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We are not alone:

a review of the space race as seen from London, 1997/98 Neil, Disconaut AAA

The activities of the AAA have helped detonate an explosion of interest in space that is reverberating throughout popular culture. It is impossible to go into a club, a record shop, an art gallery or a school classroom without being confronted with images of space travel. Open a magazine, turn on the TV, go to the cinema and it's the same. Space is the place and everybody it seems wants to be there.

For autonomous astronauts this a contradictory situation. At one level it confirms our analysis that we are not alone - the desire to experiment with life beyond the reaches of gravity, state and the economy has been unleashed and is becoming unstoppable. On the other hand not all space images are unambiguous expressions of this desire, and some are actively seeking to frustrate it.

Counter-AAA warfare

Unsurprisingly the most concerted efforts to undermine the AAA have come from those most threatened by it - the state space agencies, NASA in particular. In March 1998, NASA announced the discovery of frozen water on the moon. The proximity of this announcement to the AAA Intergalactic conference in Bologna (April 1998) is not fortuitous. NASA are attempting to hijack the dreams and visions of autonomous spaceflight and channel them into support for its own discredited state space programme.

NASA's announcement was supposed to show that they alone have a practical programme for space exploration: land on the moon, use the water to support a space base there from which to launch trips to infinity and beyond. But what they really have in mind for the moon is not a springboard to adventure, but an extension of the corporate-military dominated world that we want to leave behind.

In the US and Japan, plans are being developed for lunar factories and hotels. The European Space Agency meanwhile is working with major companies such as Matra Marconi Space on a programme called EuroMoon 2000 to put a robot on the moon and later a manned exploration team. The British company AEA technology has explored the possibility of commercially exploiting resources on the moon (Guardian, 6 March 1998).

And who's going to change the sheets in the lunar hotels and work in the lunar factories? With austerity imposed to deny the working class the means to build our own spaceships, the plan is that people will put up with this drudgery as the price to pay for the chance of a voyage to the moon. It's the same strategy used to colonise the Americas - offer the dispossessed the hope of adventure and escape, entice them on to a ship to the 'New World' and get them to do all the dirty work,

In order to colonise the future NASA first has to repackage its past. In the USA, Tom Hanks is producing a $68m mini-series called 'From Earth to the Moon', a heroic account of NASA's supposed wonder years. The aim of this shameless revisionist project is not only to present NASA in the most favourable light but to rewrite the whole history of the 1960s and early 1970s. This was the time when the US lost the Vietnam war and was torn apart by social conflicts as home. Focusing on the space programme as the most important feature of the period amounts to saying 'Hey, forget all those unpatriotic hippies, forget Watergate, the real action was in space where our power was uncontested". Hanks has acknowledged the political nature of the project, stating that it is "absolutely about restoring trust in government' (Sunday Times, 15.3.98).

Fortunately there was little of this trust in evidence when NASA launched its Cassini space probe last year. With 33 kg of plutonium on board there was a real danger of large scale radioactive contamination, especially given NASA's record of rockets exploding on take-off. In October 1997 there were protests against the launch at Cape Canaveral and across the US, including the occupation of the NASA HQ in Washington DC. Disconaut AAA issued a leaflet inviting such protestors to "join us in our bid to create our own earth-friendly community-based space exploration programmes".


The AAA's espousal of the potential of space travel for all has already been seized upon as a new marketing angle by advertisers. The most blatant example is the Equitable Life advert on British TV with an astronaut promising young people the chance of low level space flight by the time they retire (so long as they've got their pensions and life insurance sorted out).

As our ideas become more popular we can expect to see further attempts to trivialise and commodify them. Buzz Lightyear (the astronaut in the film Toy Story) was the most popular toy in Britain for Christmas 1996. In the future we could see toy companies flooding the market with build your own spaceship kits, complete with authentic (if unauthorised) AAA logos on the side.

Naturally we object to such corporate exploitation, but any short term profits for capitalism will be at the expense of its long term survival. Space toys are simply providing training materials for the next generation of autonomous astronauts. In bedrooms across the globe they are already playing with their Millennium Falcons, dreaming of joining the rebels in their fight against the Empire. Meanwhile our information war against the imperial forces has already started.


The AAA's position in the space race may also be threatened by the activities of those artists who plunder radical ideas and serve them up as purely aesthetic entertainment to further their own careers. On the other hand not all 'cultural workers' (for want of a better term) have such motivations and some may generate ideas that can be practically applied in our own space programmes.

"Some kind of heaven" at the South London Gallery (July 1997) included an installation by Sylvie Fleury from Switzerland called "First spaceship on Venus", consisting of three large rockets (about 15 feet tall) covered in brown fake fur and emitting electronic noises. Disconaut AAA have previously advocated the use of fun fur and sequin space suits to counter the masculinist bias of space exploration, so we were very interested in the suggestion of applying this technique to the spaceship itself. Certainly this would make them more tactile and less starkly functional, as well as undermining the rocket=phallus fantasy.

A spaceship also featured in the "Aspirational Living' exhibition at the Oxo Tower on London's South Bank (Summer 1997). The programme asserted "Ask a child what the word aspirational means and they will draw you an eight foot silver rocket" and Gavin Turk and Alexander Boxill had used a child's drawing as the design for a silver rocket/cushion with a shiny vinyl surface, lying in a sand pit. The walls were painted black and chalk was supplied to encourage graffiti, most of which seemed to be on a space theme....' homos in space', 'to infinity and beyond' and by the time we'd left 'Space is the Place' and an AAA symbol.

The construction of life sized models of spaceships is a step forward - the next is to actually get them into orbit, and this shouldn't be too difficult. The Mir space station fiasco has demystified space technology - if such a creaky rust bucket can remain inhabitable, anything is possible. It has also demystified the notion of astronauts and cosmonauts as super-fit, super-intelligent, superhumans by showing them as normal people who can't find the screwdriver, and who entertain themselves playing tunes on a battered 1980s Casio keyboard.


It is in the field of music that the AAA is making the most impact. Disconaut AAA have monitored numerous instances in the last year alone. The Beastie Boys in Dazed and Confused magazine wearing space suits... Mel B wearing the same outfit in the Spice Girls movie... Masters at Work remixing Atmosfear's disco classic 'dancing in outer space'... French electronic duo Air's 'Sexy Boy' video (from their Moon Safari CD) with them walking on the moon... Spiritualized 'Ladies and Gentlemen we are Floating in Space'...

Dance cultures in particular seem saturated with a yearning for space. Londoners going out dancing can choose from clubs like Space, Spacey, Space Race, NASA, Galactic Disco, Galaktic SoundLab, Galactic Sushi and the free parties put on by Astro Cafe. Everybody wants to create clubs that feel like being a spaceship. Disconaut AAA want to take this to the limit and create spaceships that feel like being in a club.

Disconaut AAA have always argued that dance floors are ideal launching pads for trips to space. Half the people there are on their way already and there is an energy level comparable to any rocket launcher. The act of dancing itself involves sensations of flight and the defiance of gravity. This was demonstrated in the photographic exhibition 'Gotta Dance!' in the Kings Road, London (January 1998) which featured various shots of dancers - Ballet dancers, Lindyhoppers, Gene Kelly in a publicity shot for Singing in the Rain - all suspended in mid-air. We have observed further evidence of the will to flight in the emergence of people wearing angel/fairy wings at clubs and parties.

Nevertheless there are limits to the potential of many existing dance cultures for space exploration. Some of the people who are happy to use space imagery on flyers, club design, etc. actually want to keep us earthbound so that they can continue to make money out of us. And some of the people going to these clubs and parties have failed to grasp what is radically different about autonomous space exploration.

This was shown very clearly to us on a trip to Space Race in Brixton. The music was fine, but the women in our group were continually hassled and abused by lecherous beer monsters. The club's flyer proclaimed, "in space there are no barriers"; to which we unfortunately had to add, "but there are plenty of wankers". The whole point of getting into space is to get away from this rubbish.

Planning for obsolescence: towards the end of the AAA?

There is a danger that the AAA could ultimately become a victim of its own success, with our ideas ripped off by state space agencies, toy makers, advertisers, artists, and the music industry. At the same time the dissemination of our ideas is encouraging the proliferation of genuine autonomous initiatives across the world (and maybe beyond...). The AAA is not some kind of interstellar vanguard seeking to organise this diffuse field of activity, and perhaps we should anticipate the day when we will dissolve ourselves into a wider autonomous movement of dreamers, trouble makers, rocket builders and astral planers, lying in the gutter but looking at the stars.


South London, March 1998


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