Solidarity in Space
Michio Kaku, the famous physicist, says that there are four types of civilisations: type 0, type 1, type 2 and type 3. A type 1 civilisation is a planetary civilisation: a civilisation of tolerance and solidarity. One may call a planetary civilisation as globalisation and the loss of individuality; however, it may be the next step into effectively exploring space. Type 2 civilisations are federations of planets and type 3 civilisations are galactic – they encompass the whole galaxy. The most dangerous type to exist in is type 0 – the one we exist in today. In this civilisation we have widespread intolerance with the capability to destroy humankind, either by weapons of mass destruction or through destroying our planet by abusing its resources. There are signs which highlight our entrance into a type 1 civilisation that Kaku points out: we have English which is becoming a planetary language, football becoming a planetary sport, and the internet and phone systems becoming a planetary form of communication. The signs are promising then, but human morality and tolerance is something that regresses as well as progresses.
It is important to remember that space exploration began out of divisive politics between capitalism and communism; both America and the former Soviet Union endeavoured to prove their worth. With the Cold War over, efforts are more collaborated: if you want to visit the International Space Station (ISS) you take a Russian rocket to get there. However, politics still thwarts space exploration. As of now taikonauts (Chinese astronauts) are denied access to the ISS due to alleged human rights violations committed by their government. Despite this, the Chinese space program is endeavouring to launch its own independent space station. Before solidarity in space there should be solidarity on Earth between respective space programs. With the ISS expenses racking up a 1.8 billion bill in 2005, the call for serious collaboration has never been greater.
There are encouraging signs of a planetary space program on earth today and the main one is the planetary society. The planetary society was founded by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman in 1980 and aims to advocate space exploration. Fast-forward to 2010, the planetary society, now headed by Bill Nye, met with President Obama in a conference. Obama in a speech promised to increase NASA’s budget to help NASA ‘garner tangible benefits’ and to ‘protect [the Earth’s] environment for future generations’. Rewind back to 1961 to the president John F. Kennedy, in a speech before congress on the topic of space: Kennedy speaks of ‘win[ning] the battle that is going on around the world between freedom and tyranny’ by putting a man on the moon. Kennedy is talking of the Cold War, the United States representing freedom and the Soviet Socialist States as representing tyranny.
It is important to remember the past when it comes to space exploration, that it has been governments and not private companies advancing the space frontier with sometimes questionable motives. The past space program was more of a show of nationalism, whereas today it is more collaborative and will flourish so, if we are careful at least. With the election of Donald Trump, divisive spheres are emerging again which may thwart the solidarity process of a potential planetary space program. We share this planet which, in universal terms, is a miniscule object that does not have a terribly long life. It is absolutely necessary that a universal space program is developed if we want to, as Obama summed up, ‘protect [the Earth’s] environment for future generations’. The two major inevitable events we need to overcome are 1) our sun swallowing our little planet and 2) avoiding Andromeda when it collides with our galaxy. The only way to address these issues is to build a civilisation based on the principles of solidarity, science and tolerance.
Privatisation of the Space Program
In recent years a new player is emerging the space exploration field – the private market. SpaceX is leading this market with a number of impressive accolades under its belt, with Virgin experiences also making progress. SpaceX website lists their accomplishments: ‘the only private company ever to return a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit, […]its Dragon spacecraft attached to the International Space Station, exchanged cargo payloads, and returned safely to Earth’ and has continued supplying the international space station under a 1.6 billion dollar contract with NASA. One of Space X’s ‘key goals’ is developing reusable rockets. With this technology space exploration would be transformed and, in the near future, planet hopping in our solar system would become possible.
Despite these achievements there are some draw backs to the privatisation of the space program. The main drawback is that the motive behind space exploration for the private market is the profit motive. Exploration, research and discovery will be marginalised. Neil DeGrasse Tyson on a panel said: ‘there is fundamentally no business case for private enterprise to advance a space frontier’. He goes on to say that the capital market chooses not to value mistakes that are inevitable and the only funding that can account for this is governmental funding. The tone of SpaceX’s information page on its website concedes this by writing of ‘contracts’ with NASA and governments and ‘delivering highly reliable vehicles at radically reduced costs’. Here lies a trend in advancing any frontier in our history: it has mostly been governments that have advanced a frontier with the private companies falling in behind. For the monarchy of Aragon, the Genoa Columbus was sent to look for a passage to India instead finding the new world. Magellan was tasked with exploring new worlds on the behalf of Portugal; Francis Drake on the behalf of England. Following these explorers came the likes of the colonisers, trading companies and private companies. The profit motive is something that is easily picked up on when reading SpaceX’s website and, even though Elon Musk boasts of landing a man on Mars and colonising it, there is little information about that endeavour compared to the services SpaceX provides.
Bill Nye draws an important distinction between NASA and SpaceX, that NASA has 13 different centres where the space program is in development, whereas SpaceX has a centralised base of operations. Bill Nye says in an interview that any question of closing a NASA centre is deeply opposed by Congress because of the assassination of Kennedy who began the program: because of his death and the fact that he did not witness the moon landing created the situation where the United States ‘could not not go’, that mentality in Congress may live on today. On the other hand, SpaceX has one development centre outside Waco in Texas. Here there is a development line in which the process of making a rocket is on a system similar to a production line, thus greatly reducing costs of development in comparison to NASA who have many development centres and have to transport its rockets and fuel between them.
There are pros and cons to the private and government space programs then. On one hand, the private space programs are compromised by the profit motive and possibly unwilling to advance a space frontier, whereas they have developed a vastly more efficient development process to reduce costs. It seems that the governmental space program can learn from SpaceX’s example and centralise their efforts to advance a space frontier, and possibly collaborate with SpaceX as they are increasingly doing so to advance a space frontier and land a human being on the planet Mars using the planet hopping technique which SpaceX is now perfecting.
Film and Science
Star Trek’s main exports at first seem to be overacting and poorly made uniforms with the tensile strength of a wet paper bag, but underneath that there may be some sort of science going on. This brings me to the point that not only knowledge is needed to effectively explore the universe or advance our technology, but a lot of imagination too. It was Einstein who said, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination circles the world’. Delving into a mixture of art and science we shall look into the film industry and highlight imaginative technological creations and how they compare with technological advances today. The movie industry is important because it provides everyone an image which is a reference point, unlike reading a book where the image is subject to the person reading it. It is these images that are reproduced in later generations to become tangible objects, almost hyper-reality becoming reality.
There are a number of things in Star Trek: The Original Series that is science or at least a mixture of imaginative science and real science. There are also uncanny predictions of future technologies. Of the latter, the most standout case would be the communicators. These communicators resemble the old flip phones of the 2000s and like modern phones, they always seem to disappear or be stolen in the shows. There is also the matter-antimatter generation, which NASA describes as ‘one of the best scientific features of Star Trek’. Although, according to NASA it is not possible to produce enough anti-matter to fuel a ship, the science behind it is ‘reasonably correct’. Although there are feasible scientific aspects and predictions in Star Trek there are also aspects that are founded on nothing – time travel for instance. There is a great mix of scientific and imagination that is reproduced in reality today from communicators to doors that open for you when you approach them – bearing in mind the original series was broadcast in the sixties; you still had to open all doors by yourself back then.
Stanley Kubrick, who advanced the technology used in the movie industry, using the first steady-cam in The Shining and using a Lens made for NASA to take footage in very low light in Barry Lyndon, also captures an uncanny version of the modern Ipad. Before any prototypes of this device, it was envisioned in the imagination. Arthur C. Clarke described this technology as the ‘newspad’, Stanley Kubrick then made a visual of the newspad. The newspad is a thin computer with a screen on one side, on which its interface is used by touching it. The newspad broadcasts images, news, anything to the device which you can view anywhere. This appeared in Stanley Kubrik’s 1968 movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. 42 years after the film’s release in 2010 Apple’s first Ipad was released featuring all the features mentioned above. The Ipad upon inspection seems to be just a blatant copy, almost to the point of intellectual property infringement.
In all science fiction films there lies imagination for the future, for future technology, human understanding and future exploration. The important note to recognise is that the imagination of the future proceeds the action. That imagination has somewhat stemmed from the arts and media to the point that the images of the future are being directly reproduced into reality. In order to advance human understanding, technology and exploration and a little bit of imagination is needed, not just scientific understanding, and the right balance can make a world of difference.