Space Policy in the 21st Century:
The New Commons vs. A Sky Full of Enrons
By Daniel C. Smith
Neil Armstrong took that first
giant leap for humanity in 1969, he set our feet upon the path to a
society, truly one world and one people in possession of a common
the first time in history. Most
gazed at the moon in wonder, drinking deep in the joy that
‘we’ were on the
moon-- yet for the most part oblivious to the plethora of benefits that
extension of our reach into the heavens yielded for all of us that
Earth. Sadly, as we
twenty-first century our own national space program has deteriorated
capability and in stature in the eyes of the public.
The US shuttle program and the international space station
outlived their usefulness-- nothing more can be gained from their
use. But as our
talks of taking the next step (most often Mars), private enterprise is
a trail that could lead to corporate domination of outer space.
It is my belief that allowing
this encroachment into
outer space by big business to continue unabated, especially if it
leads to a domination
or monopoly of the skies by corporate interests, is not only
also immoral on the part of world governments.
only a fool would believe
that what the United States has already accomplished in space
have been done without the technological innovation and industrial
the private sector, one must realize that these things were
unison, government and industry working hand-in-hand, with industry
I believe that we have
witnessed a disturbing reversal in this relationship, especially in the
few decades. Money
has become the
dominating factor in politics, a trend that seems to benefit fewer and
people. Our elected
officials serve the
ones who can deliver the money in large enough increments as necessary
victory, hence the role reversal between government and industry. Of course money has always
mothers-milk of American politics, but in the last half-century the
money necessary to win in the
political arena has virtually served to eliminate the influence of the
guy’, the individual contributor and actual constituent to
whom the elected
official is supposed to represent.
lies the irresponsibility
and immorality of our supposedly representative government (s); not to
the potential benefits of a human presence in space and to fully
presence for the people of whom those governments supposedly represent
dereliction of duty on their part and to further allow control of these
potential benefits to be co-opted by a few faceless, unaccountable
multi-national corporations is immoral.
this is exactly what is
happening; juxtapose the current trends of budget cuts by most
worldwide and waning public support for space exploration with the
increase in private funding for space related projects in the last two
and it is obvious that there is new space race a foot (Berinstein,
this is not a race between
nations, nor is it even a race between corporations on a level playing
rather a race between public and private interests for control of the
frontier and any resources that potentially can be harvested from its
it is a race that I believe that the public is losing at a cost so
great as to
implications of this new space
race raise a legion of questions-- the first of which is obviously:
exactly can an active space program, under the aegis of a
government, do to improve the lives of human beings living today (the
would be asked to pay for it)?
world today faces several of the
most serious crises in our collective history, the most exigent of
which is the
continuing devastation of our environment; from the oceans to the
planet is undergoing possibly cataclysmic changes which could forever
way of life. There is a great deal of research being conducted in outer
concerning these problems, research that has not only increased our
understanding of the causes leading to the deterioration of our
research which can also perhaps lend itself to prevention and even
the negative effects of human activity upon the planet.
Phenomenon such as deforestation and the
greenhouse effect are being closely monitored by both manned and
in near-Earth orbit; our presence in space has proven invaluable in not
identifying these two problems, but it is believed that further
lead to an understanding of cause and perhaps even provide clues as to
reverse the damage already done (NASA Publication, N.p.: n.p., 2005.).
can further curb the damage that
we naturally cause just by our presence by moving some of our very
activities into outer space. Industrial
processes which are unclean (and even dangerous) on Earth would have no
negative impact in space and the technological spin-offs of the space
continue to propel the utility, communications, and transportation
into the future. These
advancements also continue to elevate our lifestyle are also being
make education more accessible to more people than ever before-- a
effort could make illiteracy a thing of the past (Congressional
Civilian Space Stations.... 1984.).
the consequences of exploring
outer space extend beyond the cell phones and the recent advancements
technology that made it possible (and desirable) for every home to have
personal computer. Already
industrial processes which cannot occur on Earth have already given
a better understanding of fluid physics and combustion science, which
has provided us with new insights in the area of energy conservation.
our studies of combustion science could lead to more efficient heating
Earth; each two percent increase in heating efficiency alone save
the United States alone over eight billion dollars a year and helps to
rapidly depleting resources. As
example (again, out of hundreds), the science of metallurgy has already
greatly advanced by space research, and the environment of space will
creation of stronger alloys which could not be manufactured on Earth.
systems, originally developed for space exploration, easily lend
increased production on Earth (NASA Publication, N.p.: n.p., 1995.).
futurists and visionaries
offer other, more ambitious, plans to help solve the Earth's ecological
other impending crisis’ from space. Other planets (including
the asteroids and
any passing comet) could eventually be mined for minerals, alleviating
demands on our own over-taxed resources.
Take, for instance, the most basic element of life, water. Although seventy percent
of the Earth’s
surface is covered with water, only point-zero-three percent of this
available to us as drinking water; given the current levels of
finding its way into the water table (much of it generated from
mining), is it
so far-fetched to think that one day humanity might be forced to turn
icy rings of Jupiter and Saturn for water? (Asimov, Isaac. 1975.)?
Of course a
discussion of all of the geo-political crises confronting us today
incomplete without considering the ever-present threat of terrorism. While many believe that
what we are
witnessing today is simply the inevitable clash of cultures, the
McWorld’ (Barber, Benjamin J.; 1995) predicted by many
political scientists in
the eighties and nineties, I believe that by accepting
today’s state of the
world as inevitable is to surrender without a fight, and that is simply
worst sort of defeat.
argue that perhaps the best way to combat the evil that is terrorism is
paraphrase US President George W. Bush) to build a world in which
cannot ‘flourish and thrive’?
is the tool of the oppressed, the disenfranchised or worse, those
hope that tomorrow will be better than today.
While putting human beings back in space on a full-time
basis alone will
not magically end terrorism, what better way to begin to build not just
global society, but a global community,
a world in which all nations are given an equal chance to participate
conquest of space and to reap, in a truly equitable fashion, the
their collective efforts to push the frontiers of our existence ever
what about aggressive nation-states--
countries that still seek to expand by conquest?
How long could such a government maintain power in the
rapidly spreading prosperity in which they do not allow their own
industrial and technological
infrastructure of the defense industries of all
countries on the Earth could easily be adapted to space-related
producing not weapons of mass destruction but vehicles of exploration
that can mine the skies for the riches now within our reach.
treat the wealth of space as
just another market to be cornered by those corporate entities
enough to undercut the competition is to rob every generation that will
after us of their rightful heritage, and the continued practice of
to be concentrated in the hands of the few can only further exacerbate
of those who count themselves among the dispossessed.
underlying cause of many of the problems listed above is hunger, and
hunger issue consists of two components: production, and distribution.
The use of
artificial satellites by the US has led to greatly increased crop
yields in the
past few decades. Satellites
to scan large areas of land within a very short time, measuring a
variety of factors
including the status and conditions of crops, soil droughts, rainfall,
snow-cover, etc., and this data allows for more efficient utilization
land by increasing watershed control, the use of fertilizers, field and
and harvest planning (NASA Publication, N.p.: n.p., 2004.).
such a system of satellites were
developed by an international coalition and equipped with earth
sensors and working within a single framework for worldwide
improvement, the increased crop yields would be on the order of several
dollars (satellites have also been utilized to more efficiently harvest
bounty of our oceans and have aided in their ecological protection)
Dr. Ernst. 1996.).
of course, is another
matter; distribution depends more on international cooperation than any
technological or logistical factor.
again, what better way to build not just a global society but a community than by exploiting the
benefits of space for all of the people on Earth by a new, aggressive
for the development of this satellite network.
This satellite network should be the first major space
project of the
twenty-first century; while not as glamorous as going to Mars, the
outweigh such a journey (however spectacular the thought) at this time. Not only are the benefits
of increased food
production obvious, but building and deploying the satellites as well
tackling the problem of distribution will go a long ways toward
sense of community among global
which is so important as we move into the second decade of the
speaking, nothing has
proven more effective in generating international good-will than the
program-- remember when the Soviet Union voluntarily went to a radio
so as not to interfere with any signals from Apollo 13?
Or when they deployed as many ships as they
had available to the vicinity to aid in search and rescue? This was at
height of the cold war, and less than five years later the United
the Soviet Union shook hands in orbit of the planet that they both
common on the first ever joint mission by the world’s two
biggest and most
aggressive adversaries, Apollo-Soyuz (Shepard, Slayton, 1994.).
you see, it is not really a
question of how can we afford to fund space exploration in the face of
our collective problems, but rather, how can we afford not
the benefits of our presence
in space clear, next we must ask ourselves whether or not there is a
between public and private interests and just what could be the harm in
allowing private interests to control the advancement of humanity into
solar system is full of
resources that belong to everyone as a matter of “public
which, as explained earlier, can be a great benefit to humanity and I
that ‘we the people’ should begin to think of space
as the new commons-- not
just as a milieu for science fiction writers and filmmakers but as a
of wealth and information which is the heritage of all people on Earth.
concept of “public trusts” or
commons is not a new one, nor is it socialist dogma; in fact, it has
central theme of democratic societies since the idea of
‘government by consent
of the governed’ was born.
Rome's Code of Justinian guaranteed the use to all citizens of the
trust" or commons -- those shared resources that cannot be reduced to
private property -- the air, flowing water, public lands, wandering
fisheries, wetlands and aquifers (Mackay, 2005.).
the early thirteenth century,
when King John began selling off England's fisheries and erecting
tolls on the Thames, his subjects rose up and confronted him at
forced him to sign the Magna Carta, which included provisions
rights of free access to fisheries and waters.
England passed clean-air laws in the fourteenth century
that made it a
capital offense to burn coal in London, and violators were executed for
crime (Churchill, 1965.).
concepts and documents are
where our own Founding Fathers turned for inspiration when they forged
Constitution of the United States, and these "public trust" rights to
unspoiled air, water and wildlife descended to the people of the United
following the American Revolution. Until 1870, a factory releasing even
amounts of smoke onto public or private property was operating
these rights were usurped from
the people during the Gilded Age of the robber baron which swept across
world in the wake of the industrial revolution.
Much of the natural resources and public lands in our own
changed form public to private hands during this time in history. Fortunes multiplied
overnight, and those monies were used to plant the seeds of the Corpocracy which has manipulated
politics and politicians alike for the benefit of a very few throughout
twentieth century, especially in some of the more industrialized
we find ourselves in the
midst of the digital information revolution which has worked to unite
in many ways and has created a new sense of globalism, yet as the world
drawn more tightly together by the threads of technology it is also
the seams with near-ancient tribal and nationalistic hostilities
1995). The end
result of this wave of
globalization has not been a better, safer and more inclusive and
world; instead we have witnessed the birth of the multi-national
and in many instances these corporations are proving to be as powerful
major difference of
course is that corporations are not beholden to an electorate, which is
the very few saving graces of government.
as the sub-title of
this essay suggests, the image of corporate-controlled space
the question: Do we want a sky full of Enron’s (of course
Enron is being used
here as a metaphor for the corporate malfeasance which has for far too
havoc on our environment). Consider,
just one of thousands possible examples of profit-driven neglect, the
recalcitrance of the major oil companies (Chevron, Exxon, etc.) to
double-hulled ships to transport crude.
The costs would be minimal compared to the cleanup costs
of an oil
spill, yet the industry refuses to take such a basic step to protect
environment which produces their product.
Are these the people that we want to be in charge of
nuclear wastes into the depths of outer space (if
you do not believe that people will support transporting irradiated
cargo into space then you don’t live in Nevada!)?
One of my
favorite stories concerning corporate corruption (drawn from
features a very large US company being investigated for overcharging
government (that means you and I) for meals for the US military while
Iraq. Just think
about that for a
moment-- do you want a company that would overcharge soldiers for food
war for which they are the most immediate beneficiary given dominion
skies above the heads of you and your loved ones?
because we know the question
will be asked we must ask: What right do world governments (or even a
collective body of nations) have to deny (or even to regulate)
a longstanding canon of both national and international law, and moral
obligation all serve to validate government sponsorship and regulation
the United States, the promise
of benevolent exploitation of the resources of space lie in the very
the program, beginning with the National Aeronautics and Space Act of
legislation clearly outlined America’s intentions in outer
space as peaceful
and determined that the benefits reaped by the space program were to be
in fact, the act encouraged international cooperation and mutually
ventures (Gibney Frank B.; Feldman, George J.; 1965.).
The United Nations quickly followed suit,
forming the Committee for the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. The U.N. also issued a
series of resolutions
calling for the adherence to a general set of principals governing
exploration and extended already existing international laws into what
termed the “commons” of space (Matsuura, Kumiko.;
common heritage of humanity is
ours, but we must claim it.
course, how to go about it? What
the average individual do?
us realize that in all actuality, neither our own government nor the
Nations has any real space policy for the 21st
century-- and with
all of the pressing domestic and international issues confronting our
everyday, there likely never will be.
step is to increase public awareness by any way possible-- we must make
editorials to your local
or school papers, attend political forums and ask those running for
they have thoughts on the issue, write to those who are currently in
volunteer for political campaigns and introduce the topic. Realize also that this
issue is contingent
upon many others-- we must fight for change on many fronts, the most
which is limiting (or even eliminating) the amount of money that
interests can pollute our political process with (i.e., campaign
reform) is imperative to taking back both our government and our future.
danger of the influence of big
money upon our government could prove to be exceptionally dangerous in
last space race; the very junior senator from my own home state of
Brownback, reacted to the successful launch and single low-orbit of a
craft not much more advanced than the old Mercury capsules by China by
declaring that “…America must dominate the
Earth-moon orbit at all
further suggested the
introduction of weapons platforms into outer space-- presumably to keep
Chicoms from gaining a foothold in the Sea of Tranquility. Such a course of action
would require (by senate
ratification) the abrogation of several international treaties that
in place since the conception of NASA and would most assuredly draw an
unfavorable reaction from the rest of the world.
A close look at the senators campaign contributors reveal
corporate contributors-- including some of the very corporations that
definitely benefit from another arms race.
course I do not mean to single
out a fellow Kansan; the truth is that there is not one politician in
Washington who has not taken in more money from corporate sources than
people of their district. Awash
corporate cash, politicians today seem eager to surrender their
of leadership in the area of space exploration and, even more
their specific and crucial function of providing legislative oversight
very industries now pushing development in that area.
is another vital area of
reform that we the people must insist upon.
Ask yourself: why does the person who represents you take
corporate entities far outside the district with no vested interest in
city or town?
they have a ‘vested
interest’ in your representative.
vital area of reform necessary
to curb corporate influence upon our government (and slow the invasion
space by big business) is by adapting tighter restrictions on the
our former representatives by lobbying firms; when we
the people do actually displace an incumbent, we do so
we want them out of Washington--
they remain in place, often with more power and influence than they had
of the legislative or even the executive branch.
candidates who believe in the necessity of these issues-- and by more
voting if you can-- volunteer when and if possible.
is never quick or easy (or
even pleasant), but it can, and does happen. But most often, any real
(at least in American politics) has to begin at what is known as the
roots’ level-- that means ordinary people like you and I. An ancient Chinese proverb
teaches us that a
journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and while the
space travel can seem light-years away, it gets closer with each
passing day. If we
are to reclaim our future, we must move
beyond the momentary excitement generated by the accomplishments of
probe into outer space from the private sector (many of whom are well
intentioned) and instead help to forge public policy that is both
and fair. It will
not be easy, but it
must happen because the alternative is simply unacceptable.
We will reach Mars (and beyond), and when we do, we will be
able to build new, better
worlds for humanity because we will have already taught ourselves how
here on Earth.
- Asimov, Isaac.
Tomorrow, and…; pub. By Dell Publishing, 1975.
- Barber, Benjamin J.; Jihad
vs. McWorld; and Hough,
Jerry F.; America’s Russia Policy: The Triumph of
Neglect; from World
Politics, 1995. Edited
Helen E.; pub. By Brown and Benchmark.
- Berinstein, Paula.; Making
Space Happen: Private Space Ventures
and the Visionaries Behind Them; Medford Press, 2005.
- Churchill, Sir Winston Leonard
History of the English Speaking People; arranged for volume
one by Henry
Steele Commager, Dodd, Mead, 1965.
- Congressional Publication: Civilian
Space Stations and
the U.S. Future in Space; Washington, D.C.:
U.S. Congress, Office of Technology and Assessment,
- 241, November, 1984.
- Gibney Frank B.; Feldman, George J.; The
Signet Books, 1965.
- NASA Publication, N.p.: n.p., 1995.
- NASA Publication, N.p.: n.p., 2004.
- NASA Publication, N.p.: n.p., 2005.
- Mackay, Christopher S.; Ancient
Rome: A Political and
Military History; Cambridge University Press, 2005.
- Matsuura, Kumiko.; Chronology
and Fact Book of the United
Nations; Oceana Publishing, 1992.
- Shepard, Alan.; Slayton, Deke.; Moonshot;
- Stuhlinger, Dr. Ernst.; WHY
EXPLORE SPACE?; copyright
- White, Frank,; The Overview
Effect: Space Exploration and
Human Evolution; Houghton Mifflin, 1987.
- Zinn, Howard.; Arnove, Anthony.; Voices
of a People’s
History; Seven Stories Press, 2004.
© 2007; Daniel C. Smith
Daniel C. Smith has published over one hundred short stories and poems
in various publications and anthologies, including Tales of the Talisman, The
Leading Edge, Scifaikuest and AlienSkin. Recently he won an honorable
mention in the 18th Annual Year's Best Fantasy and Horror for poetry.
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