On space and anarchy

orphans1We attended a screening of the new documentary Orphans of Apollo at George Washington University on Friday evening, and have been mulling ever since. On the surface, this is a documentary that tells the ill-fated story of a dot.com millionaire’s attempt to lease the Mir space station back in 2000. A bit deeper, it’s a thought-provoking look at why commercial access to space remains speculative fiction.

The tagline is “Join this band of rebels out to change the course of history in space, as they board a private Gulf Stream jet, fly to Russia and negotiate one of the most remarkable business deals of the final frontier.” The story is told in interviews with the participants, mixed with some great footage of this bunch of starry-eyed kids who grew up watching the Apollo landings and reading Heinlein. When they teamed up with MBAs intent on leveraging post-Soviet technology, they sidestepped decades of global politics. Watching it play out was fascinating (even if you’re not a closet space geek).

The underlying message, however, still makes me squirm. Our government dangles space as the future, promising scientific discovery, technological innovation, and life on the final frontier. But as one of the participants observes, “the government views anything you send into space as a weapon”. And of course, that’s true, but it’s also politics-as-usual and therefore complicated. Control of space for communications, global positioning, as well as more traditional weapons is a huge priority for our government, and the Outer Space Treaty is ticklish at best.

Me, I’d love to see Dancing with the Stars in microgravity. But I’m settling for great documentary films like this.

Read the blog, order the DVD, or post comments at www.OrphansofApollo.com

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