The current President of the United States has prompted a new conversation in the hallowed halls of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration: What will be the actual role of the US Space Force? A FOIA request filed in August of 2018 reveals that beyond just plans for a more militarized space, NASA is deeply dedicated and invested to the privatization and commercialization of the final frontier.
In recent years, as funding to NASA and scientific discovery has been cut in favor of military applications, the names of private companies like SpaceX and Virgin have moved to fill the void. Where once space exploration was imagined to be a collective endeavor funded by democratic mandate, space has now gone the way predicted in 2001: A Space Odyssey: It’s a new venue where airlines can hock space flights, telephone companies can upcharge for inter-planetary phone calls, and Coke can sell Space Coke.
In an internal draft of NASA’s “National Exploration Campaign Report” from August 2018, the authors of the report identify the very first of five strategic goals for the new campaign as “Transition U.S. human spaceflight in LEO to commercial operations, which support NASA and the needs of an emerging private sector market.” It is only once you get to number three on the list of strategic goals that NASA plans to “Foster scientific discovery.”
Space appears to be a goldmine for whoever can tap its commercial potential. However, nowhere in the report does it suggest that NASA or the democratically-elected U.S. government profit on this goldmine. They’re only role, it seems, is to assist and allow other people to make the profits. “The commercial possibilities are endless,” writes the strategic document, “from tourism to training for deep space missions, it could also enable highly-trained and discipline-specific scientists and engineers to design drugs or construct spacecraft in the unique microgravity environment.”
Not only is it NASA’s role to help maximize the profits of companies like Boeing, Northrup Grumman, and SpaceX, it is apparently the role of NASA to convince the world that hyper-capitalism is the most effective model economic model. In reference to an emerging space race between the U.S. and China, the report declares, “Faced with state-backed competition, the innovation and efficiency of … U.S. companies will be tested. As we work to help enable their success, they will strengthen the power of free market capitalism over other forms of economic organization.”
Among those most saber-rattling about a potential space race with China was veteran astronaut Buzz Aldrin. In one particular meeting, Aldrin urged the U.S. to “attract other nations with compelling inclinations,” should China be attempting to woo nations away from the U.S.-backed International Space Station into their own plans. Aldrin also apparently said in one meeting that there were “disadvantages to international cooperation” when it came to the continuation of space exploration.
Why did all of this get released in connection to a FOIA request about Space Force? Because militarization and commercialization, are, will be, and have always been, fully intertwined. A discussion of Space Force appears in the June 2018 meeting minutes of the National Space Council Users’ Advisory Group. These meeting notes document Jim Bridenstine, Donald Trump’s appointee to the role of Administrator of NASA, discussing the connection between the military, imperialism, and markets. “The United States faces unprecedented challenges in space and has been contested in space. It is become a very dangerous environment. His Navy experience showed that two things matter: how good your commerce is, and how good your defense of that commerce is. The same is true in space. Commerce is critical for space, which is a major industry and an element of our international export strategy. The commerce is there right now, but the defense of that commerce is not.”
From its odd beginnings, the Space Force has always been imagined as a tool that, above all else, will protect profits in outer space.
You can read the full document embedded below, or on the request page here.
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