Why Space would mean the End of the Nation State
Updated: Nov 26, 2019
In the year 1969, on July 20th around 3:17 in the afternoon EST the first manned spacecraft landed on the Moon. Two men, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, piloted the Apollo Lunar Module, named Eagle, to the Moon where they spent a grand total of 21 hours and 36 minutes before leaving the Moons' surface. Since then, we've had a grand total of 12 men on the Moon with the last being as recent as the 14th of December 1972. There have been some unmanned missions, but Humanity has otherwise resigned men landing on an alien terrestrial body to science fiction.
There are several explanations for this, not all of them unreasonable; for one it's dangerous. The Challenger explosion in the 80's is something people still speak softly about. Even my friends, and I know some pretty shitty people, find jokes about the Challenger to be in poor taste. Another reason is that the cost of transporting anything, human or otherwise, into space is tremendous. In fact the cost required to transport something from the Moons' surface to Earths' low orbit (a distance of 400,000 kilometers) is less than the cost to put something in Earths' low orbit from our own surface (a distance roughly 2,000 kilometers). This is a testament to how hard it is to get something off of Earth, gravity is a bitch.
The only reason to attempt sending a man or drone into space is if you have a very clear objective, no one disputes that. What's strange however, is that the Moon has tremendous value monetarily and strategically. You see, the Moon is theorized to be the result of another planet crashing into Earth during the dawn of the Solar System. One of the reasons for this theory is how mineral rich the Moon is, and they're the same minerals buried in our own crust. Silicon, Oxygen, Aluminum, Titanium, potentially frozen ice at the polls and that's not accounting for half of it. The Moons' surface is caked in Hydrogen and Helium 3, two phenomenal fuels for rocketry that are in short supply on our own planet (our atmosphere and magnetosphere prevents these elements from accumulating on our surface, but the Moon doesn't have that problem).
In fact that earlier statistic about the cost to get something off the Moon, is an argument in itself for the Moons' value. All these building materials, rare minerals and elements, in a low-gravity environment, is an industrial paradise. Low-gravity (as opposed to Zero Gravity) means physics will work the same as it does here on Earth, but require far less for the same output. In a big smelter dense metals will still sink to the bottom, but the materials required to make the smelter are far less cost intensive on the low-gravity Moon. And it's all just waiting there, a stones throw away with no one already sitting on it!
In light of this fact, isn't it strange that we haven't revisited the Moon? None of this is new information, yet no attempt to mine the Moon or even set up some kind of 'base race' has ever been made. We live in an age of computers, but even in a world filling up with AI robots that can learn how to be a barista at a Starbucks or disarm a bomb there's been no modern attempts? It would take a tremendous amount of time, a decade or more, but even with a minimal effort by current AI robots simple manufacturing could be a reality. We have billionaires like Jeff Bezos who talk about looking towards space, but if this was true would Jeff leave all that resource wealth just sitting there? Its already possible to leave warehouses manned solely by robots, and Jeff Bezos is benevolent enough to leave the moon for future generations? We've spent trillions of taxpayer money invading the Middle East almost entirely over the last 20 years, but the Moon's exactly where we left it.
The answer is not that Capital or the Nation States are unaware of the Moons' value, people like me have been making them aware since before we ever landed on the Moon.
'The resource rich, low gravity environment that is ideal for producing space craft.'
All of which you can subsequently tow into space for a fraction of what it takes for the same result here on Earth, and it's a stones throw away from us. I suspect that it is not because the Moon lacks value, but precisely because of its value that we haven't returned.
Nation States as they function today are the result of monopolies on violence over a stretch of territory. As we discussed on my most recent episode of Sociable Socialism titled Sneaky Pete and WARren cower away from M4A and Open Border! What’s that about? borders as we understand them are a recent phenomenon. While a state has always been about sovereignty over land, the borders traditionally blended between neighboring nations. It was not practical to throw up a fence simply to define ones border, in fact ancient walls like the Great Wall of China or the walls of Sumerian cities were more about keeping the taxpayers in.
Given the Moons proximity and the implications of being able to use it as a spring board for space colonization, my assumption is it is fear of letting the taxpayers out that has kept us on Terra Firma. What people often envision when we discuss space travel, are trips to Mars in futuristic cities on a terraformed red world; this is silly. Mars gravity is just under 40% of Earths' making a long term colony in the open air on Mars a little difficult to envision. Earths' gravity is a burden for getting into space, but likely a necessity for healthy human development. There is a far superior option, the space colony. All the living space you need at a gravity your body can take and no need for terreforming because you're building it from scratch.
Colony Ships have existed since science fiction itself, but the feasible ones were theorized in the 70's. If you're familiar at all with anime, you may recall the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise and its space colonies. Large cylinders spinning in space, conventionally known as an O'Neil Cylinder, rotating at a speed that allows them to mimic Earths' gravity.
Even using technologies from the 70's these space faring cities were possible, IF space manufacturing was achieved. You need to build one either in low orbit or in space itself to use it, they're too heavy to produce here on Earth. To be clear this is no small feat, the process by which we get manufacturing into space is a decades long one all its own. To actually build one of these O'Neil Cylinders would likely take the better part of a century. None the less it's very possible using just steel and concrete, no spacey tech necessary. Build one and humanity will likely spread across our local system and beyond quite rapidly. Knowing this for as long as our government has known it (which is at least since the first successful man mission to the Moon for proof of viability), the conclusion for me is that the resources are not worth the loss of power the Nation States of the world would have if such a project could be achieved.
Imagine how long it took the first colonists who landed in the United States to successfully spread to every corner of the continent. Disregarding for the moment the atrocities committed during that process, the actual time table from start to finish was a blink in the eye of human existence on this planet. It is that rapid spread and the limitlessness of space that makes space ungovernable. Once you're up there its easy to create habitats at least as large as modern cities using modern construction techniques, and the materials you have to draw from are near infinite. With no Earth gravity-well to contend with one could literally construct a "solar sail" to carry themselves to the other side of the galaxy, over a long enough time-span, and there isn't a damn thing the Nation States on Earth could do to stop it.
Disregarding the SCI-FI magic of Faster-than-Light travel (or FTL) and just using technology on our satellites circling the Earth this very moment, we could over the next century achieve this or close to it. No empire can be governed this way, space is far to big. Even IF we have FTL travel (again we won't this is silly space magic) this only make it more difficult to govern space, how can you force someone flying across the universe to pay for imports on local teas? This infinite freedom is what our government and others cannot abide, Earth is our Great Wall and we're here to work and pay taxes.
No doubt local colonies would have their own systems of government, but reflecting back on how quickly a colonial initiative can run it seems to me the growth would likely be exponential across our local star system. If any kind of local power from Earth or another colony tried to dominate its neighbors, your theoretical colony could just leave without the citizens ever having to uproot themselves. You'd just spin off to the other side of Jupiter and that's that.
If you can't force people to pay taxes you have no empire. This is why space has such little value in an era of Nation States, not because of its difficulty to access. Capital requires laborers and tax payers, letting them escape would unwind the Nation State system as we know it. Our government has slaughtered millions for the resources on the other side of the planet, why would they hesitate to risk human life for the infinite bounty above? You cannot tax what you cannot police, and if it takes you 8 months to fly out to an escaping colony (a colony that can move just as fast mind you) you'll quickly find all the bluster and threats in the world amount to nothing.
And there are so many reasons to escape; religious or political persecution, racial persecution, curiosity, ambition, just cause'. Part of the reason I'm so invested in the fight against private capital is because I don't think they're going to let us leave unless we deal with them. Whether we like it or not, unless we all accept extinction as some kind of inevitability, leaving this planet will be a requirement for survival in the next 300,000,000 million years or so. Incidentally I'm not placing a value judgement on either of those options I just know which one I'd prefer, and which one all human history has taught us is more likely.
There are more than enough reasons to want to overcome capital, its the only way we can hope to achieve a just world. But in case I have not been articulate up to this point, I'm intrigued by space. I find the idea of liberating humanity to explore the universe to be a poetic and exciting proposition, and one that also allows for the greatest personal freedom(s). Infinite options for space colonies, infinite options to flee to if you're so inclined, zero reasons to tolerate oppression for very long. Imagine populations in the hundreds of trillions, populations so large that a rock band could play in a stadium seating hundreds of thousands, and virtually no one knows their music. The potential for expansion is so vast and infinite that its difficult to wrap its' scope in any kind of meaningful comparison. All you need is a concrete-can, aluminum sail, some people and you've got a working civilization.
As I close out, one of my musings on this topic is mild curiosity over our patent laws in this country. Just as Earth is a barrier to keep us in I wonder how many technologies Lockheed, Boeing, and General Dynamics keep out of the hands of the public through legally binding patents. Fusion being one of Lockheed's projects would make space travel much, much easier. But if they don't desire to create fusion reactors themselves they could at least free up the patent for other industries to use, the way Tesla has done with their batteries. Sometimes I wonder if a company sitting on a patent isn't doing so because they don't see value in what they've made, but because they fear its value could disrupt a particular industry and want it to be defacto banned. Food for thought.
Author Note: If you are curious about any of this stuff and would like to learn more from an actual physicist most of my understanding comes from Isaac Arthur's Science and Futurism channel on YouTube. his videos are 20-40 minutes and they handle topics ranging from what space warfare would look like to future pets. I can't recommend his channel enough if your curious about what is realistic future technology and its implications for civilization.