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It is a truism that in current society you can have anything you want, as long as you can afford to pay the price. Everything is one big shop window on planet earth, and for those of us tired of shopping, withdrawal often seems like the best solution. But increasingly, even the avenues of escape are being auctioned off to the highest bidders.
An organisation calling itself the Lunar Embassy1 is already selling the moon piece by piece. $16 dollars (plus tax and shipping, of course) will buy you a 1,777 acre patch on the light-side. "...probably the most romantic and original present you could ever give to a loved one. Sharing this gift under a full moon has become the pass-time of many of our clients, romantics and visionaries from all over the world."
The Lunar Embassy boasts 16 years in business and "over 7,000 satisfied customers, including 2 former US Presidents!". Registered under the US Homestead Act of 1862, their "right" to do this is the ancient swindle yet again: "It's a bit like the old west: Who stakes their claim on a piece of land get the best property....as the Americans were the first to walk on the moon and plant their flag on it...it could be argued that if the Moon belonged to anyone, it certainly belongs more to the USA than any other nation."
It is, admittedly, early days yet - and we're sure that the legality of this venture will be challenged (not least by the Universal Lunarian Society, who are selling off chunks of the lunar crater Copernicus for $50 an acre2). It seems likely that the argument will revolve around who owns the moon and planets, rather than if such a concept is desirable in the first place.
The Association of Autonomous Astronauts are trying to achieve new ways of living in outer space. Ways that go way beyond our conceptions of existence on planet earth. Ways that allow people to achieve their full potentials, exercise their imaginations and... well, we don't even know the rest yet.
We've been working towards this aim for 2 years now and we're only beginning to see the full extent of the possibilities. We're also beginning to see our ideas become co-opted by the powers that be. At the end of last year NASA and the Space Transport Association (an alliance of 16 aerospace firms)3 signed an agreement "with a view to establishing a space tourism business"4. Dr Jack Mansfield, who signed the agreement for NASA had this to say:
"Up till now, space has been a young man's game, an astronaut game, a government game. Soon it will be anybody's game, as costs come down. From now on, NASA is in the business of helping people to make money out of space."
We expect to have our ideas ripped off, but we're far from happy at having them sold back to us at a profit afterwards.
Space Tourism looks like the big thing for the next decade, with early estimates (both Japanese and American) putting flights at the year 2010. Don't hold your breath, though. It looks like another diversion for the oh so world-weary rich. $4,000 dollars a ticket will gain entry to the proposed "space hotels" which will include all the usual consumables like sports facilities, TV, a low gravity shower, karaoke, and a window view of the Earth5. Even when the price inevitably decreases, the prospect of "Butlins" on the moon is too disgusting a waste to contemplate. We don't want to leave the planet only to find another High Street full of WH Smiths and Burger Kings.
"The moon is a barren wasteland... sunbathing is out because there is no ozone layer shield you from radiation."
Tourism is about maintaining your composure, about bringing your hang ups and parochial attitudes to other places. It is a sterile, pre-packaged adventure to take your mind off the stresses of home. We want to travel, to explore, to take control of our own lives and share our experiences with those we encounter. We want to take chances, not holiday snaps.
The Catholic Church has also entered the picture. 4 centuries after burning philosopher Giordana Bruno at the stake for having the temerity to suggest that there may be an infinite amount of planets, they have also teamed up with NASA7. Father George Coyne, Director of the Vatican Observatory, is looking for life on other planets - so he can convert them to Christianity. Words fail us!
As ever, the most interesting developments lie outside of the shopping precincts and boardrooms. The street finds its uses for everything. There is already a network of hobbyists building rockets in their garden sheds and garages. A group of hackers working under the name H4G13 managed to bring chaos to NASA's WWW server earlier this year8 with a fraction of their computing power and resources. The AAA doesn't need a business plan to get off the planet - the most powerful rocket fuel we have is the power of imagination.
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