No, private space colonies will not be dystopian hellscapes | Space


The idea of pulling up stakes and moving to a space colony to start a new life is a compelling one. SpaceX’s Elon Musk wants to build a city of a million people on Mars. Jeff Bezos wants to build free-flying colonies, first envisioned by Gerard K. O’Neill, that can sustain even more people. Space colonies are the stuff of science fiction dreams, invoking the settlement of the American West.

Not so fast, according to a story in Scientific American. Space colonies founded by private businesses are likely, in the story’s view, to be dystopian hells. The theory is that space colonists will be subject to the whims of their tech overlords. Free from the restraints of earthly laws, the founders of the first communities of humans beyond the home planet will do with their subjects as they like. The story cites accusations of racial discrimination and sexual harassment at tech companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin to buttress his case.

It even invokes Werner Von Braun in his brief against private space colonies. Von Braun, before he moved to America and became a champion of civil rights in the Jim Crow South, served the Nazi regime, even joining the Nazi Party and taking rank in the SS, though no evidence exists that he agreed with Nazi racial ideology. It seems to imply that space colonies could resemble the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, where people were literally worked to death to build V-2 rockets.

The story seems also to have problems with what it called “American superiority in space” and resource extraction on the moon. It mischaracterizes the former, since the Artemis Accords, started by NASA, stipulate a regime of cooperation on the space frontier and not the dominance of any one nation. Why there’s disdain for mining the moon or other celestial bodies is left as an exercise for the reader.

The story’s thesis encounters one problem. If Musk’s Mars colony or Bezos’s free-flying space cities become latter-day…

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