My Spaceflight Utopia

4 October 2011

Tuesday


In my account of the 100 Year Starship Study Symposium Day 3 I touched on the utopian character of many of the presentations. This utopianism was not limited to those who presented in the philosophical and religious track, but was perhaps most obvious in those discussing the institutional, organizational, and financial aspects of a starship project.

In my own presentation (which I discussed in 100 Year Starship Study Symposium Day 2) I explicitly foreswore utopianism, emphasizing that the future of civilization as I saw it was in no sense a utopian endeavor; even if we do not destroy ourselves or suffer a crippling failure of nerve that keeps us from striving toward greater things, the long-term human future as a spacefaring species will be as mixed as the human record on the earth.

After my presentation a fellow approached me and asked what I thought was the best approach to initiating a spacefaring society. I said that open markets, commercial competition, and low barriers to entry are the best bet for our future in space. Some of the earlier speakers had expressed their open suspicion of market-based economies, and when there was an open discussion after the presentations I grabbed the microphone for long enough to say that no planned economy has ever functioned efficiently. Stuart Brand began to take issue with this, and I added that there are, of course degrees of planning. In any case the point is that more planned economies are almost always less efficient than less planned economies, with the result being that unplanned economies almost always overtake planned economies, and this is one reason the plans of utopian communities almost always go awry and the utopia is transformed into a dystopia.

In any case, when I was pressed for more details by the fellow who was asking me questions after my presentation (I’m sorry I didn’t get his name), I responded, “Here’s my own personal utopian vision for human spaceflight.”

I went on to mention the African Space Research Program, that I previously wrote about in An African Space Program, and I suggested that if one of the Persian Gulf oil Sheikdoms such as Qatar or the UAE or Kuwait, looking for a place to put their billions, invested a large amount of money in the ASRP that the latter could afford to buy the equipment that they need and to hire the outside expertise that would make the difference.

Many of the Gulf oil Sheikdoms are awash in money from high oil prices, many of them are looking to invest that money, and many of them spend vast amounts of money on futuristic cities in the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula. It seems to me like the perfect opportunity to invest in a project with potentially great rewards in the future, to demonstrate one’s forward-thinking by becoming involved in a space program, and to do all this without the bureaucratic, institutional, and regulatory entanglements that threaten to smother the older and more established space programs of the Western world.

It would be a real competitive shot in the arm to the state-sponsored space programs of the US, Europe, Russia and China to be blindsided by the effort like this. Chris Mnamba of the ASRP has shown that he has the vision; the Gulf Sheikdoms have the money; to me it looks like a match made in the heavens. And one would think that at least one of the sheikdoms would like to add a spaceport to their gleaming modern cities.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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