A New Space Age

United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs

Space, and our place in it, is a big topic of discussion right now.

We have private companies vying for a place beyond our atmosphere, alongside governments attempting to position themselves for the future as our world continues to struggle with mounting population, resource and climate issues.

We even, apparently, have the United States’ Congress contemplating a ‘space army’… because… um… the Covenant are coming?  Could be the Cylons.  We’d probably want to stop the Cylons.  Probably the Covenant too.  But I digress.

Space is a hot topic and it’s only going to get hotter.

In previous articles, we’ve reported on the body whose job it is to encourage the nations of the world to cooperate on all things “outer space” – the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.  It’s also this body’s job to keep a register of all objects launched into orbit.  And there are a lot.

All of that is a hefty responsibility, particularly for what is, essentially, a very small group of people operating from what is, nowadays, outdated legislation.

Governing all things Outer Space for Earth is the ‘Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.’  Yes.  That’s something of a mouthful!

The Treaty, in brief, provides a basic framework on international space law, and includes the following:

  • the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind;
  • outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States;
  • outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means;
  • States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner;
  • the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes;
  • astronauts shall be regarded as the envoys of mankind;
  • States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried out by government or non-governmental entities;
  • States shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects, and;
  • States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.

Obviously, they need to update the language to say “humanity”, instead of “mankind”, but they also need to review the whole thing because unless I’m mistaken we’ve launched quite a few harmful objects into orbit that threaten the safety of any mission that carries humans into space, as well as the lives of every astronaut on the International Space Station (and if a satellite goes rogue and smashes into the ISS, I don’t know if any nation could afford to repair it), plus, things fall to Earth and if they survive re-entry, some of those things are very radioactive.

I’m also pretty sure some businesses, and perhaps even governments, want to lay claim to certain celestial bodies for mining rights.

The International Space Station

The Treaty was signed in January 1967, by the Russian Federation, the United States of America and the United Kingdom.  Over time, others have become signatories or ‘party’ to the Treaty, though not all nations on Earth have bothered – mostly because they don’t have space programs.

The Treaty has been amended over the years, but could still do with a rework as we face that once final frontier, right now.

Treaty Declaration - UN

50 years ago, when the Treaty came into being, years before most of us were born, all of this was the stuff of science fiction.  Now it is science fact.

Elon Musk intends to die on Mars, Australian Scientists have just worked out a way to make astronauts safer in space (thank you Australian National University) thanks to a new nano-material they’ve created that can reflect light on demand and has a temperature control, and can, it is believed, be developed further to protect our brave space pioneers from harmful interstellar radiation.

As each year passes, we grow closer and closer to making those things that inspired my generation – and possibly yours – a reality: China and Europe are exploring the idea of building a human outpost on the moon (hello Space: 1999), multiple agencies and governments and businesses are gearing up to travel to Mars (hopefully not is any sort of a disastrous way – we’re looking at you, Mission to Mars and Red Planet), and multiple space-mining companies are springing up (Planetary Resources, Deep Space Industries, and Kepler Energy and Space Engineering bringing with them visions of The Expanse and the dynamics that exist between Earth, Luna, Mars and the asteroid belts in our solar system) looking at ways to help Earth and humanity.

What’s going to happen as industry and government vie for control of the incredible resources that exist beyond the atmosphere of our small but beautiful blue-green planet?

What happens if greed overrides the common good?

News.com.au and other outlets around the world, recently reported that one particular asteroid’s precious metal deposits could crash the world’s economy.

How long will idealism stand against the level of wealth available to us beyond Earth?

The ideal would be that we could all come together, like Space: 1999 and Star Trek propose, but the reality of human nature is that greed is here and it’s been around for a long time, and, sadly, a lot of people are motivated by that.  As a result, we’ve justified wars for resources on this world for centuries and chances are we will find ways to justify wars for resources off world too.  Is it possible our next big conflict won’t be a World War, but a resource war fought over the Asteroid Belt or the Kuiper Belt?

One thing is certain, we as a species are finally heading into space.  We got there, at least as far as our moon, then sort of retreated, built an international space station, and dreamed while waiting for someone with courage to propel us forward again.  Now it looks like we’re finally returning to space and planning to go further than we’ve ever gone before.  Hopefully we’ll be able to do it in a way that is measured and sensible, and that benefits all of humanity and not just the rich, and hopefully the United Nations will help us do that and do it with wisdom.

It’s an incredibly exciting time to be alive, and an incredibly frightening one as well.  Some of our greatest minds don’t believe we, as a species, can survive on Earth much longer because of our growing population and disappearing resources, and as a result have to go out into space.  They’re probably right.

The decisions we make right now, the precedents we set, and the way we go about establishing this foundation of exploration, is so vitally important.

What can you do about it?

Get involved.  Whether through aspiring to be one of those space pioneers one day, or by holding your elected representatives accountable, you can, in some small way, have a say on whether or not our future as a species takes these next steps wisely, or selfishly.

We’ve kind of screwed up Mother Earth.  It would be nice if we at least learned from the mistakes we’ve made.

As much as I love some of the almost dystopic science fiction out there, I don’t want our future generations living any of those possible realities.

Do you?

As all of this starts to ‘nut’ itself out, we’ll report on it here. The future is being built right now, and hopefully it will be built on strong and lasting foundations.

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Humans on Mars by 2025

Elon Musk Wants to Take Humanity to Mars

Elon Musk is an ambitious and inspirational human being, and he’s never minced words when it comes to his aspirations for SpaceX, the company he founded and is CEO of.

In recent days, Elon has elaborated on his aspirations to send a crew to Mars, and his timeline for making it happen – with, or without NASA‘s help.

He plans to start sending unmanned craft to the red planet starting in 2018, to be followed by the launch of a much larger craft in 2024 that will hopefully be crewed by the first human beings to ever step foot on the surface of our nearest neighbouring planet.

In-between the first unmanned flights and the eventual flight that will take human beings to Mars, he hopes to send regular spacecraft, approximately every two years, to essentially establish a “cargo route” that will set up the supplies a potential outpost or colony will need.

Is NASA involved with this ambitious project?

It doesn’t seem so.

NASA‘s earliest estimates for a manned Mars mission have them landing a craft sometime in 2035.

How can Musk’s SpaceX do this a decade before NASA?  Maybe because it’s privately funded and therefore doesn’t have the same restrictions that are often applied to government supported projects.

When you look into SpaceX there are some impressive private companies supporting them, including Google (who pretty much want to own a slice of everything).  Thanks to the diverse investors and their quality as companies, SpaceX was recently valued at 12 billion dollars – which is impressive, particularly for a company that’s only been around since 2002.

SpaceX has enjoyed a number of successes, but has also survived it’s fair share of failures.  Elon’s tenancity and vision has kept the company going and literally reaching for the stars.

Is SpaceX just about launching an eventual manned mission to Mars?

No.

Among its goals, it lists creating a string (or constellation) of satellites that will circle the Earth and ‘beam’ the internet into every part of our globe so that anyone anywhere can have access to the web.

They have also been instrumental in advancing rocket technology (as a side note for science fiction fans, SpaceX‘s first rocket, the Falcon, was named for the  Millennium Falcon from Star Wars – he is a child of the 70s after all).

That, and their ambition to lower the cost and improve the reliability of space travel make them a company to watch.

When you read about Elon and think about Richard Branson you can’t help but wish they would get together.  Imagine what could happen if both men pooled their considerable resources?

Back in the early 1970s, when Space: 1999 was developed, I don’t think anyone imagined that private companies would lead the way when it comes to colonising our solar system, but it seems that may be the case.  With companies like Virgin Galactic and SpaceX pushing the envelope and establishing audacious goals, the first Moonbase, and the first Mars Colony might be owned by private firms that rent space to governments rather than the other way around!

That does actually concern some people and it’s only wise to wonder and ask why private companies want to get to the Moon and Mars?

I think, for men like Richard and Elon, it’s a mix of things.  Vision.  Altruism.  Potential financial benefit.  For many of their investors, I have little doubt it’s about one thing.  Resources.

There’s potentially a lot of money in the form of mineral resources on Luna, Mars and in the asteroid belt, and as Earth’s resources continue to diminish but humanities need for them continues to grow, it’s only logical to look elsewhere and to invest in new opportunities.

If you want to read more about Elon’s ambitions for Mars, visit Blastr here.  To learn more about SpaceX, check out the collection of information on Wikipedia here.

The emergence of companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic creates an interesting future for all of us.  Whether NASA and other government linked space agencies are going slow because of safety concerns or lack of funding, it seems clear that the future of space travel will be the purview of private companies.

That’s certainly a factor I’ll be weaving into my fantasy fan reboot of Space: 1999.

Half of me is deeply concerned by the privatisation of space (can you say Weyland-Yutani?) and the other half is excited.  Thankfully, I think both Elon Musk and Richard Branson are men to be admired, and so maybe, hopefully, the future of space travel is safe in their hands.

These days, we can probably trust them more than we can our governments!

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