Another out-there proposal for space tourism

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(Credit: hungergamesdwtc.net)

One of the latest shaky proposals for a commercial space business comes from an outfit that calls itself SHIPinSPACE and promises to build a 48-passenger suborbital flight module that would take tourists on joyrides at a cost of $50,000-$60,000 per.

SHIPinSPACE has no web site. You can flip through its proposal at Google Docs. SHIPinSPACE principal Fabrizio Boer has propagated his “news” via social media, including LinkedIn, YouTube, and Facebook. This announcement was posted, for example, with a LinkedIn discussion group called “Space Movement.” SHIPinSPACE launched an IndieGoGo crowd-funding campaign earlier this year, raising only 596 Euro of its 100,000 Euro goal.

Space Safety Magazine, published by the International Association for Space Safety, ran an article about SHIPinSPACE this spring – no questions asked.  Just this week the blog site Parabolic Arc – dedicated to “space tourism and more” – ran another no-questions-asked article about SHIPinSPACE, this time reporting that the project has obtained $7.78 million in seed funding from Black Star Global Enterprises Ltd. UK.

Black Star has no web site. It is listed in a number of corporate directories, with no information about its assets or activities. The U.K. service Company Check says this about Black Star:

Black Star Global Enterprises (uk) Limited is an Active business incorporated in England & Wales on 12th July 2012. Their business activity has not been recorded. Black Star Global Enterprises (uk) Limited is run by 2 current members. It has no share capital. It is not part of a group. The company has not yet filed accounts. Black Star Global Enterprises (uk) Limited’s risk score was amended on 02/04/2013.”

The two “members” of Black Star Global are Mr. Matthew Nicol (age 48, born 1965, British citizen, managing director) and Dr. Robert Oliver Lawrence Wickham, a self-described “chartered town planner, advocate, and lecturer” (born 1946, age 67, British citizen.” I can’t determine exactly which British Matthew Nicol this one is from poking around the web…. You can learn more about Dr. Wickham’s business interests here. According to that Web site, Wickham is or has been a:

Director of Gracerange Limited, a real estate developer (Gracerange has no web site);

Director of Providence 1 Limited (no web site, listed in U.K. corporate directories with no information about assets or activities);

Member of Ibbett Moseley, a limited liability partnership that “offers clients advice on a diverse range of property matters from surveying, design and planning, residential and commercial sales and lettings, town planning and architectural services (no names of partners on the web site, no names on “contact” page); and

Member of Howard Sharp & Partners, a limited liability partnership that also is in the property business.

I have to wonder whether someone in this game might be interested in developing another “commercial spaceport” with tax breaks, government bond financing, and other taxpayer-supported perks of the sort that Virgin Galactic has obtained from the state of New Mexico. I also have to wonder about the reality of this claim of $7.78 million in seed money. And, sadly, I wonder where our global culture will be 20 years from now if we continue to allow the rich to get richer while the poor get poorer, while businesses continue to chase after opportunities to cater to the 1 percent.

Remember, dear readers: don’t believe everything you read. And to turn to an old but still relevant adage from the world of journalism, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

Onward Christian “soldiers,” to Mars?

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(Thanks to redletterchristians.org for highlighting this chart)

The Mars Society www.marssociety.org will begin its annual convention in Colorado later this week. In looking over the agenda (I will not be attending), a few things jumped out at me.

First is a talk to be given by the Rt. Rev. James Heiser, on “Christianity and space exploration.” Rev. Heiser is a founding member of the Mars Society and a member of its board of directors and its  steering committee. I looked up Heiser, and here’s what I learned.

Heiser earned his B.A. in political science from George Washington University in Washington D.C. In 1987 he went to work as a research associate of the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington D.C. and as a media analyst for the Media Research Center (then of Alexandria and now of Reston, Virginia).

The National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR) is a self-described “conservative communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.” The center touts its endorsements from Rush Limbaugh, the Heritage Foundation, ex-U.S. Senator George Allen of Virginia, the Heartland Institute, Colonel Oliver North, and liked-minded, right-leaning others.

NCPPR director David Ridenour is linked with the “Property Rights First! Coalition,” created by the American Policy Center (tagline: “25 years leading the fight for American property right and sovereignty”) in 2005. The American Policy Center is a D.C.-area outfit “dedicated to the promotion of free enterprise and limited government regulations over commerce and individuals.”

For those of you who are not regular readers of this blog, let me point out that the subject of private property rights in space – framed as a necessity for free and open commercial exploration, exploitation, and colonization of space – is a favorite topic among certain hard-core space enthusiasts. For instance, among the values and beliefs articulated in the National Space Society’s “vision” for space exploration and development are “prosperity-unlimited resources,” “growth-unlimited room for expansion,” individual rights, unrestricted access to space, personal property rights, free-market economics, and democratic values.*

In his online column for Fox News, Rand Simberg – an occasional reader of this blog – once observed that “one of the major roadblocks to space development is the lack of off-planet property rights, and the socialist mindset engendered by the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.”**

The Space Frontier Foundation’s “NewSpace” conference last month featured a session called “Sinking the Iceberg: The Current Legal Landscape of Utilization Rights in Space (And How We Can Change It).” According to the program, here’s what this session was designed to address:

“While property rights here on Earth have been established for millennia, the legal landscape of space outside of Earth orbit is relatively undefined. The Outer Space Treaty, widely-ratified in 1967, explicitly forbids any government from appropriating the moon or other celestial bodies, which some claim prevents anyone using resources in space from doing so without sharing it with the entire world. However, very ambitious companies have already declared their intentions to use the resources of space for private gain, and the time has come to re-examine the laws of outer space utilization and property rights from a modern perspective. In this panel, we bring together some of the experts on how we could create a practical legal regime, and develop the technologies needed, to encourage and promote the utilization of resources beyond low-Earth orbit.”

Back to NCPPR and the Rt. Rev. Heiser….

NCPPR President David Ridenour’s wife Amy Moritz Ridenour, who is chairman of NCPPR, was, according to Wikipedia, “a veteran organizer of the College Republican National Committee. She was a candidate in 1981 for election as national chairman of the organization, opposed by Jack Abramoff. Abramoff, Ralph Reed, and Grover Norquist persuaded Moritz to drop out of the race by promising her the appointed position of executive director. With the only serious competitor out of the way, Abramoff won the election easily. Although Moritz was later rebuffed by the “Abramoff-Norquist-Reed triumvirate” and only given the titular position of “deputy director,” she continued to work with the group and became a good friend of Norquist. Abramoff would also later become a director of the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR).”

The Media Research Center, which calls itself “America’s media watchdog,” and “The Leader in Documenting, Exposing and Neutralizing Liberal Media Bias,” describes itself as “a research and education organization operating under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.” It offers, among other things, CNS News http://www.cnsnews.com (Conservative News Service) – “the right news. Right now.”

Now, back to the Rt. Rev. Heiser, formerly of NCPPR and the Media Research Center.

Heiser became a minister in 1996. He has worked in central Texas since 1998.  In 2006 he became bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America. The diocese has 14 pastors (all male, by the way), who, according to their web site, are “committed to the restoration and advancement of consistently Evangelical Lutheran doctrine and practice in harmony with the Sacred Scriptures and the Book of Concord (1580).”

I am not nor have I ever been a Lutheran of any sort (for the record, I am a card-carrying Unitarian Universalist of the humanist flavor), so I can’t explain the dogma…. I asked a (coincidentally, white male) friend who is an Episcopal priest about this diocese. He never heard of it.

One quick note: Heiser is listed as a “speaker” on the web site of the John Birch Society, whose mission is “To bring about less government, more responsibility, and — with God’s help — a better world by providing leadership, education, and organized volunteer action in accordance with moral and Constitutional principles,” by “preserving individual rights & national, independence” and “restoring the Constitution.”

Repristination Press of Bynum, Texas, has published two books by Heiser: A Shining City on a Higher Hill: Christianity and the Next New World (2012) and Virtue and the Settlement of the New World (2010). The Mars Society has published a book of Heiser’s essays, “Civilization and the New Frontier” (2010), which were presented to the conventions of the Society in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010 (essay topics: “”What is New Civilization Worth?,” “Virtue and the Settlement of a New World,” “Space Exploration and Christian Hope – Charting a Course Between Utopia and Dystopia,” and  “Faith and Community: Moving Beyond LEO”). (In case you were wondering, “repristination” is the act of restoring something to its first or original state or condition.)

Heiser’s collection of essays won a five-star rating on Amazon.com from the Mars Society’s public relations director Susan Holden Martin. Amazon reviewer Eric Rachut (a.k.a. “Furor teutonicus”) notes that these essays address, among other things: “the distinction between the Epicureanism (living for the here and now and for oneself alone) of the current age and the Stoicism that exploration requires,” and “how the overthrow, in the thirteenth century, of the Aristotelean dogma, that other worlds are impossible, opened man’s imagination to such other worlds and then to their population. The means of this overthrow was the recognition, by Christian scholars, of divine omnipotence. (Paris was the site of this development; more generally French pope Sylvester II had promoted the pursuit of science and mathematics two centuries beforehand and Kepler and Newton were later Christian giants in the foundation of astronomy and astrophysics – contrary to the common modern view that Christianity is anti-science!). Then follows a survey of the positivism/utopianism which built on sand in producing the narrow and destructive ersatz-religions of the twentieth century. Those who would benefit most from these essays are those who believe the challenges of space to be largely or entirely technical and material, and yet whose minds are open to a larger picture.”

You can read quite a bit of Heiser’s published writing free online, at Amazon and elsewhere. I found it difficult reading…. You decide for yourselves.

Also on the Mars Society’s convention agenda is Mihail Mateev, to speak about “Christianity and space exploration.” According to Facebook, Mateev is affiliated with an Australia-based group called “Christians in Science and Technology,” whose mission is “to develop and advocate a Christian perspective in the science-religion dialogue within the science community, the Christian community and society generally in the Australasian and international communities.” I note that two of ISCAST’s 52 “fellows” are female.

Bruce Mackenzie – a member of Mars Society steering committee – is scheduled to give four talks at this week’s convention. Mackenzie “is co-founder of the Mars Homestead Project, which aims to start the settlement of space with a Mars base built from local materials…. As a staff member at Draper Laboratory, he worked on launcher guidance and GPS receivers. [He] became active in NSS [the National Space Society] through the Boston L5 Society and is also involved with the NSS, SSI [Space Studies Institute], Planetary Society, ISU and MIT – SEDS [Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, co-founded by Peter Diamandis, now of the X Prize Foundation and Planetary Resources).”

According to the by-laws of the Mars Society, the group has a “creed” that is articulated in its founding declaration founding declaration. A creed is typically any system, doctrine, or formula of religious belief, or any system or codification of belief or of opinion. The society’s creed consists of a list of reasons why “we must” go to Mars. “Believing therefore that the exploration and settlement of Mars is one of the greatest human endeavors possible in our time,” this declaration/creed concludes, “we have gathered to found this Mars Society, understanding that even the best ideas for human action are never inevitable, but must be planned, advocated, and achieved by hard work. We call upon all other individuals and organizations of like-minded people to join with us in furthering this great enterprise. No nobler cause has ever been. We shall not rest until it succeeds.”

One question I have is, who’s “we”?

I’m disturbed by the appearance of Christianity (and, just as importantly, as far as religious perspectives go, Chrstianity only) on the agenda of a space conference. It’s bad enough that for more than 50 years the rhetoric of space exploration has reflected a Western-centric, male-centric, “free-market” perspective. I sincerely hope that “we” are not in the process of adding “Christian” to this string of descriptors.

* See 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.

** Rand Simberg, “A space program vs. the moral equivalent of a space program,” Tech Central Daily, November 1, 2004, http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=110104F. (I last accessed this piece on 22 February 2006. I don’t think the link works any more.)