7 Reasons Why Outer Space Development Should Be Common Not Private | Accurate Append

7 Reasons Why Outer Space Development Should Be Common Not Private

In the coming decades, we’ll likely see unprecedented private space technology and exploration. This may hasten and help the overall development of the space industry and travel in several specific ways, but not necessarily in ways that help us. We need to keep making the case for a “socialized” space – a space commons where global cooperation and public projects eclipse private ventures and man-boy fantasies. 

To outline the arguments enumerated below, I’ve relied on three well-argued posts taking on some of the central assumptions of the privatization crowd: Spencer Roberts’ article last September titled “We Need a Socialist Vision for Space Exploration,” Nick Levine’s “Democratize the Universe” post at Jacobin six years ago, and George Zarkadakis’s post on the risks of space privatization published last August.

1. The “true ethos” argument: Space is the backdrop of universal science, discovery, and education. Juxtaposing space with earth – and the “overview effect” so many talk about – is ultimately about coming together as humanity. “Peering into the void of space,” Roberts writes, “inspires the deepest questions facing humanity: Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? While a space program catering to the science fiction fantasies of billionaires is decidedly dystopian, conceptualizing space exploration as an educational mission to remotely probe the depths of the galaxy can help animate a more equitable vision of futurism.”

2. The “haves and have nots” argument: The privatization of space creates hierarchies that undermine democracy and humanity, Zarkadakis points out. He writes, “if left to become a ‘winner-takes-all’ race between powerful private conglomerates,” space exploration “may result in humanity splitting in a ‘space-abled’ minority who would be traveling in space and enjoying massive financial and scientific dividends, and a ‘space-disabled’ majority stuck on Earth. Such a divide would be detrimental to the survival of democracies and, indeed, to humanity itself.” 

3. The efficiency argument: Capitalism isn’t always efficient. Public checks against private fantasies are important. Private interests are not the gateway to efficiency or prudence in development. They often reflect the hubris of the financial giants that fund the work. Take the exploration of Mars, for example, which is a severely inefficient use of our resources. As Roberts points out, Mars “has very little carbon dioxide, and no amount of terraforming will reinstate the magnetic dynamo that once deflected the solar winds now stripping away its depleted atmosphere.”

4. The “exclusion must be defended with force” argument: Private assets, territorial assets and even nation-state-exclusive assets, all imply the exclusion of other actors, which will require more of the military outposts, weapons and other military and institutionally violent infrastructure that already suck up huge amounts of public spending. 

5. The “consider the satellites!” argument: Socialization of space development transforms satellites and their use from private, commercial interests to public goods. As Roberts writes, “Satellites can serve many other public interests, such as facilitating research that helps scientists monitor problems like climate change, deforestation, and forced labor,” and also provide utilities like “free global broadband coverage with minimal infrastructure.”

6. The “models exist” argument: Sovereign wealth funds like that used by Alaska, or other dividend policies, can give everyone “shares” of the economic benefits of common resource use. “As an international commons, outer space offers an opportunity to experiment with such redistributive mechanisms beyond the traditional confines of the nation-state,” Levine writes, calling it a “Galactic Wealth Fund.”

7. The “it depends on who the stakeholders are” argument: The Gil Scott-Heron “Whitey on the Moon” scenario presupposed unjust (and inefficient) use of resources in the first place – the context, not the consequence of space development. If we insist that the fruits of this development be available to everyone, it might slow and re-shape development, but it wouldn’t stop it. In fact, if the right political movement was in place, it might even accelerate it. 

These are not the only arguments for making space development a common good, but they do provide a good introduction to the concept. Importantly, as in all cases of development, the question of space development is explicitly political, and places the interests of the majority of humanity at odds with the desires of a small investor and boss class. As Levine explains, “Whether the aims of providing for all and developing outer space are mutually exclusive depends on the political forces on the ground.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *