out there wasn't anything there. If the moonrocks were made of stuff more valuable than just real weak concrete, we'd be back. If they'd found anything more than rocks and dirt with the probe on Mars, there'd be money going into it. However, there's no profit margin, so the money's drying up.
posted by ZachsMind at 11:59 PM on December 5, 2001


Exactly. It's high time to put these matters into the hands of people and corporations who are willing and able to actually do something.
posted by Poagao at 12:11 AM on December 6, 2001


Nobody's stopping private industry from building a space station. There's just no money in it, so they don't do it.

And that's good. Keep business out of space as long as possible. We don't want Reebok bulldozed into the Sea of Tranquility or Coke etched in artificial stars across the night.
posted by pracowity at 1:07 AM on December 6, 2001


(If Osama was on mars this would solve our problems)
posted by holloway at 1:58 AM on December 6, 2001


Nobody's stopping private industry from building a space station

That's not necessarily true. The UN has tried the best it can to stop private individuals from exploring space, through two ridiciolous treaties: The UN Moon Treaty and the UN Outer Space Treaty.

Basically these treaties (inter)nationalize all extraterrestial resources, thereby preventing me and you from setting up profitable businesses there.

Hopefully, though, no one will listen to the UN over this either.
posted by dagny at 2:26 AM on December 6, 2001


or Coke etched in artificial stars across the night.

Crew of the Nova 5, we hardly knew ye.
posted by youhas at 2:52 AM on December 6, 2001


Space treaties don't block anyone from sending a rocket up, experimenting (or joyriding), and coming back down. That sort of thing is already done. Rockets and shuttles and space stations exist.

But just as other international treaties are designed to keep idiots from claiming the oceans, space treaties discourage idiots from claiming space. They help to hold back a land rush, minimize long-term destruction for short-term gain, present fewer reasons for war in and about space, and ensure that all people are fairly represented in any future moves away from this planet.

Imagine, for example, if China were to land on the moon and proclaim ownership of the whole rock. Why not? Isn't that how the US was founded? Isn't that the capitalist way? And the Chinese would need to own the lunar orbital rights to protect their land, so they would claim ownership of certain parts of space.

A land rush would put people from two or three countries on every rock in this solar system within the next decade or two. And then what? Japan owns Jupiter and everyone else needs to apply for a visa to visit? Exxon owns Mars and that's too bad for BP and you? Canada takes the sun and holds out the Canadarm, palm up, to demand payment for the use of its radiation?

Just how would you make money from space? Taking and selling? And do you plan a spacewalk for capitalism?
posted by pracowity at 3:40 AM on December 6, 2001


Space treaties don't block anyone from sending a rocket up, experimenting (or joyriding), and coming back down

Space treaties essentially block people from making money by developing extraterrestial properties. That in effect makes it pointless to send rockets up there in the first place. Why invest in creating something when you know that an international wannabe-government is going to take it away from you?

Imagine, for example, if China were to land on the moon and proclaim ownership of the whole rock. Why not? Isn't that how the US was founded?

No, it's not. Homesteaders claimed land by developing it. If you could use it, you could own it. You could not, however, simply point to the horizon and proclaim "mine!", the way you suggest in multiple examples here.

For that same reason, it's not realistic to suggest that Exxon will own the entire planet of Mars. The only way they could achieve that would be by developing the entire planet of Mars, and even though I respect Exxon for some of their business practices, I don't think they're that good or financially solid.

Just how would you make money from space? Taking and selling?

The beauty of laissez-faire capitalism is that the lawmakers (or perhaps more precisely: law non-makers) won't have to worry about details like that. All they have to do is to keep their hands away from people, unless those people initiate force against other people, and let investors and entrepeneurs figure out money-making schemes for themselves. Developing and selling certainly looks like one option, yes.

And do you plan a spacewalk for capitalism?

Now that you mention it...
posted by dagny at 5:57 AM on December 6, 2001


Holloway: "Nobody's stopping private industry from building a space station."

Pracowity: "Space treaties don't block anyone from sending a rocket up, experimenting (or joyriding), and coming back down. That sort of thing is already done. Rockets and shuttles and space stations exist."

Dagny: "Why invest in creating something when you know that an international wannabe-government is going to take it away from you?"

Dagny is correct. I cite the Euopean Center for Space Law

"Space Rules" do exist, and we hope they do at least provide some confidence that, even out there, certain standards of human behaviour -let us say: human civilisation - are maintained!"

The only reason those space laws are still in effect is because there's been no company large enough to properly combat it in the courts. We're not talking about just american government and NASA, but international decisions made behind closed doors by boneheads who are afraid of the future and the unknown. Rockets and shuttles and space stations do exist but only after communicating with these organizations. In order to get the okay to send anything up, you have to work within very convoluted channels. It takes more than just money. It takes politicking and kissing the asses of some of the most powerful humanoid asses on the planet.

The intent of these laws is to slow progress and insure that it's more convenient and cheaper for people to work with NASA and other space agencies worldwide - so those organizations can keep their "mefirst" hold on the high ground. It's like gun control laws. The intent is partially to protect the masses, but it's also to protect the powers that be from being overthrown.

It allows those in power to keep the power, and will necessitate a form of rebellion, probably within the next two centuries, to overcome it.

If there was actually stuff out there worth fighting over, this would happen faster. It takes too much effort, too much money, and there's too little return on the investment. It's not that we can't do it, we can't afford to do it until we can find a way to make money at it.

Privatizing wouldn't help. Then corporate interests which are not chosen by the public would have control of the high ground. This is not something the governments of the world can tolerate, because they fear the future and the unknown. There is progress, but it's very slow. Such things as satelite systems have become a very lucrative business for some, and is one way to take the emptiness of space and turn it into a money making prospect. However, it's gonna be a long time before the tourist trade makes any real money at this.

The infrastructure for habitation has to be built first. That's gonna take awhile. Why? They say in space no one can hear you scream. Truth is, in space no one can hear you over the fan belt. If we can't even easily resolve something this absurd, odds are rather slim that your grandchildren will enjoy space travel in any conceivable way.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:23 AM on December 6, 2001


the Euopean... uh. I missed an "R" in there somewhere.
I crack myself up.
posted by ZachsMind at 6:26 AM on December 6, 2001


So what if China landed on the moon and declared it Chinese territory? They can have it! Let them pour their treasury into a sterile and unproductive space program like ours. Let them bankrupt themselves sending mobile bags of warm guts to that dead, empty rock. If they can make something of it, more power to 'em.
posted by Faze at 6:49 AM on December 6, 2001


> ... it's not realistic to suggest that Exxon will own the
> entire planet of Mars. The only way they could achieve
> that would be by developing the entire planet of Mars,
> and even though I respect Exxon for some of their
> business practices, I don't think they're that good or
> financially solid.

But apparently you don't object to it in principle: if Exxon could turn to its profit all of Mars, you believe that it would be proper to do so, and that doing so would earn them the right to own the planet.

That's why Randoids need to be kept away from space policy. There is no "beauty of laissez-faire capitalism." Under its tyranny, beauty does not matter if there's a dollar to be made from ugliness.

> The only reason those space laws are still in effect is
> because there's been no company large enough to
> properly combat it in the courts.

And if there ever is a corporation monstrous enough? You'll have to rewrite astronomy books. Planet Microsoft. Planet Exxon. The Evening Sky™ with a new swoosh constellation brought to you by Nike.
posted by pracowity at 7:36 AM on December 6, 2001


But apparently you don't object to it in principle: if Exxon could turn to its profit all of Mars, you believe that it would be proper to do so, and that doing so would earn them the right to own the planet.

Quite correct. I respect people's property rights, no matter where they have their property, and how big it is.

Your main argument, on the other hand, seems to be something along the lines of "sure, it's their right and all, but they're so big! And it's far away! And that swoosh! I mean, come on!" I'm sorry, but that's not enough to convince me I'm wrong. Quite the contrary, it's the kind of whim mentality which convinces me I'm right.
posted by dagny at 8:42 AM on December 6, 2001


I think what he saying is more, 'what right would a large company have in taking something like that' Not, 'they shouldn't take it because they're big'

Why should they be able to take something like mars for example and profit from it? The only reason you have given dagny is because they can. If only they will "develop" it. This reasoning is flawed on many levels.

1. It implies that "development" is a binary state. It's either developed or not, it serves a purpose, or not. That's not true. If it's "undeveloped" then you assert that it is claimable, but some others might claim that it is developed already, as mars, and should stay that way. Others might think it should be developed a different way, or many different ways. The state of "development" is arbitrary.

2. It implies that people or groups can take property by force. Exxon could take mars, but a poor country could not. Is Exxon more deserving than a hypothetical poor country? Perhaps not, yet they are in a position to take it, and are supported by you, solely because they are powerful enough to take it.

Perhaps a better way to allocate resources would be to see how they could be used to help the most people, and how they could be used most efficiently. This could be decided democratically. I personally like this idea more than the "we're big companies and we'll take what we want, and you'll like it!" approach.
posted by rhyax at 12:08 PM on December 6, 2001


Just how would you make money from space?

Satellite launches are quite profitable, but the main post is asking questions that are far too sci-fi to be answered properly. Star Trek vision? What vision is that? A wandering spacecraft fighting evil when it sees it. Or people going from planet to planet for really no good reason other than "orders." Sorry, but boxy spacestations are as good as it gets for a long time. The ISS is an amazing achievement in itself. No need to bash it because it doesn't have a nerdy holodeck.

Also, there may be limits, or at least being forced to convene with the UN if you want to claim land on another planet, but as far as oribting space tourism and hotels go you're free to do as you like. Unfortunately, no one can even come close to making it profitable without government assistance which probably mean a cut of funds to space science so that joe-millionare can see the moon from orbit at $500,000 a pop.

Dagny's assumption of planet claiming is just as flawed. One country could easily lauch a legion of satellites around on planet for 'research' and have their orbits set in a way that unless you can get permission to land you'll never set foot on that planet. That's one of a billion ways to take advantage of the old method of prospecting and land claims. Yes, this is the capitalist way but lets not forget that way also leads to territorial disputes, wars, and genocide.
posted by skallas at 2:16 PM on December 6, 2001


NASA has the answer to making money - put up a giant disco ball and collect a cover charge for a planet-wide party. Best of ABBA for everyone!
posted by skyscraper at 3:45 PM on December 6, 2001


Sometimes it seems that we've already decided that space just isn't worth it. Even if we try, the corporations will do something evil with it. And just talking about it is sooo tiring. Ooh, Buffy's on!
posted by Poagao at 8:17 PM on December 6, 2001


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