Born on the 100th anniversary of Robert Goddard and named in his honor (changed to Gabriel after gaining the nickname God) by a Space Lawyer and Satellite Communications pioneer; I have always had a romance with space. In the early 90’s, when you could still see the stars at night in DC, I would have sleepovers where we would look up at the sky all night searching for evidence to support our imaginations. At the time we convinced ourselves, and some others, that there was interstellar air traffic coming to port overhead. I had definite plans to be on the 1st manned Mars mission back in 2001, lol.
It was saddening to see interest in space go into decline as it has for the past twenty years. Although it seems that with the privatization of space transport underway that trend may become reversed. Commercializing the space program actually has great potential to reignite the public hunger for progress in space exploration. Corporations are far more adept at utilizing mass media and marketing to create interest, than government agencies.
Through our desire to flirt with the cosmos however I fear we are creating an unhealthy bedfellow by looking to corporations as our new cosmic sugar daddies. I’m referring to the term Space Colonization in particular and Space Exploration in some degree as well. This goes back to my previous point about the use brand imaging that profit corporations due so well. Words do not appear as definitions to most people, they see visions or conceptions when they hear them. Governments tend to use dry legal vernacular, while corporations appeal to the compulsive emotions of people’s appetitive nature.
Beginning with the more minor point about the term Space Exploration, there isn’t much romance with it. Space is by definition nothing, who in their right mind wants to explore nothingness? Funding revoked. Space Colonization, quite a bit more sexy, clear images of gluttonous amounts of resources being accumulated from places too far away for laws to apply. The term also implies concrete outcomes, where as exploration implies not necessary benefit other than the thrilling adventures of years in a tin can. It is my prediction as we move farther into the world of a commercial space industry the term Space Exploration will die out in favor of terms like Space Colonization.
Despite my longing to see the realization of my childhood obsession with interplanetary if not interstellar travel, I caution everyone to examine the historical and ethical implications of our current path to extraterrestrial existence. When we say Space Colonization do we mean it in the Gerard O’Neill’s High Frontier sense or the Robert Heinlein The Moon is a Harsh Mistress one? The former representing a suburbanization of inner space while the latter an imperialistic view of untapped resources and outsourced undesirables.
With the big news from space being projects of profit corporations I have begun to tremble that our extraterrestrial future will look a lot more like Avatar than Star Trek. That is why I have started using the term spacesteading to refer to proposed colonies in the skies. Inspired by Patri Friedman’s Seasteading Institute, which I have long been a de facto Ambassador for, spacesteading represents a less weighted conception of what life in space may look like. It can inspire spirits to take to the stars like in the Astronaut Farmer or Have Spacesuit – Will Travel and Rocket Ship Galileo. Best of all it promotes a diversity of concepts to be tried in space increasing the likelihood of success and minimizing the devastation of failure.
Truthfully, no matter what you call it the reality on the ground is likely to going to become the reality at sea or in space. Even in Star Trek they had to evolve past capitalism to form the United Federation of Planets. Thank Goddard that we have no life on neighboring planets because the repetition of our colonial past played out on an interplanetary scale is one aspect of science fiction I hope never to be realized.