Blowing the dust off an old belief system, again



Today’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing on U.S. human exploration goals and commercial space competitiveness takes testimony from six white, male, human-exploration advocates, including three ex-astronauts.

I do not anticipate hearing a diversity of views from this line-up. Welcome to the Republican-controlled 114th Congress. (Update, Feb. 26: Marcia Smith provides a good summary of the hearing.)

Meanwhile, pro-space neoliberals, libertarians, and Tea-Partiers are lining up to promote a space colonization (they call it “settlement,” I call it “colonization”) agenda on Capitol Hill.

I was inclined to ignore their recent noise-making. Then I decided to add another chapter to my ongoing critique of this antiquated ideology.

A “pioneering space declaration” coming out of last week’s invitation-only “pioneering space national summit” claims that “the long term goal of the human spaceflight and exploration program of the United States is to expand permanent human presence beyond low-Earth orbit and to do so in a way that will enable human settlement and a thriving space economy.” (I think they must mean “should be,” and I disagree.)

The National Space Society (NSS) and the Space Frontier Foundation (SFF), two of the organizations behind last week’s summit, announced yesterday that they and several other groups have created an Alliance for Space Development (ASD). Among ASD’s proclaimed objectives for this year is “incorporation of space development and settlement into the NASA Space Act.”

Members of this alliance include the Tea Party in Space, whose mission is “to educate and engage the American people and their elected representatives in applying the core principles of fiscal responsibility, limited government, and free markets to the rapid and permanent expansion of American civilization into the space frontier, focusing on strategies for privatization, deregulation, and appropriate technology development partnerships between government institutions and the private sector.”

NSS’s “vision” is “people living and working in thriving communities beyond the Earth, and the use of the vast resources of space for the dramatic betterment of humanity.”

The Space Frontier Foundation claims its “purpose is to unleash the power of free enterprise and lead a united humanity permanently into the Solar System.”

And now more advocacy groups (or should I say Web sites?) are popping up to promote the same agenda. The rhetoric is so familiar (and still disturbing)….

An outfit called the EarthLight Foundation – which offers no information on who or what constitutes the group – has a “vision,” too: “To carry the light of life to places now dark, the seeds of life to places now dead, and the eyes, hands, and minds of humanity to places yet unseen, untouched, and unknown.” Projects of this foundation include an “Endowment for Tomorrow,” an “Up! Space Celebration,” and a “New Worlds Institute.” No information is provided on the first two, um, things.

The New Worlds Institute, which claims to be dedicated to “a future of unlimited possibility and abundance created by the human imagination, powered by the resources of space and made real using principles of democratic free enterprise,” says it plans a New Worlds Conference “about the future, hope and the infinite possibilities offered by an infinite frontier…. In 2045 this world will no longer be the only world we call home.” No information is provided on who or what constitutes this institute.

As I’ve said before,* “Examining the history of space flight advocacy reveals an ideology of space flight that 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.”

The advocacy groups discussed in this post are promoting an outdated ideology as a foundation for national space policy. As a citizen, taxpayer, and policy analyst, I protest. Advocates for space settlement and other forms of exploiting extraterrestrial resources are overwhelmingly white and male. We females constitute 51 percent of the world’s population, and a majority of people on Earth are not “white.” We’ve had no national or international dialogue on goals and objectives for space exploration that could benefit all of humanity (I don’t care what the advocates say, asteroid mining would benefit mining companies, not humanity). Any “dialogues” that the pro-space community may point to have been organized by space advocates.

For decades, U.S. public opinion polling has shown that while a majority of respondents have supported having a space program, a majority has not supported spending more money on it. A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center Initiative on Science and Society for the American Association for the Advancement of Science asked (U.S.) respondents “to consider whether the use of human astronauts in the U.S. space program is essential or not essential given the relative costs of manned vs. robotic space exploration”: 59 percent agreed that astronauts are essential to the future of the U.S. space program. I must note, however, that this result says nothing about these respondents’ views on colonizing the solar system.

*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.


3 Responses to “Blowing the dust off an old belief system, again”

  1. Will Jones Says:

    Great article, I can almost believe that you are serious! I can just imagine people out there thinking this sort of nonsense for real!

  2. Paul Marks Says:

    Was the article intended to be a satire? Who cares what skin colour the witnesses were, or whether they had a penis or not. What matters is the achievements of their lives and the quality of their arguments. As for your hostility to the “colonisation” of outer space. What “natives” can you produce to claim that their property rights have been violated. No doubt I will be denounced as a “racist” and “sexist” to ask you to actually produce a little green man, but till you do (or a little blue woman) with a prior claim to property on Mars, or wherever, you have no argument. By the way – libertarians OPPOSE (they do not support) spending tax money on such ventures.

  3. doctorlinda Says:

    Mr. Jones, I can’t tell whether you are being straight or sarcastic. Mr. Marks, I am engaged in an ongoing critique of the libertarian ideology that is embedded in U.S. space policy. Stay tuned for my next blog post.

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