Space Pirates Redux / Voltaire

I think that you know that one of the things that is occupying my mind right now as a writer and a social anthropologist is my interest in (and set of concerns about) humans leaving Terra (in rockets public or private) with no Prime Directive. Various space agencies such as NASA and ESA have policies, but those policies apply only to those agencies. There is a very good international treaty that covers the Moon and other celestial objects, the United Nations “Moon Treaty“, but as no nation who had space capability actually signed the thing (you can see the fifteen Nation States that did at the link) there isn’t really anything there except a lot of good intentions. I mean, an enthusiastic high five to places like Kazakhstan, Morocco, and Peru, but seriously.

Wired Magazine has written this up. This is the photo that they ran with their article, a little over a year ago.

my_asteroid, photo Wired Magazine

The Moon Treaty also doesn’t address private industry having fledged the national nest; the assumption that industry will be controlled or regulated by government is laughable in 2013. Absurd. Our system is easily gamed; industry that runs afoul of the law simply does what it pleases and pays the fines and settles the lawsuits. There is no law in place that would stop or regulate space mining; the Pirates are already making the case that asteroids don’t count; they are celestial garbage, not celestial bodies. There isn’t as much as a Boy Scout Handbook for them to be held to.

Me:  “Ray Bradbury, do you think we have any cause to worry about Space Pirates?”
Ray Bradbury:  “Have you read any of my stories?”

Bradbury, photo by Lennox McLendon, used as cover of "Ray Bradbury: Classic Storytellers, by Michele Griskey

Here is a handy infographic about asteroid mining, prepared by the fanboys at Space.com. There is a lot of enthusiasm for this in the community; as I mentioned before, however, it strikes me as material that to a man, all of the pirates wanted to be astronauts. They are stuck in a kind of Any Way Up mentality right now; people who ought to know better are simply hoping for the best, because they want progress and the governments aren’t making enough of it. But mining companies don’t operate altruistically; they want the resources. Period.

Anyway, the days for international treaties have passed; Bush and Cheney made that crystal clear. We need a new organization, something like the United Federation of Planets.
Yeah. That has a nice ring to it.

One of the things that I field objection to regularly regarding my focus on the Pirates is that they haven’t  “done anything yet.” (Why does this remind me of Rick Tumlinson’s criticism of the dinosaurs- “Millions of years and what did they do? Jack.”)

And I say, “You mean aside of course from performing astonishingly elegant and recent upper atmosphere rocket launches from planes so beautiful that they could make you weep, signing up a very impressive number of very wealthy patrons to be their first Space Tourists, hiring some of the best minds in the industry, building rockets like rabbits, and having access to the fortunes of Jeff Bezos, James Cameron, and Richard Branson?  Other than that, no, they really are nowhere.”

Hardly a day goes by that I am not treated to Branson signing up his next paying rocketrider (I think he made #600 yesterday) or to the oddly vocal new NASA Administrator Charles Bolden making the rounds saying incredible (and incredibly optimistic) things about NASA’s plans to capture asteroids, to send astronauts to Mars, to the Moon. I’m like, really?

The man is storyboarding, but I don’t necessarily object.

Charles Bolden NASA 2013

Eight new astronauts have actually been chosen and hired by NASA; half of them are women.

This is lovely (I mean this is FANTASTIC) but we have no actual plans on the books to send them anywhere, despite what Bolden says to the media. I don’t discount his vision, though; I have no problem with sending people to the Moon and Mars. In fact I think it’s great.

A couple of weeks of war can buy entire missions. Let’s do space instead of death.

"Tomorrow", by Murphy Elliot

Oil Painting, “Tomorrow”, by Murphy Elliot

If we don’t do something to avoid it, however, our exploration will by default be about harvesting.

There was a time not so long ago when we thought that all space was empty except for what we could see; dark matter had not been postulated; the air was not clogged with signal, was not thick with data. Perhaps space was emptier then, before we knew that it wasn’t. What else don’t we know about what we can’t see?

Why would we ever think that we were fully in frame? We never have been.

beautiful bryan ferry

I imagine that you also know that for a series of practical reasons, I’ve selected Bryan Ferry (who completely qualifies for the job) as my Rimbaud, my Voltaire. Everyone needs one.

Three days ago, one of my Love Letters cohorts said to me something like, “You know, I hate to break it to you, but not everyone is interested in Bryan Ferry.” I do not know what to say to this; I get the sense that if I were in fact studying Voltaire, my situation would be unimpeachable, if also somewhat stale.

Voltaire has been simply done to death. He gives good soundbites, though, as does Ferry; a favorite from the former, which I included in my last book, is,

“Cherish those who seek the truth, but beware of those who have found it.” 

4 thoughts on “Space Pirates Redux / Voltaire

    • Thank you! The next book should be very thrilling for me as I’m moving into a kind of multimedia essay style that I’ve always wanted to work in.

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