Posted by: spacewritinguy | February 14, 2008

Multiple Choice Futures

If you don’t like the Ur-conservative future, try something else:Empire in Name and Fact

I have a couple of friends who would have no problem with American Empire. Empires, of course, are concerned with security. More surveillance will be needed. Military forces of various kinds will be needed to ensure the empire’s various activities. One analyst suggested a “Leviathan Force” for kicking the hell out of enemies and a “Systems Administration” force for occupying captured territories. For those nations not yet under our banner, we might engage the Leviathan Force or support pro-U.S. forces. That will require arms and communication systems. Some nations, of course, will resist an American empire. Those nations might be spacefaring. Defenses will be needed, on Earth and above it. Fortress America will also have solid, defendable borders, with physical barriers and 24/7 surveillance. This means more military surveillance satellites, more secure GPS, encrypted communication satellites for reaching insurgents, space weapons, space debris mitigation technologies, and ballistic missile defenses.

All the World’s a Market

Is the Market State more your speed? Instead of nation-states dedicated to improving the well-being of the nation, market states would exist to enhance opportunities for the individual. This means more ready access to capital, rapid transportation to where jobs are available, and transportable wealth and health benefits. Armed forces still exist in this future, more along the Leviathan Force/Systems Administration Forces, but are much smaller. Space-based technologies are needed to support a very dynamic and shifting world economy. Capitalism is brought to the world by default simply because there is no other way to get one’s way on the international scene. Negotiating with terrorists might not be a matter of political will but cost-benefit analysis. This is Globalization writ large, with information, money, and people crossing very permeable borders. Space needs here include broadband satellite services, hypersonic transports, and 24/7 access to electronic records, personal and governmental.

We Are the World

Perhaps you’d prefer One World, united under the blue and white banner of the United Nations. National autonomy would still exist, but it would be subject to the International Criminal Court, the U.N. armed forces, and of course a Kyoto Treaty with teeth. This means increased surveillance and measurement of carbon-emitting activities and expensive measures to clean up environmental messes and global warming. Personal transport vehicles will exist, but be powered by electric roads. The combustion engine will be banned, except in cases where it’s not feasible (i.e. air travel). Customized zeolites for fuel cells will be developed at the molecular level by nanotechnology tested in an isolated location. This regime, too, requires increased surveillance, but of a different kind: more monitoring of the environment, more surveillance of nation-level communications, and U.N.-only satellites to serve the ironically named Peace Forces. Large radial sails could be orbited above the equator to reduce the amount of sunlight received, or a Fresnel lens could be placed at the Earth-Sun L1 position to reduce global warming. The customized zeolites could be built using molecular assemblers on the Moon. Toxic and nuclear waste could be sent to the Sun or a pit on the far side of the Moon. Helium-3 and space solar power are also possibilities in this future, but they will be subject to strict controls to ensure that they cannot be weaponized or transmit their power at frequencies capable of harming life.

Mao Was Right

The laws of physics work for communists and fascists as well as capitalists, as the Nazis proved in 1943 and the Soviets proved in 1957. The state of the People’s Republic of China is reasonably well understood. Capitalistic trappings are used to relieve some social tensions and provide capital that both improves national wealth and funds military and surveillance spending. Human space flights are used to demonstrate state power and convey glory upon it. If America is no longer interested in having a human spaceflight capability, others are and will use it, to their benefit and our detriment. If the Chinese and the authoritarian Russians have bases on the Moon before we do, we’ll probably have larger problems than that going on here on Earth. The Chi-Coms have also demonstrated their ability and willingness to blow up satellites in orbit and yet hypocritically calling for a ban on space weaponry. And the Russians have had “killer satellites” since at least the mid-80s. In a battle between nation-states, space power matters, whether our elected officials admit it or not.

All of these political visions have something in common in the fact that all of them can and will use space-based resources to accomplish their goals. So the question becomes, again: what sort of future do you want to live in? Given that starting point, on Earth, the path to space becomes clearer.

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