To Mars and Beyond: Freedom of Movement
15 August, 2018
Life, in a very fundamental sense, is movement. From the beating of the human heart to the currents of the ocean, if movement ceases, life stops
We take for granted that certain human rights should be protected, such as the right to life, the right to freedom from abuse, and the right to freedom from oppression. But the right to freedom of movement is no less fundamental in order for life to flourish. This certainly places an interesting spin on the global citizenship debate, where the right to one’s freedom of movement (and that of one’s family) is sharply circumscribed by the accident of one’s birth. It also raises the question of how one feels about the notion of a boundary, be it natural, political, or otherwise. Does one relent to a boundary’s capacity to contain, or does one instead feel inspired by the idea that boundaries are fundamentally there to be breached?
If your point of view is global citizenship, freedom of movement, and frictionless travel, the chances are good that, like the narrator of Robert Frost’s famous poem ‘Mending Wall’, you are more inclined toward breaking down walls than building them up. The debate about global citizenship is primarily concerned with political borders, but it is worth remembering that historically our strongest borders have always been geographic. Examples of great frontiers that have been crossed are easy to list: the Bering Strait, the Andes, the Sahara Desert, and the stormy Cabo das Tormentas (the Cape of Storms, near modern-day Cape Town). Since the advent of industrial technology, however, these barriers have become increasingly easy to overcome for anybody with access to the requisite transport. If a person cannot cross any of those hitherto insurmountable frontiers today, it is due to political, economic, or other socio-structural factors as opposed to any functional limit on the available technology. But there is one big border we are still only just beginning to wrap our heads around: that “majestical roof, fretted with golden fire” referred to in Hamlet that rises daily above our heads. It might seem premature to begin thinking about space in terms of global (or even supra-global) citizenship, but that is probably only because we have not kept well enough abreast of current developments in space exploration.
In 1961, there was only one earthling who had ever been out of the Earth’s orbit. Today, the number of people who have gone above the Kármán line — the point, about 62 miles above Earth, that marks the beginning of space — is in the hundreds and is set only to climb. With the growth of private space exploration companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, it appears that space tourism is very much a real prospect for the not too-distant future. Of course, beyond tourism comes the prospect of permanent space stations (which is tantamount to a kind of colonization), and beyond that lies the not impossible idea of space citizenship.
Here is where the debate becomes interesting. How long will it be before we are speaking about the first children born in space? The first space passports? The inevitable first rumbles of contestation about intergalactic property rights, taxes, space currency? These questions may seem far-fetched, but in fact they would be better categorized as far-sighted. If we do not consider these ideas in a serious manner today, we risk finding ourselves in a royal stew when the days of space citizenship are actually upon us. So, what are the major considerations to prioritize in this pending quagmire of disparate access, population control, and rights to freedom of movement? How can we ensure some measure of equality and fairness for all global populations when it comes to space exploration and potential habitation?
First of all, let us make no bones about the fact that space travel is not a cheap endeavor. Even Elon Musk, who envisions transatlantic commute times of under one hour for the masses, will have to concede that the price of rocket fuel alone makes the prospect of egalitarian space access a far-flung reality for now. But in the future, who knows? Will it be that only the very richest will have the opportunity to travel, holiday, and live in space? If not, which agencies or bodies politic are going to regulate access? Should there be a quota system — and, if so, based on what? Income? Nationality? Race?
To be sure, this is all virgin territory, but we should consider it only a matter of time before entrepreneurs, businesses, and governments step in to fill the breach. Another consideration, then, is who will have the right to grant permissions for mass space travel or space habitation. In a recent interview with the Investment Migration Insider, Global Citizenship Review’s Editor in Chief, Dr. Christian H. Kälin, spoke about his desire to extend global citizenry far beyond the reaches of the moneyed minority and toward those people who currently have no means of changing their inherited citizenship or residence status, specifically citing refugees and displaced persons as examples. As Kälin rightly notes, “citizenship is a very arbitrary thing, a very discriminating thing”. If this is true on the Earth’s surface, one imagines it can only continue to be so off it. As the terrain of global citizenry expands, we ought to begin thinking about how all people can have the opportunity to live in dignity and security not just in the country of their choice but away from Earth too.
The discussions about who could be the first people living permanently in space are more advanced than you may realize. The Mars One project is an initiative that began in 2011 and has the singular, albeit lofty, aim of establishing permanent human occupation on the Red Planet. It envisions sending a human cargo on a one-way mission to Mars, where the crew will forever remain in order to establish a living human colony. Baffling as this may seem, when the initiative put out a call for volunteers to man the first mission, it received about 2,700 responses from people apparently keen to leave the confines of our planet permanently.
Despite having an aura of mass psychosis, the notion of calling for volunteers or drawing lots for space exploration does point to a slightly more egalitarian route for space travel than we have become accustomed to through popular media. Most of our cultural touchpoints about space — particularly in the cinematic realm — include stories of a highly trained elite either doing complex scientific experimentation or saving the world. What happens when we think beyond this, to a time when it is possible to be a space pedestrian?
Another pertinent area of inquiry must surely include the implications of having a supra-global military presence. Up until World War II, it used to be the case that those nations with the greatest naval capacity stood the best chance of world domination. As we move into a new epoch of accessible space travel, it stands to reason that those who dominate the deepest regions of the sky will also be the dominant force at home on Earth. It does not take an aeronautical engineer to understand that being able to shoot a weapon accurately from a great height almost necessarily means an enormous military advantage over an adversary that cannot do the same. When space travel goes mainstream, to what extent is the weaponization of spacecraft going to play a role in domestic diplomacy — and who, indeed, is going to be the arbiter of private conflicts that play out above the Earth’s atmosphere?
However, perhaps this talk of space militarization and war is premature and overly pessimistic. After all, the overriding theme of contemporary space travel seems to consist more of collaboration than competition. For instance, when SpaceX lands its first private cargo mission on Mars, it plans to do so in partnership with NASA, and Mars One is already looking to outsource its technological requirements to companies like SpaceX and Lockheed Martin.
These are undoubtedly exciting times, even if the consequences of an enduring space presence are hard to predict. An optimistic and not immodest aspiration might be that an increased space presence will engender a more “planetary perspective”, as Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides has said he hopes for. The more people who can experience the so-called overview effect — that ecstatic feeling of smallness that comes from looking down on our planet from all the way up there — perhaps the more chance we have as humans of protecting what we have, of seeing our similarities as earthlings as opposed to our differences as nations, and of treating with requisite care our one, shared, inalienable (so to speak) possession: the Earth.