Andrew Glikson.

History testifies to powerful rulers’ aspirations to the position of gods, including the Pharaohs and Roman Emperors such as Caligula or Nero. Nowadays, such rulers are mimicked by billionaires and their followers, including some scientists, with false messianic prophecies in public and the media of ‘intergalactic civilisation’. Included are predictions of making life interplanetary by giant proprietors of space hardware, such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson, with plans for space tourism, asteroid mining, and permanent human settlements on the Moon and Mars. By some estimates, such programs would be expected to cost about $1 trillion by 2040.

These ideas are closely linked to the rise of climate disruption and potential nuclear calamities, as well as to the upsurge of fascism. Billionaires’ space playgrounds can only come at the expense of the multitude of humanity left behind. Coupled with plans for militarisation and even weaponisation of space, humanity may be left with a few barren rocks in space to support a few survivors temporarily.

In 2000, Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and the world’s richest man, launched the reusable Blue Origin, albeit with several launch engine problems. The aim is to commence space tourism in sub-orbital flights, charging a six-figure ticket price such as $300,000. Development, in partnership with NASA, of returnable rockets includes defence contracts with the US government and ambitions for permanent human settlement on the Moon. According to one report, Bezos says, ‘humans need space travel, because they are “destroying this planet”’, but the reporter observes, “He doesn’t mean that humanity will have to evacuate a dying Earth, but rather that we could outsource our destructive behaviors to space”.

In 2002, Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, developed the SpaceX rocket, initiating 70 launches to date, with contracts with NASA, the US Air Force, and the Argentine Space Agency, including supply contracts with the International Space Station.  SpaceX’s ultimate goal is to send crewed flights to Mars and eventually colonise the Red Planet. ‘I want to die on Mars,’ Musk has said, ‘just not on impact’, with the motto, Making Life Interplanetary. ‘You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great. And that’s what being a space-faring civilisation is all about. It’s about believing in the future, and thinking the future will be better than the past. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars’.

In 2004, Richard Branson launched Virgin Galactic, a tourist-oriented reusable ‘space plane’ for sub-orbital flights, having already signed some rich people on $250,000 tickets, and collaborated with the United Arab Emirate’s sovereign wealth fund. On 13 December 2018, the VSS Unity achieved the project’s first sub-orbital space flight, reaching an altitude of 82.7 km. In February 2019, a member of the team sat in a flight which reached an altitude of 89.9 km. In Richard Branson’s motto ‘Together we open space to change the world for good‘.

Unfortunately, these ideas are attracting some scientists like bees to the honey.

Stephen Hawking said: ‘Human race is doomed if we do not colonize the Moon and Mars.’ If we’re to survive, Hawking said, ‘I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth’.

The science presenter Brian Cox, known for his programs on astronomy and the planets, is cited, ‘Cox says the only way we can become “immortal” as a species is to populate other planets’.

Such messianic ideas raise critical questions, including:

  1. Ultimately, the $trillion resources come out of the mouths of hungry children, who can hardly gain from space rocket games.
  2. Prophecies of space colonisation divert attention from the extreme urgency of resisting the calamity of global warming, its disastrous consequences, and mass extinction of species.
  3. Prophecies of space colonisation give people a mistaken impression that alternatives exist to environmental repair of the terrestrial atmosphere, oceans, and biosphere.
  4. Space prophets include mainly physicists, but very few biologists, and do not understand that the human body and psychology are inexorably connected with the Earth. We are earthlings, our bodies evolved on Earth, and are attuned to the gravity, atmosphere, and radiation environment on the surface of this planet, as well as to the multitude of micro-organisms on which we depend.
  5. Exploration of the planets best belongs to mobile robotic micro-laboratories designed to monitor the wave spectrum.

According to Oxfam, eight billionaires now own as much wealth as half the human race. It sounds as if, in their minds, some of these people do not live on planet Earth. Much like ancient divinations of heaven for the righteous, in an ethics-free age, false prophecies of planetary colonisation — of the rich, by the rich, for the rich — can only be described as insanity, and a diversion from the need to save life on Earth.

Republished from John Menadue’s Pearls & Irritations of 31 July 2019.
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