when you want to start the first space-based nation state…

Meet the first independent human nation in space. Without an actual presence in space and an iffy plan for how to get there…

pipe dream

An organization called the Aerospace International Research Center has a pretty lofty goal at the moment. It’s trying to lobby for UN recognition of an entirely new, first of a kind nation state based in space and consisting of citizens of other nations, they’re calling Asgardia. Now, those of you familiar with the Outer Space Treaty are probably thinking that this proposal is dead on arrival. No nation can lay a sovereign claim on a territory in space. And technically, you’d be right. We could argue that at some point in the future, the ability to do so will be pretty much inevitable, though claiming it and enforcing this claim would be a pretty complicated matter, and see Asgardia as advancing this conversation, but it seems like the AIRC is strenuously avoiding bringing up this question.

In fact,the more one digs into what AIRC has planned, the more vague and just plain confusing the whole concept becomes. Their space-oriented magazine ROOM has the full transcript of the speech announcing Asgardia to the word and the takeaways seem more aspirational sci-fi than reality. For example, take the following snippet from the introduction…

The essence of Asgardia is Peace in Space, and the prevention of Earth’s conflicts being transferred into space.

If we could create utopia in space, that would be fantastic because the very, very history of trying to create one on Earth has been ugly at best. The last modern utopia for the common person was called the USSR and during its start millions died in a civil war and over 20 million people that we know of were purged for failing to meet the utopian ideals. Sadly where humans go, conflict does too and the only thing that keeps us at least somewhat civil is global trade. When we stand to lose because we kill someone, we tend to be very introspective about whether war is a good idea. But that’s not the only issue that seriously complicates this concept…

Asgardia’s philosophical envelope is to ‘digitalise’ the Noosphere, creating a mirror of humanity in space but without Earthly division into states, religions and nations. In Asgardia we are all just Earthlings!

Again, lovely sentiment but a mirror of humanity with no divisions sounds quite bizarre when Asgardia is quite literally diving the Earth further in its quest to become a fully fledged Westphalian nation state. It’s like saying you want to unite a bunch of small towns into one city, but by building another small town and moving everyone into it until it grows into the city you were envisioning. Because this is basically what Asgardia is. Its plan calls for its own sovereign territory, embassies, insignias, and a national anthem. You also cannot force people to simply abandon their religions and ethnic ties in favor of creating a new culture ex nihlo. We’ve tried that over 10,000 years and no success yet. Perhaps the AIRC thinks we must be due for success and the who knows what thousand’s time will be the charm?

Even further, when addressing the territorial and citizenship aspects of this new nation, the AIRC’s verbally expansive message basically says that it will be a bunch of satellites in orbit and people on Earth granted citizenship while living in their host nations. Basically, Asgardia will exist as computers in low Earth orbit and be a virtual state of digital nomads, and out of that will come futuristic technologies to protect our world against solar flares, asteroids, comets, and other dangers of space. Call me pessimistic, but I’m really not sure that three of the most powerful militaries on the planet with relatively easy access to space are going to be enthused about a borderless nation state working on extremely advanced technology in orbit around their installations and near their crewed and autonomous assets, and won’t exactly be accommodating to this self-proclaimed utopian entity with grand plans of joining people across the world.

As far as viable independent territories in space go, I would much rather place my bet on the eventual result of SpaceX’s Mars colonization effort than Asgardia because cities on Mars would actually have real borders, residents, a shared culture, and the ability to lay claim on the area they occupy. It would also have the resources of governments behind it, rather than the backing of an eclectic group on engineers that’s fairly vague about what it does other than “work with space-oriented startups” on unspecified projects, and expects to bootstrap the entire exercise on a few personal fortunes and Indiegogo. Consider the case of Sealand for an idea of how this is likely to go and consider that this micronation isn’t even trying to launch a satellite constellation for which it would need at least the implicit cooperation of the world’s biggest space powers. But at least we can’t deny that AIRC has some big dreams, even if they aren’t fully fleshed out as they freely admit…

# space // futurism / space exploration


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