I’ve discussed before the issues that would arise in terms of establishing any space based settlement, and how that might prove a lot more challenging than those pursuing such colonisation efforts assume.
In short, travelling into space is expensive and dangerous and there are no real silver bullet solutions to get around this problem. Therefore, it will be some time before we build any space colonies. And, given that there’s no proof that humans can survive in conditions of zero (or low) gravity and heightened radiation for extended periods, its likely the crew on these colonies will not be permanent residents. Instead, they’ll likely be rotated back to earth every couple of years. Hence its a bit early to start talking about mass migrations into space or how any sort of space based government would work.
However, a group called Asgardia have recently attempted to do just this. Under the leadership of a self appointed monarch (a Russian Oligarch), they’ve declared a space faring nation with a population of over a hundred thousand…..based out of Vienna (which as I recall is in Austria and not the Hoth system). Well ok, they have sent a small cube sat in orbit, but that hardly counts as a country.
So what’s wrong with this? Well like I said, its going to be a heck of a long time before we’re in a position to even consider sending large number of people into space so its a bit premature to start forming a government. Even Musk is leaving this sort of thing on the back burner until after his BFR rocket crashes and burns is proven to work.
We have to question, do any of these Asgardians have the right skills? As I recall pointing out before, some of Mars One’s best and brightest included a Sushi chef (then again, they have just found water on Mars!) and a bitcoin bug. Hardly the right stuff! Given the enormous costs in moving people into space it would be critical that anyone who goes is suitably fit and healthy (and thus has a decent chance of surviving). And they have to have the skills to justify the expense of sending them. Inevitably the vast majority of us simply won’t make the cut.
Not that many of us would probably actually want to go anyway. The closest analogy to a future space colony here on earth would include north sea oil rigs, or remote mining colonies in the Australian outback or Northern Canada. We’re talking about the most grim little hell holes you’ve ever seen. The sort of places people only go to because some corporate conglomerate is paying them a heck a lot of money to do so. And the only difference with a space colony, is that the conditions there will be that much worse and much more dangerous.
As I recall pointing out before, any future space colony will likely be a kid free zone with no old people either. Putting either of these on a space colony would mean exposing them to unnecessary risks and mean we’d need to include all sorts of resources just to look after them (a larger hospital, schools, bingo hall, etc.). A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. And in an emergency (e.g. a fire) any old timers or rugrats are going to be a very weak link, threatening the safety of everyone else on board.
So rather than starting to recruit “citizens” for a space colony now, I’d wait until there’s a need for crew, then take out a few well placed ads on professional recruitment websites. You offer a salary with enough zero’s behind it, you’ll get the right people. Won’t this be more expensive? Well if you’re going to sink tens of billions into a space colony, it stands to reason you pay handsomely to hire the best people for the job.
And its a bit naive to assume any future space colony will be a democratic nation (in the early days anyway), even if we could have people living there permanently…. and at present we can’t. Those paying for the colony (likely a major corporation or a national government) are going to want their say in how things are run. And as its their money on the table, that’s only fair. The people on the colony will be way too busy just pulling their shifts to participate (typical routine in these sort of operations, 6 hrs on, 6 hrs off (or 8 on 8 off in some cases) with no weekends nor holidays!).
And what are they supposed to vote on? They going to elect some David Cameron type to cut down on their living costs (given that everything on a space colony must be imported living costs would be extremely high). Ya how’s that going to work? Is everyone supposed to hold their breath so they can save on air recycling costs? Or maybe we could get everyone to skip a meal a day to save on food production/importation costs. I don’t know, maybe we could have referendum to decide what colour to paint the colony….although that said, given how the colour will impact on its heat transfer properties, its likely that even here the choice will be limited to somewhere between brilliant white to creamy grey.
However if democracy would be a bad idea in space, a monarchy would be worse. A monarchy is only ever as good as its ruler. And while a kingdom can survive a bad king (usually by deposing him), given the risks involved with space flight, one bad decision by one bad king could get everyone on a colony killed. Furthermore, it would be crucial that whoever is in charge is actually on the colony, given the distances involved and the ease with which communications could be interrupted.
A more likely scenario is to adopt the same policy of scientific expeditions. Typically, such operations will be run by a small committee including the heads of each division (engineering, Fido, EECOM, flight surgeon, etc.) which is chaired either by the chief scientist, or a professional project manager. This system ensures informed decisions can be made quickly. However, it amounts to an effective technocracy.
Now granted if we ever could, in the very distant future, grow such colonies to the point where there were large numbers of people (who might well be genetically engineered to survive in said conditions) who were living permanently in space, then this democratic deficit would have to be addressed. However, that’s a conversation to be had at that future date. Presumably some sort of UN level legislation (as this would technically fall under the domain of the UNOOSA) on this matter would be needed to dictate how and when this process would work. And its crucial that the people who decide what form of government will be implimented would be those colonists themselves. Imposing a constitution on them, which includes some foreign born king, would be the very worst of colonialism.
I mean think about it, let’s suppose that after the Boston tea party, the British decided that rather than stirring things up to instead grant the US independence. But they told the Americans that some random rich dude would be their king…..forever….and that a bunch of people in England, who had never even been to the US, would also be citizens too and they’d have enough votes to outvote all of the colonists. Would this have prevented the US war of independence, or just hastened it?
All in all this looks more like a cargo cult of personality to massage the ego of one rich guy (can’t we just give him an Eve online account?). Or, given his links to Putin, to provide the Russians with another means to infiltrate and recruit fifth columnists into the West.
And speaking of which, we have a recent report of a Russian satellite behaving “erratically” (probably a spaced based weapon). This is alarming the Americans, who have their own space based weapon system and Trump’s newly set up “space force” (which does absolutely nothing, in fact with their cube sat Asgardia has more of a presence in space). So there’s an element of the pot calling the kettle black here.
And speaking of cults, I came across an interesting article from the space scientist Andrew Coates (whose credits include the Cassini mission, Mars Express and Exo-Mars missions) picking holes in Elon Musk’s proposals for Mars colonisation. Now he doesn’t really say anything controversial or anything we don’t already know. But its worth scrolling down to the comments, as inevitably the Musk fan boys are coming out of the wood work, deciding that they, sipping on their kool-aid in Hicksville Idaho, know more about space travel than a respected space scientist.
You just can’t make this stuff up! I’m tempted to start writing a sci-fi novel the theme of which will be two factions, the space faring worshippers of two warring religious sects (each devoted to a long dead billionaire cult leader) fighting for domination of the dwindling resources of a solar system against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic earth.
As I’ve stated before, there are many benefits to space based research. It is something that we should continue. And while space colonisation is an unlikely prospect any time soon, there’s no harm in exploring the possibility. And if billionaires want to spend some of their money on space research, for what ever reason, I don’t have a problem with that.
However, its also important that we’re realistic in our approach. Underestimating the difficulties and the dangers of space exploration will just lead to costly and deadly mistakes.