Take freedom to the moon

The latest: Since this editorial was written, Russia’s Luna-25 probe has ceased to exist after crashing into the lunar surface.

half a century later, Russia He returned to the Moon to continue the robotic exploration of our nearest celestial neighbor. Luna-25 is a robotic mission intended to land in the Antarctic region. It will conduct investigations into the geology of the Moon in preparation for a long-term human presence there. But it is not the only country interested in this region of the moon. India has its own lander on its way to this gray wasteland and weChina and South Korea are also looking forward to it.

The impetus for this bizarre obsession with the South Pole is that scientists suspect that craters there — which have been perpetually dark and cold due to the moon’s orbital characteristics — may harbor ancient ice, a material that can be extracted from a rocky host material and used to provide the liquid water and oxygen needed to support human settlements. on the surface of the moon.

Those same orbital characteristics create the conditions to allow perpetually sunlit crater edges, which are good real estate to set your station on compared to most moons that oscillate between two weeks of blazing sunlight and two weeks of pitch-black darkness.

Of course, launching a Luna-25 at a time when Russia is at war with Ukraine would seem oddly disproportionate to many people. But it leads to the point of this article.


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What this feat of interplanetary engineering shows is that space currently represents an open and largely wild frontier. No matter what the international zeitgeist may say or try to say, spacecraft can be launched on this infinite holiday with little chance that other nations will have any control over the launching country. There is nothing in the laws of physics or politics to prevent someone waging war on Earth from launching missions into space. Throughout the Cold War, a series of spacecraft from East and West flew into space in parallel with and in spite of tensions and conflicts on Earth.

Recently, there have been new attempts to create international frameworks to encourage good behavior in space. One such effort is called the Artemis Accords, which was initiated by the United States and has been signed by 28 countries, including Ukraine. The agreements establish a framework for cooperation in the peaceful exploration and use of the moon, Mars and other planetary bodies. It is largely an extension of the Outer Space Treaty, a Cold War-era agreement that sought to prevent the use of space for military purposes and encourage the civilian development of these boundaries.

The Outer Space Treaty, and thus the Artemis Accords, says nothing about Species For the societies we want to create off Earth. This is reasonable and not surprising. In the 1960s, when the Outer Space Treaty entered into force, permanent human settlements were not yet possible. But as we expand our presence in space, people will begin to build stations, and with them the first permanent, temporary communities. The values ​​and ideas that these communities will spread are important.

And one could take the politically neutral view that we shouldn’t be expressing strong opinions about the kinds of political systems we’d prefer in space. We must leave this baggage on the ground and set a new standard of peace. And as a scientist, I certainly prefer political neutrality in space. Let’s keep socialism (actually any “ism”) off those Martian rocks.

Instead, some might say, let us confine ourselves to general statements about responsible behaviour, facilitating peaceful assistance where necessary – quite in the spirit of the Conventions of Artemis.

The problem, however, remains that this approach does not set any principles about the basic kind of governance we would like to see throughout the solar system. Dictatorships on Earth can demand the peaceful behavior and sustainable use of space resources, with corresponding extraterrestrial settlements, as much as liberal democracies can.

Whatever we may wish for, the neutral point of view appears unrealistic, and perhaps even undesirable, in the final analysis.

It’s unrealistic because humans don’t seem to miraculously improve when they leave Earth. There are some people who claim we do. When we take off into space and see the Earth in its smallness and fragility, we undergo a kind of “general effect” that makes us more aware and loving of humanity on a global scale.

Although I have no doubt that some individuals have developed a new perspective on our terrestrial problems and their insignificance, as some astronauts have attested, there is no convincing evidence that we have suddenly lost any interest in being tyrants or tyrants – and that the Earth’s atmosphere would be a sharp demarcation Between sinful and flawed humanity here and human angels there.

But on top of being unrealistic, I would argue that space neutrality in political matters is ultimately undesirable, no matter how scientifically pure you are. I do not wish to live in a world in which nations wage aggressive wars on Earth, yet we remain strangely silent about your aspirations of human settlement in space, and encourage the use of space to expand certain political systems and behavioral models without a state. opinion being expressed. Even worse, when these views are expressed, they are treated as disingenuous, and at odds with the neutral ethos of space exploration.

In space, the principles of freedom of expression and assembly, for example, are important. Responsible governance, equality before the law, and a community of laws rather than blind force or authority seem to be desirable. For anyone who holds these values, they are just as necessary on the Moon as they are on Earth. One could point out that these values ​​are the foundation of societies in which free scientific inquiry thrives. The idea that politics and science can be completely separated is illusory. Science is not divorced from the political environments in which we exist or seek to create, especially in space – just ask Werner von Braun.

What should be done? One could say that tyranny could never appear in space, or else no one would want to move there, but I think that’s an oversimplification. One does not need a totalitarian dystopia in space (which people actually avoid) for compromise to represent an offshoot of totalitarianism or to spread a fundamentally illiberal political and economic culture. There is no doubt that tyranny will follow us to the stars. This leads me to two conclusions.

First, we must think about how to develop free extraterrestrial societies again. It is not clear whether ideas of freedom can simply be taken and transplanted to the confines of space without modification from our experiences on Earth. What are the terms of the different forms of freedom in space and how will they be modified by the limbs there? Second, this view is likely to be less popular: We should dispel the utopian notion that we can forget about space politics and focus on science and peace.

We need to clearly define what kind of extraterrestrial societies we want to create. If we don’t, indecision and lack of clarity on these matters is likely to lead to chaos and conflict rather than a simple hope that we can all overcome the political vacuum and the unstable status quo.

The belief that the unpopularity of extraterrestrial tyranny will always lead to a liberal paradise will equally encourage inactivity towards creative thinking about ways to mitigate and mitigate illiberal behavior in space.

For those wary of the idea of ​​totalitarian regimes staring down at Earth from distant worlds, I think the answer is simple: let ideas win. We should simply and confidently explain what kind of human organization we want outside our home world. Then let humanity decide which systems verdict They want to see their emergence and spread across the solar system. But to do so, we must be unapologetic about our preferences. Personally, I would like to see vibrant, liberal democracies throughout the solar system.

Charles Cockell is Professor of Astrobiology at the University of Edinburgh.

The opinions expressed in this opinion article are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

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