Are you old enough to remember the Space Race? Then watch your step gramps. People born after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon are well into middle age. Those who actually remember it are elderly.
It’s now ancient history as Wikipedia notes. “The Space Race was a 20th-century (1955–1972) competition between two Cold War rivals, the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States (US), for supremacy in spaceflight capability. It had its origins in the missile-based nuclear arms race between the two nations that occurred following World War II, enabled by captured German rocket technology and personnel. The technological superiority required for such supremacy was seen as necessary for national security, and symbolic of ideological superiority. The Space Race spawned pioneering efforts to launch artificial satellites, unmanned space probes of the Moon, Venus, and Mars, and human spaceflight in low Earth orbit and to the Moon.”
History buffs will note that it was once a three way competition. Believe it or not there was once a British space program which sputtered out early in the race. “A British rocket named Black Arrow did succeed in placing a single British satellite, Prospero, into orbit from a launch site in Australia in 1971. Prospero remains the only British satellite to be put into orbit using a British vehicle.”
However space flight is ramping up again, this time with a different cast of characters driven by a different set of motives. The private sector will play a far bigger role in the 21st century than it did in the 20th.
Two videos which describe a permanent return to the moon as a prelude to deeper space missions provide an almost eerie contrast to each other. The first video is produced by the European Space Agency. The second is by Google. Both videos are high quality efforts, however like the approaches they represent, the presentations are a contrast in styles.
They could not be more different from one another.
In the first video, the “we” referenced in “we are going to the moon” means “we governments”. In the second video by contrast “we” means whoever wants to join in the exploitation of space. The second major difference in approach is that in the former, space exploration is the task of governments working in harmonious cooperation with each other.
In the latter case the Moon, then Mars will be settled by self-organized groups of people, hailing from no particular nation (yet all oddly communicating with each other in English), each desperately trying to beat the other out.
The difference between the two may represent the two alternate pathways the 21st century can take. It can either be the best of times or the worst of times. The trouble is, the worst for one is the best for the other. For one, man is the universe: that which is to be subdued, dominated and ruled. For other humanity is part of the universe and therefore ultimately beyond the control of anyone, even himself.
Maybe the real reason humanity must venture into space in the coming years is that the planet Earth has become too small for two very different points of view. It’s away then to the far shore.
“Roll on, deep and dark blue ocean, roll. Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain. Man marks the earth with ruin, but his control stops with the shore.”
Update: The Guardian, that reliable organ of the Left, has an interesting take on the new space race. They believe it’s money poorly spent. Jess Zimmerman writes: “What if the mega-rich just want rocket ships to escape the Earth they destroy?”
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is the latest tech billionaire to invest his money in spaceships: on Tuesday, he debuted his space travel company Blue Origin’s newest rocket. Now, those who want to cruise the galaxy can choose between the sleek new rocket and the stubbier model Bezos announced in April – or they can opt to ride with Tesla founder Elon Musk on a SpaceX ship, or hop on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic….
Which raises the question: are they just gearing up to wash their hands of the planet and leave the rest of us to clean up? By pushing outward while ignoring the problems it causes back on the home turf, are they effectively creating a galactic upper class that rests on the backs of the earthbound? Even if that’s not literally the plan, it may be the ultimate outcome.
The Left very frequently views private enterprise (except in the production of pure undifferentiated commodities) as rent-seeking or theft (“property is theft”). To do business is to steal. To explore space is to replicate the White Man’s history of pillage but on a cosmic scale.
The natural socialist explanation for private space travel is “they’re trying to get away!” — which exactly what Jess Zimmerman concludes.
And since she insists on thinking of private initiative that way, and much of the Left will agree, she’s provided the argument for flight that wouldn’t have existed in the first place. People are running away not from the old earth, but from the infestation of busybodies. Maybe the big thing is to get away from all the togetherniks and communotards; all the wowsers and the microaggrieved. And to do that Mar’s ain’t nearly far enough away.
Divergence may be the biggest trend of the 21st century, ranging from terrestrial affinity groups that break away from the unitary state or world superstate, to actual colonies that declare independence from earth. The next hundred years may be a great age of exploration and freedom; not from choice but by necessity.
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