I’ve just finished reading a book called The Power of Geography and it contained a final chapter on the future of the new political battleground of near-earth space. It was so interesting I’ve decided to summarise it for you.
The first human object put into space was by the Germans in 1945 when they launched a V2 rocket which made it up to 176 kilometers. They would have been a space superpower if they had won the war! Next, we had the Russians put a satellite into space, then a poor little dog called Laika, who was also the first living thing to die in space. Fast forward a few years and the Americans were landing 12 men on the moon. I actually watched Armstrong bouncing around on the moon in real time on a black and white TV as a grade 3 student with a teacher screaming at us that this was history in the making. The Americans left behind 96 bags of pee and poo. Then came the space station (ISS) which is the size of a football field on the outside and a five-bedroom house on the inside. Some 240 people, including a few early tourists, have lived up there. Peggy Whitson stayed up there for 665 days! A private company, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, now ferries both crew and supplies to the station with re-usable rockets.
But the era of cooperation is now over and astropolitical competition is rising fast. So where to now?
The New Moon Bases
In the short term everyone is a “lunatic”. The Americans are planning to send their 13th man and first woman to the moon in 2024, with the plan to have a permanent base there by 2029. More poo bags! The Chinese landed a spacecraft and a rover on the dark side of the moon in 2020 and are also planning a base there by 2030. The Indians recently crash-landed their rover and Russians are planning moon trips. SpaceX and Jeff Bezos funded Blue Origin are also planning on getting to the moon “this time to stay”.
Space Wars are Coming
Low orbit around earth is going to be one battleground in the next major war as that’s where most of our satellites are. The Russians recently test-fired a space missile that destroyed one of their own satellites. The Americans were alarmed as Russian Military satellites now stalk their own on a regular basis, and it broke a gentlemen’s agreement about no “weapons” in space. But all the big boys are all testing laser weapons as there is no rule against them! Hypersonic missiles are also being prepped to fire from satellites and from earth to bring down satellites. It’s becoming a very sophisticated black hat/white hat version of scissors/paper/rock.
Given the sophisticated nature of most military systems today, whoever wins the war in space will cripple their opponents on the ground. It would also cripple just about every modern technological convenience we now take for granted. Life here would grind to a halt. The Americans are already training their military commanders to operate without satellite if they have to.
Space For Non-Professionals
There are no laws for space, only gentlemen’s agreements. Anyone can legally do as they please. It’s the wild west times a thousand. Add to this mix the advent of space tourism with low-orbit space hotels on a large scale and we are definitely in a new era Last year a Russian actor spent a few weeks in the ISS filming an upcoming movie. This year (2022) non other than Tom Cruise and a film crew will visit ISS to make a Hollywood movie, all funded by Elon Musk and approved by NASA. The company that is doing the logistics wants to send a permanent studio attachment to the ISS by 2024. It won’t be long before the ISS becomes a very expensive one star hotel with the best views in the world. Branson, Musk, Bezos and others are all in on this game so it’s going to happen because the money is there.
Then There’s Mars
Elon Musk wants to get to Mars in a hurry and is pouring billions into developing heavy lift rockets to get the gear there. The American government wants to as well. Major corporations are in the race for contracts to build rockets and bases for Mars. China recently landed a rover on the red planet and has greater Martian ambitions. NASA wants humans in low orbit around Mars by the 2030’s with a landing sometime after that. The United Arab Emirates recently announced their plan to put a human settlement on Mars in a much more leisurely 100 years from now.
The space race is back on bigtime. Now there are 5-10 serious players instead of two. My opinion after reading this book is that space will end up the victim of competitive colonization, just as earth was over the last 500 years as European empires jostled for dominance. Almost all great discoveries in the past ended up with a scramble for resources and dominance with the winner deciding the rules. Its going to get very messy.
Why? Because human nature hasn’t changed since we fell from God’s presence. We’re arrogant, proud, selfish, egotistical and pigheaded. We’re also adventurous, imaginative, clever and inquisitive. That’s our twin nature. Space is just the next canvas on which we will paint those dark and bright colours. The movie Ad Astra is closer than you realise!