In 1957, a 2’ wide aluminium globe made it into orbit around Earth. It was called Sputnik and I remember it well, not because I was interested in Space as a toddler, but because my brother called his guinea-pig Sputnik. Sputnik was launched by the Soviet Union. Four years later, Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to venture into Space. And, oh dear, he was Russian, beating the USA to it. But not to worry. On July 20th, 1969, Neil Armstrong bounced onto a totally barren satellite of dust and rock – the one we call Moon, and planted a great big USA flag.
It was a Space race between rival nations, the only entities that could afford to throw sufficient money at the goal of getting off the one planet in the Solar System perfectly suited to supporting life. The driving force in the Space race was, of course, military rivalry. Space was a weapon that could be harnessed for use against the enemy. It was territory that could be claimed, from under the nose of the other side (that flag!).
Once they’d been there, done that, created a slightly more useful (international) space station and suffered a few spectacular tragedies, nations got a bit bored with the whole exercise and resentful of the vast amounts of money being poured into it. No one has been back to the Moon since 1972. We are still up there, of course. The International Space Station is being joined by a Chinese one (Heavenly Peace – isn’t that nice?), both in near-Earth orbit, just a few hundred miles above Earth, in a zone that is rapidly filling with our detritus, because the one thing humans are really good at is litter.
And now is the time for little nations to make way for great big capitalist giants. Space is becoming the playground of the mega-rich. Jeff Bezos, Dickie Branson and Elon Musk are all at it, hustling in on the game and ready to make a fortune out of it. At the moment it’s all about space tourism but that isn’t the limit of their ambitions. Musk already has his eye on Mars.
We can imagine all sorts of exciting reasons for this interest in getting out there. A spirit of adventure. Scientific curiosity. An apocalyptic need to find another planet to support us as Earth fails (thanks to us). The real reason, of course, is that Space is full of things we want, like Rare Earth elements on which most of our modern technology depends. If, or when, humans move out into Space properly, they’ll be driven by profit, not curiosity.
If you want to know what it will all be about, try reading this article on Space Mining. It’s all out there and it’s all up for grabs. I expect we’ll start grabbing very soon.
So my imaginary future, in Inside Out, that has mega-corporation in charge of the Solar System, busily exploring, extracting and exploiting, will probably not turn out to be imaginary after all.