Another “asteroid mining” company? Really?

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Deep Space Industries (DSI) claims “it is time to begin the harvest of space. The Earth is…floating in a sea of natural resources. The riches of the solar system offer humanity both unprecedented prosperity and an improved environment.  The resource potential of space outstrips that of any previous frontier – without the environmental impacts.”

To quote Seth Meyers, “Really?”

What is DSI?

According to space.com, DSI’s “asteroid mining project aims for deep-space colonies.” (Fox News ran space.com’s story with a new and ridiculous headline: “Company to unveil fleet of asteroid-mining ships for deep-space colonies.”

Really.

Conduct a PR campaign and they will report on it…. (See my post of June 27, 2012.)

“We are dreamers,” says DSI’s web site.

Really….

What DSI unveiled at its Jan. 22 press conference is a series of Powerpoint slide shows illustrating what it dreams of doing. DSI a company formed by true believers in the conquest of space. It exists on paper (and its web site) though that appears to be about it for now. I’m doubtful of the claims of this latest band of would-be space conquistadors. I’ve been following the exploits and analyzing the rhetoric of some of them for 30 years.

NBC News reports that DSI’s CEO David Gump, said at the company’s press conference, “One reason for having this press conference is to become findable by additional investors.”

Really.

To quote Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr. in “Jerry Maguire”), “Show me the money.”

What appears to be at the heart of DSI’s business plan is hard-core-libertarian, “free-market” capitalist ideology – a dangerous belief system, in my view. It reeks of Ayn Rand (among others).

I quote from a paper I wrote in 2006*: the ideology of space exploration “draws deeply on a durable American cultural narrative – a national mythology – of frontier pioneering, continual progress, manifest destiny, free enterprise, rugged individualism, and a right to life without limits. This ideology rests on a number of assumptions, or beliefs, about the role of the United States in the global community, American national character, and the “right” form of political economy. According to this ideology, the United States is and must remain “Number One” in the world community, playing the role of political, economic, scientific, technological, and moral leader. That is, the U.S. is and must be exceptional. This ideology constructs Americans as independent, pioneering, resourceful, inventive – and exceptional. And it establishes that liberal democracy and free-market capitalism (or capitalist democracy) constitute the only viable form of political economy. The rhetoric of space advocacy exalts those enduring American values of pioneering, progress, enterprise, freedom, and rugged individualism, and it advances the cause of capitalist democracy.”

Back to DSI. The company says its “vision” is that “the human race is ready to begin harvesting the resources of space both for their use in space and to increase the wealth and prosperity of the people of planet Earth.”

Really? Which people? All people? Or just some people?

This sort of rhetoric makes me queasy.

“Welcome to the revolution,” said DSI principal Rick Tumlinson in opening DSI’s press conference. “Here we are talking about a new age.”

Really?

Echoing the rhetoric of the limits-to-growth debate of the 1970s, Tumlinson continued, “We have a myth permeating our culture [that]…the future is ever narrowing in its possibilities.” This “myth,” he claimed, “survives only in the minds of people who believe that this” – that is, Earth – is it.” His vision, he said, is to “expand the civilization of Earth into the cosmos…. The people are the ones who are going to be opening up space,” in the tradition of Lewis and Clark.

Tumlinson is a founder of the Space Frontier Foundation (SFF), an organization “dedicated to opening the Space Frontier to human settlement as rapidly as possible.” In his LinkedIn profile, Tumlinson describes himself as a “NewSpace Leader, Writer, Speaker, [and] Entrepreneur.” He lists his current affiliations as the Texas Space Alliance, Space Diver Inc., and SFF. From SFF’s web site: “Our goals include protecting the Earth’s fragile biosphere and creating a freer and more prosperous life for each generation by using the unlimited energy and material resources of space. Our purpose is to unleash the power of free enterprise and lead a united humanity permanently into the Solar System.”

According to DSI’s web site, SFF is one of its “fellow supporters” along with the National Space Society and the Space Studies Institute – groups that embrace the belief system described above. (More on these outfits in my next post.)

DSI’s vision prompts me to recall the 1981 science-fiction film “Outland,” in which miners working in a human colony on Jupiter’s moon Io are dropping dead like flies. A law enforcement official investigates and finds the miners died of an amphetamine-type drug that enabled them to work continuously for days at a time, until they dropped. The dealers of the drug are linked to the guy who runs the mining colony. Surprise….

Yes, I know, DSI says it will use robots, not people, to do its mining. As to the ethics of mining resources in outer space, first consider Article I of the 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty: “The exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind.”

I know of at least one lunar scientist who’s not happy about smashing spacecraft into the Moon (as NASA intentionally did with its twin lunar orbiters Ebb and Flow last year), disturbing a pristine environment before scientists can properly study it. We’ve had years of public discussion about the value of preserving pristine terrestrial environments for their own sake. Perhaps we might discuss the value of preserving pristine environments elsewhere….

*Linda Billings, “Ideology, advocacy, and space flight – evolution of a cultural narrative,” pp. 483-500 in Steven J. Dick and Roger D. Launius, eds., Societal Impacts of Space Flight (NASA SP-2007-4801), National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Washington, DC, 2007. Available free online at history.nasa.gov (publications).

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2 Responses to “Another “asteroid mining” company? Really?”

  1. Libertarianism in fiction and in fact | doctorlinda Says:

    […] libertarian flavor of the ideology of many commercial space advocates. (See, for example, this post from earlier this year.) Individual (now including corporate) freedom, free-market capitalism, private property rights, no […]

  2. More on American exceptionalism | doctorlinda Says:

    […] ideology embedded in space exploration rhetoric. I’ve written about this ideology before – for example, in this post. This ideology embraces space as a wide-open frontier, open to exploitation and colonization, ripe […]


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