Marking the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, we present some thoughts on a technoprogressive approach to space policy. One of the IEET’s projects is to begin a discussion among technoprogressives about the parameters of technoprogressive policy ideas, using our “Technoprogressive Policy Wiki”. The policy wiki is outlined, but empty, and we have provided our interns with some parameters for how to begin filling it in. The goal is not to express “the IEET’s position” on any specific topic, but to explore our own internal agreements and diversity about policy topics, while pointing to relevant websites, documents, and policies. Ben’s piece here on space policy was developed after conversation with the executive director, and then review and extension by the IEET Fellows and staff. Like the rest of the wiki we expect it to continually evolve. We present it here for further critique and extension before we add it to the policy wiki. - J. Hughes
Space Program: Moon and Mars
An international space program that includes Moon and Mars exploration needs to be supported. Space exploration can both increase civilizational resilience and yield important discoveries, furthering scientific understanding of ourselves and the world we live in. In addition to the Moon and Mars, asteroids and Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) are key targets of exploration and could provide important resources.
Space exploration both serves as a source of inspiration for future generations of scientists, and encourages society to look upwards to see the wonders of the universe.
Benefits and costs of space exploration
While space exploration is an important part of our spirit of exploration and discovery, its direct practical benefits are often overlooked. According to the Coalition for Space Exploration, space exploration helps the economy while advancing innovation and environmental and medical technology. For instance, in addition to contributing to knowledge about the Earth and its climate, space technology has led to rainwater purification systems used in developing nations. Numerous medical devices and treatments have their roots in the space program.
Particularly in the current financial crisis, some say that space is too expensive or that there are more pressing concerns. However, America spends far more money on less important things, and providing money for space exploration does not have to mean taking it away from other worthy programs.
Currently, NASA is facing “temporary” budget cuts. However, these cuts could easily become permanent or act as a baseline budget, and should be opposed. We cannot let current hardships unduly distract from developing science and technology to prepare for the future.
More cost-effective strategies for space exploration, such as the Mars Society’s Mars Direct plan, should also be explored. The Mars Direct plan, if implemented immediately, could see humans on Mars as early as December 2016, and would not be an undue drain on government or NASA resources.
International projects such as the International Space Station and international partnerships between space agencies are important steps in preventing national rivalry and potential conflicts over resources. Furthermore, a fully international approach helps in ensuring a fair and open distribution of the knowledge and resources that can be gained from space. The establishment of more international bodies is important for working out the specifics of expansion into space.
Private vs. governmental space programs
While it has been argued that private space entrepreneurs could make untethered progress in space without the interference of organizations like NASA, technoprogressives recognize that the role of governments cannot be replaced. Although the private sector will continue to have a role to play in space, the way to improve the space program is not to eliminate NASA, but to improve the quality of its programs, streamline operations, and ensure adequate funding.
Government is necessary to mobilize the funding and resources need for an effective, comprehensive space program. It is only with government resources that we can reach achievements as inspirational as the Moon landing 40 years ago.
Preventing the militarization of space
Space must not become militarized. A space war poses a global catastrophic risk, as even today the generation of space junk alone would cripple key satellite infrastructure. No single nation should be dominant in space or be the primary nation to reap the rewards of space exploration. Space should be undertaken as an international effort with the benefits distributed among all nations.
Transnational governance would be an important step to limit space conflict.
Strong international agreements are crucial to preventing the militarization of space. It is important that currently proposed or agreed to treaties are ratified by all countries and enforced. The Outer Space Treaty places limits on weaponry in space and prevents private claims to celestial bodies and resources. However, not all countries have ratified the Outer Space Treaty and a few have not even signed it. Enforcement is also key, as ratification will be relatively insignificant if when the drive towards space militarization becomes stronger agreements are simply ignored.
The Outer Space Treaty bars countries from placing nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction in space. It prohibits the use of celestial bodies for military purposes, such as establishing military bases or installations, and forbids any government from claiming a resource such as a planet or NEO. However, a limitation of the treaty is that it does not prohibit the placement of conventional weapons in orbit, which still have an enormous capacity to wreak devastation.
A more comprehensive agreement is the Space Preservation Treaty (SPT). The SPT is a proposed international treaty to fully ban space weapons, as an expansion of the Outer Space Treaty. The SPT would establish a peacekeeping and monitoring agency to enforce the ban on space-based weapons. The SPT’s companion, the Space Preservation Act, was introduced for the fourth time by U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich in 2005.
Robotic vs. human space exploration
Both human and robotic exploration of space have advantages and disadvantages, and both have an important role to play. Robots can be designed to endure conditions and make observations that humans cannot. Humans can perform a much broader range of tasks than a particular robot and are much more adaptable than current robots. However, both robots and humans will improve to overcome their limitations.
Expansion beyond a single planet limits the risk of extinction events, and is essential to the long-term survival of humanity or posthumanity. The impact of large NEOs, for example, would no longer be an irrecoverable disaster, although some risks to the species would still exist beyond Earth. Some priority must be given to developing space colonies that are [[resilient]] enough to be capable of rebuilding civilization, should humanity on Earth be destroyed. However, spreading intelligent life beyond Earth is a long term project and should not distract from other efforts to minimize species risks.
Ben Scarlato, a former IEET intern, studied Computer Science at Rochester Institute of Technology and works as a software engineer focused on security.
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