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The Race to Colonize Space
Ytasha L. Womack   Apr 22, 2012   Ethical Technology  

A few days shy of the US announcing its grand plan for space tourism in 2014, I was asked to present at Ohio State University’s Transcending Race Conference. My charge was to explore the distant, very far off possibility of how race would evolve with space colonization.

What began as entirely speculative soon morphed into a cannon of likely concerns - quickly flipped from the fantasy to a very real reality.

What a difference a couple of days make.

The presentation was based in part on my sci fi book series Rayla 2212, a story that follows a third generation citizen of Planet Hope, a former Earth space colony that made its claims for independence a hundred years or so prior. While the book follows the character Rayla Illmatic and her quest to find the Neo Astronauts who’ve somehow disappeared in the quirk of time, the point of curiosity for the presentation was the nature in which the planet was formed in the first place, and what it indicated about the role of class and race.

In the story, Planet Hope began as the ultimate utopian creation from Earth’s best scientists, metaphysicians and researchers.  The society would be the ultimate green life, ecofriendly, socially balanced society absent of the class, war and health issues that plagued Earth. But to fund the costly mission, the program embarked on an aggressive space tourism program catering to those aspirational types whose greatest bond was that they could afford it. This group of well off tourists comprised Planet Earths second wave.  Obviously, the opportunities afforded to the elite tourists were challenged by the masses.  The third wave of residents was those selected through a lottery program, a system created to give everyone a fair shake at life in the new paradise. The fourth waves were Earth’s so called undesirables who were shuttled off initially for rehabilitation, but finally to rid the planet of its so call dregs. This, of course led Planet Hope to have its own revolution and they became an independent nation.

Planet Hope is a very cross-cultural society by our standards. Rayla Illmatic is a brown skinned woman whose father was one of the Missing Neo Astronauts. As indicated in part by names and descriptions, the other characters are an array of blended ethnicities and nationalities that clearly don’t have the same meanings that they do today.

There are references to Obama City; there’s a Yemoje University, named after a Yoruba goddess as well as a School of Demeter. Shogun City is a high profile protected zone and home to the descendants of the space tourists. As for race and ethnicity, it clearly doesn’t reflect our current understandings of subject, just as race and ethnicity several hundred years ago doesn’t reflect our current identifications either.

What does emerge in the story and in part leads to its dystopian problems is a very strong emergence of class. After the Neo Astronauts go missing, a dictatorship ensues, and Royal looks for scientist/mystic Moulan Shakur, the creator of the Neo Astronaut Program.  Class, it seems is closely tied to who is a descendent of who. Descendants of the first wave are very protective of the democratic origins of the world, forming the rebel forces; the space tourism descendants call themselves The Originals and create an elite society and protectorate zone; the descendants of the lottery make up the planet’s masses who are forced into hiding; and the dictators ruthless militia are comprised in party by the undesirables. These divisions dictate the quality of life in the dystopian aftermath and sharply influence who has power and who perceives themselves to have control over their own lives.

But moving out of 2212 world and returning to the here and now, the prospects of colonization are less sci fi and shifting into reality.

The US is just the latest to join the space tourism race. Russia has hosted several reputed billionaires on 10 day trips into space and boasts of an ambitious plan for a space hotel in 2016.  A roving car currently runs on Mars, and an International Space Station, a multi country effort currently rests between our planet and the moon.

But as far as claiming space and marking off territories, there hasn’t been much public discussion about the matter. Space settlements, much like the International Space Station, are likely next steps, too. Such floating stations are possibly easier to navigate and to control external factors.

With the great expansion into space upon us, and private space craft companies working to make space travel affordable (tickets for a two hour flight into space can be found for as little as $95,000) it’s possible that nationality could quickly eclipse all other class delineators.  Will the options of space colonization and citizenship only be allotted to those nations that have sophisticated space programs?

The possibility raises more questions than it answers. If several nations bond and stake a settlement or planet as their own, will the resulting society be one that combines their way of governing? Or can settlements, much like Planet Hope, become independent of Earth’s nations. Will actions in space be held accountable by these collective governments on earth or will they fall upon the shoulders of individual governments. Can a nation with competing interest and politics be locked out of the space colonization process altogether? Can Mars be divided in four quadrants and divided up amongst chosen countries, much like the America and Africa were several hundred years ago?

On the other hand, nationality might not be one of the leading dividers at all. With space programs now working closely with private industry to create space crafts, it’s likely that a corporation could lead a space colonization initiative. With commerce as a driver, space could literally become the new wild wild west. While corporate support eases the burden of tax payers, it could complicate the question of oversight. If a multinational company creates its own settlement, can it operate without any accountability from any Earth government?  Who has jurisdiction?

If the history of the creation of the new world is any indicator, a question of human rights could become an issue. Let’s say some natural resource is discovered on one of these newly inhabited planets, will cheap labor and defenseless workers be shipped off to work the land? Who has oversight? Who can they wage complaints to? If they suffer abuses, can they return?

If space colonization does in fact lead to the creation of a new world, will Earth suffer a brain drain of sorts, with those who can abandoning Earth’s atmosphere for the promise of more in the great beyond choosing to leave?  Can earth support itself with a population loss of any kind?

These far off questions are no longer the speculative thoughts of the sci fi writer. With US tourism marked for 2014 and privatized companies already launching spacecraft that carry cargo to the International Space Station, what once seemed like the far off future is now staring us in the smiling face.

Welcome to the great beyond.

Image 1:  Rayla 2212

Image 2: Guy Bluford, first African-American in space

Image 3: Michael Anderson, Columbia Space Shuttle mission specialist


  The race to colonize space is a funny kind of race since we seem to be running full tilt backwards. The space shuttle is gone, there is no replacement in the pipes, the only means of manned flight are dieselpunk Russian rockets and the great private space hope is a handful of rich and bored tourists in LEO.  Not that the much praised private companies have been able to put as much as a man in actual orbit something that the USSR did in frakking 1959. Let me give you a preview of the future of these space companies- Dot-com bubble.

The Space Shuttle was never cost-effective for tourism, colonization, or any other orbital activity on which one hopes to at least break even. That it proved to be too fragile and to uneconomical, is largely why it was cancelled.

Any system that *could* put “rich and bored (why bored?) tourists in LEO” on a meaningfully large scale, is sufficiently practical enough to do a great many other things, including supporting orbital assembly of deep-space craft. (also an intended Shuttle purpose). Today, even capsules and lifting bodies launched on semi-mass produced expendables (the Russian R-7 is also an example of this) can make a business case for humans in space, servicing ISS and non-government stations.

“Not that the much praised private companies have been able to put as much as a man in actual orbit something that the USSR did in frakking 1959.”

Patience, Grasshopper. There wasn’t as much of an incentive in the past, a certain ‘giggle factor’ that had to be retired, plus significant ‘turf protection’ from NASA and others, that still hasn’t worn away. There is serious movement in this direction, a strong example of which could be in as little as two weeks from this writing, when a (proven) recoverable SpaceX Dragon, a design intended for later manned operations, does a test docking at ISS.

‘Commercial Crew.’ a term well worth familiarizing one’s self with.

Oh, and Vostok-1 was April 12, 1961. We just celebrated the 51st anniversary of that event, which also coincided with the 31st anniversary of the first Shuttle launch…

Wow! So many problems here to address?

Would it be too audacious to suggest a “unified” collaboration in space politics and affairs? A “united” federation and accord towards space exploration and colonisation a-la-Roddenberry?

Seems the limitation and obstruction in all human polarized thinking and politics, is the failure to recognize and overcome the fact that duality, duopoly, is inherent in human understanding of the world around us?

Subject/Object, Right/Wrong, Good/Evil, Rich/Poor, Black/White, Conservative/Liberal, Man/Woman, Adult/Child, Originals/Neo’s etc etc etc

Is there even “one” story, fable, movie, plot, politic, vision of the future - that does not polarize and divide into two?

Thesis + Antithesis = Synthesis - Making the two (three) into “One vision”.

“That it proved to be too fragile and to uneconomical, is largely why it was cancelled.”

There were so many parts to the shuttle, no one could keep track. A damaged seal brought down one; a few damaged thermal tiles killed the other one.
What about Cameron, the Titanic guy, saying he is going to go for mining an asteroid?

We won’t be colonizing space.

What we will do is far stranger.

The emerging science of evolutionary developmental (“evo devo”) biology can aid us in thinking about our universe as both an evolutionary system, where most processes are unpredictable and creative, and a developmental system, where a special few processes are predictable and constrained to produce far-future-specific emergent order, just as we see in the common developmental processes in two stars of an identical population type, or in two genetically identical twins in biology. The transcension hypothesis proposes that a universal process of evolutionary development guides all sufficiently advanced civilizations into what may be called “inner space,” a computationally optimal domain of increasingly dense, productive, miniaturized, and efficient scales of space, time, energy, and matter, and eventually, to a black-hole-like destination. Transcension as a developmental destiny might also contribute to the solution to the Fermi paradox, the question of why we have not seen evidence of or received beacons from intelligent civilizations. A few potential evolutionary, developmental, and information theoretic reasons, mechanisms, and models for constrained transcension of advanced intelligence are briefly considered. In particular, we introduce arguments that black holes may be a developmental destiny and standard attractor for all higher intelligence, as they appear to some to be ideal computing, learning, forward time travel, energy harvesting, civilization merger, natural selection, and universe replication devices. In the transcension hypothesis, simpler civilizations that succeed in resisting transcension by staying in outer (normal) space would be developmental failures, which are statistically very rare late in the life cycle of any biological developing system. If transcension is a developmental process, we may expect brief broadcasts or subtle forms of galactic engineering to occur in small portions of a few galaxies, the handiwork of young and immature civilizations, but constrained transcension should be by far the norm for all mature civilizations.

... going by the past, balom’s writing,

“The race to colonize space is a funny kind of race since we seem to be running full tilt backwards. The space shuttle is gone, there is no replacement in the pipes, the only means of manned flight are dieselpunk Russian rockets and the great private space hope is a handful of rich and bored tourists in LEO.  Not that the much praised private companies have been able to put as much as a man in actual orbit something that the USSR did in frakking 1959. Let me give you a preview of the future of these space companies- Dot-com bubble.”

is somewhat justified: I remember the hype building up from Mercury to Apollo; we were going to drink Tang (which wasn’t actually invented for use by astronauts) on Mars, and all that jazz. Now it is true hype is necessary for space cheerleaders to use in saying,

“go team go, Ra Ra Ra.”

But you have to admit it will be a long long time till we are on Mars drinking anything. How long will it be before Plasma rockets are built? Space Elevators?

Plasma rockets (particularly VASIMR) exist today, but they need significant electrical power, and at this time there are no space solar or nuclear-electric power sources for them, beyond a possible limited test on ISSat some point.

Space Elevators may exist never…and I’ve never had great enthusiasm for creating structures (albeit very thin ones) that must be tens of thousands of miles long, can only be accessed from the equator, are only useful to getting to geostationary orbit (not all users need to, many want lower orbits and/or very non-equatorial inclinations…step off one at just a few hundred miles up, and see what happens.), are a stationary target for every object that’s *not* in geostationary orbit, require a slow ride through the VanAllen belts to get to geostationary (high-thrust chemical rockets to geo and beyond, cut across them fairly quickly), whose up or down cargo throughput isn’t clear, etc…

Physically possible? Yes. Practical? I doubt it very much. Necessary to do large scale space activity (including colonization)? Not really.

According to futurist Ray Kurzweil (who has an amazing track record of successful predictions), man will merge with machine by 2045.  In other words, even if that new company who plans to exploit near earth asteroids robotically were to establish a space colony, developments on Earth could fundamentally change the nature of human beings back at home.

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