Saturday, January 14, 2012

Supreme Children of a Chinese Moon

Although space exploration has modernly been touted as an achievement of great peaceful ambitions, it did not begin under such an earnest distinction. Rockets, which were the forefathers of all modern spacecraft systems, were initially exploited by the brutal and murderous Nazi regime for the express purposes of warfare. A little further in their development, it was technology developed simultaneously to deliver nuclear payloads through the implementation of Inter-Continental-Ballistic-Missile systems that allowed both sides in the Space-Race to catapult men around the world along the very edges of the infinite heavens above for the first time.
The Space-Race itself was a direct descendant of the Cold War that resulted from World War Two and the competitions of ideology between Russia and the USA. Even though these two sides were so different in so many ways, the styles and origins of their space launch technology shared much in common. Indeed, were it not for pressure and antagonism from both sides a much more comprehensive, united and advanced system for human space exploration may have already evolved.

In spite of these beginnings, some of the first steps towards a lasting global peace were indeed formed in space. The Soyuz/Apollo rendezvous in 1975 heralded the end of any classical Space-Race competition and was certainly a durable foundation for the later actualization of a more liberal Russian system of governance and a formal end to isolationist American tendencies as well. In later years, as the Soviet union crumbled, the massive ISS project (the largest single human undertaking of modern times at some $150 Billion+) and other cooperative ventures cemented arrangements for a lasting cultural exchage that recognized no borders or barriers of intrinsic ideological, ethnic or national prejudice. Men and women from both sides worked together in concert with other international partners and they achieved meaningful developments in diplomatic and scientific activities. Surely if you had said in the 1950s or 1960s that the two major antagonistic sides would eventually become mutual partners in massive low-orbit space projects you would not have often found a warm reception. People would scarcely have believed the Cold War would end with neither side having never suffered total annihilation.

These relationships,resultant from cooperation among many peoples working in unison whilst floating above the clouds, have remained an enduring testimony to our potential and also the success of our early efforts in space. Though born from such dangerous and hostile situations, the new space confederacy born near the very end of the last century has enabled ever more members of our species to ascend into the realms previously reserved only for Enoch, Elijah and Jesus in customary Christian discourse. Any story of men from many nations all living and working in a vessel constantly falling around the earth at thousands of miles-per-hour would surely have qualified as “heavenly tales” in any previous age.

I have titled this article as I have to act as a warning to us as well as to the Chinese; if we are not careful, such a title could come to apply to an elite group of humans in the future and, moreover, it could be used in a terrible and segregationist tone against other visitors to a China-controlled lunar surface. This is no way meant to be a remark against China, it is much more a reflection on dangerous tendencies in humans whenever an environment and attitude of xenophobic pride is encouraged. If anything it is a recognition of the precarious place China is flirting with through their mostly solo efforts at space-faring thus far. I could have just as easily called the article "Sons of the American Lunar Soil Company", but I perceive that as far as a matter of national pride, NASA has bequeathed their control of manned space exploration over to the free market system – a major step in the right direction, as far as I'm concerned, I might add. That being said, I think there might also have been better and more forthright ways of going about manifesting this transition, but such is merely speculation and what's done is done. The bottom line here is that I think that if nations contunie to explore space through their individual governments instead of a coordinated international, indeed a planetary-corporate undertaking a sort of segregationist attitude might develop in the future against nations who lose this, now forming, SpaceRace2.0.

At this, the dawn of the 21st century, there are three major competitors in outer space development and exploration; The USA, Russia and China are leading the nations of the globe in space capabilities, though we might also consider that several other nations are close to developing independent capabilities in the field. China, however, is currently the new kid on the block. The fact that it is taking its first massive strides so quickly and so independently is some cause for concern as much as it might be cause for the bestowing of accolades. As previously noted, the USA and Russia were operating under this independent national model, although in open competition, at the beginning of the Space-Age. For a time, both were steadily growing in GDP and global dominance so that, somewhat logically, space seemed a natural next step in the expansion (one) of their empires. Many people on both sides wondered if the moon and space would be colonized under American freedom or Soviet communism. Such paradigms and concerns are simply not the case any longer. The advance in technology because of the Space Race, for both Russia and America happened at a relatively steady, controlled and uniform pace. We should be very aware that China considers all those achievements to be initial steps, far in the past. Because of little more than their place in the progression of overall space development for Terrans, they are moving at a much more accelerated rate during the present.There should be little doubt that their economy is one of the best poised heading into this new century of outer space exploration as well. When one is sitting on the top of the pile, open cooperation becomes a truly noble and humane act, rather than one made of strictly self-serving interests. When the fall of the Soviet system occurred America could have abandoned them and their space ambitions to the dustbins of history for a time. The extension of a hand of cooperation and inclusion in these matters should not be under-appreciated by the Chinese so far as its positive effect on the establishment and maintenance of peace between two sides such formerly antagonistic sides.

It might seem like a bit of a stretch to asume that China could so quickly become a leader in space development, but beyond only economic domination China has a large number of the worlds population and a more authoritarian type of government than any current Western power currently involved in space. If China so chooses to start a more massive space initiative they would have the spending authority, technology and authority of government to make it a serious undertaking for their people (whether the vast majority of their population supported it or not). Obviously there are positive aspects to why we in the West do not find ourselves in a similar situation, but as far as an outlook on the progress of space development; for the next 25-50 years China might be the dark horse of any new space race. The fact that this supremacy might belong to a nation other than my own (while certainly some) is not my primary motivation with these concerns. I would urge the following position on any nation that found itself in a stance of supremacy on these matters.

As China recently began to expand its space program to include stations, further manned missions and prospects for the moon over the last few years, I have watched with some dismay at the lack of cooperation with other nations. I was very happy to see China involved with other nations on the MARS-500 project, but here again I was disappointed to the maximum that there was no Canadian or American contingent. Though I can understand and appreciate a measure of national pride in regards to independent national space achievements (especially early ones), we should not loose sight of the great gifts that came out of diplomatic gains from space cooperation among groups of powerful nations. Medical, scientific and technological advances can be developed and shared for the benefit of the entire species through this sort of cooperation. Now that China has begun to construct habitats in Low-Earth-Orbit (LEO), I would think them wise to further embrace the hands of the nations of the world in these endeavours. Seeing Russian and American cosmonauts working together has been a normal part of living experience for my generation. We never knew the bitterness, the suspicion, the animosity of the cold war because of projects like this – far fetched ideas that were slipped into the mainstream consciousness have protected my generation from tyranny more than any body scanner ever could. I have seen more positive space propaganda including members of both the American and former Soviet sides - and watched with enthusiasm the achievements of both - than I have ever seen a piece of war propaganda that would incite me to hatred of another group of human beings. Almost every previous generation of man has had a less fortunate upbringing on this Earth than me in regards to racial distinction and though I am sure that many of the people out there under 30 cannot or do not in any way live in a meaningful awareness these great freedoms from oppression of thought that we enjoy today. I even write this just in hopes that any increase of such awareness is a good step towards the prevention of the re-emergence of these vain terrors. It is interesting that we see quite clearly today that if we do not become more aware and appreciative of these tolerances we may be doomed to regress to a competitive struggle among the nations which draws divisions based on geography, religious preference or genetic kinship and slows and divides our overall progress yet again. Such national or ethnic prejudices are so provincial now that we almost underestimate the dangers of the ignorance they engender here in the 'civilized' world. But I would like to call attention to it in the hopes that someone might here consider it in a way that previously hadn't. Even I live in a way that somewhat encourages and allows me to take the political situation of my birth for granted, I try and make a conscious effort to choose not to though. I am truly thankful and grateful of the role that space development and mutual cooperation in these areas has had on my life. I abhor the use of violence even in war but especially in any other situation where it may be averted. Not to the point of flaccid defences, mind you. Viewing the issues of our time from a planetary or greater humanity-focused frame of reference often changes the paradigms we face. If America, Russia or India were racing to the top of the space heap (or even some corporation within or betwixt them) I would still and always urge a very open-source kind of ideology; Cooperation and free exchange wherever reasonable. I do not understand why China or even Bigelow Aerospace have not been invited to partner with the ISS more formally yet. The ISS will remain in orbit for another 8 years at least. Even this timeline may be extended through adequate funding and development, but what would be truly wonderful would be to have other nations participate in the maintenance and expansion of the station for an unrestrained time. A hundred years from now, the original ISS trusses or perhaps even a module could still exist at the core of a larger station, perhaps even one finally pushed out further to an L-Point or beyond. If any of our successes have taught us anything it should be that nothing is impossible. Much of our development depends on motivation, intention and commitment in equal measure, nothing more.

Many people think the American system is now losing direction, but I am not so sure that is the case. NASA seems to be transforming itself into more of a research partner (if they were really ever anything else) and they are turning more and more of the real applications of space travel over to the private sector (and therefore potentially increased competition) and they are using money they have saved from withdrawing their own participation to drive funding for other projects according to the same principals of the X-Prize foundation. For example, where NASA used to spend a billion, say, on something and get inefficnet use of that money by many measures, now they can put a billion up for tender and the companies will spend that much or more on their initiatives - if you follow NASA and us are getting wayyy more bang for our buck through this scheme of management. The Ansari X Prize spurred on many amazing technologies, vast amounts of research and helped also to develop and strengthen a community of free enterprisers who shared similar passions. Far from having no direction the direction of space is opening up evermore to how we want, indend and desire to make it go.

However, just as we stand on this precipice, we are also tumbling ever closer to a new world war. The ramifications to space development can not be understated. In an open world war, space budgets would specifically be targeted because of their overtly diplomatic inclinations. Either that or space invariably becomes rigid, military and segregationist because of the vantage points plainly offered over other, enemy nations.
The treaty to prevent the weaponization of space was a tremendous, forward-looking document. In it was enshrined the principal of peaceful and coordinated development of space technology for the benefit of all mankind. The moon, stars and all of space has been mutually declared forbidden from the ownership claims of any nation, or even coalition of nations except in the overall interests of the benefits to all mankind.
Because of this legal framework I believe that a legislative process for joining a planetary union must be set up. Of course nations may wish to develop their own space propulsion systems autonomously, and then they might want to launch to LEO unassisted. I would suggest that any efforts beyond LEO would require participation in and sanctioning by a civil, elected space body representing the whole interests of the Humans of Earth in outer space. People from all nations would be able to vote on leadership and issues in the organization as long as their nations were member states. This legislative body and its legislation would govern space in the interests of the species. We can quickly see that this form of international government with enforcement duties and mandates so sweeping would quickly become a powerful force for good in the universe beyond the Earth. So long as it is made up of people who appreciate this prospect which space, like nothing else, offers us for the unification of our species and the peaceful and open exploration of the cosmos.

Once we tear down these physical prejudices through such a cooperative exo-planetary scheme, some ideological differences may remain. However, because of the vast swaths of territory available to future Human colonization, I believe we can find enough room for all of them if we try and make it so. Hopefully there will be little need or utility for national distinctions in space and instead of the title of my paper now, any similar or reflective work in the future will just be titled something more general, like "The Sons of the Moon" and it will celebrate how much further we have been able to tear down walls that previously existed between our peoples. Suspicions, prejudices, independent desires that only served to isolate us from our true greatness. I feel quite confident that nationalism has no more a place in space than racism once enjoyed on the Earth.

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