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Today (November 14) is the forty-sixth anniversary of Mariner 9 achieving orbit around Mars, the first time a human-made object orbited another planet. Though a worldwide dust storm obscured the planet for a month, the probe eventually took 7,329 pictures and imaged over eighty percent of the surface.
More than sixty-seven years later, an expedition led by Conn Garrow became the first to land humans successfully on the surface of the Red Planet. To celebrate Mariner 9’s historic anniversary, you can read all about that expedition in Girl on Mars for only 99 cents in the Kindle Store, today only!
Some of my readers might consider this a better deal than they’re getting down here lately.
Last year, Russian scientist Igor Ashurbeyli announced the formation of Asgardia — a new virtual nation that will ultimately exist entirely in space. Since its debut, Asgardia has attracted over 300,000 registrants, created a constitution and, as of this Sunday, launched itself — all 0.5 TB of it — into space.
A small satellite called Asgardia-1 was loaded on board the Cygnus spacecraft and launched by the Orbital ATK Antares rocket from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility Sunday morning. The satellite contains Asgardia’s constitution, its national symbols and personally selected data from each of the nation’s citizens. “Asgardia-1 may look like many other satellites orbiting Earth, but it is the only one in the whole world which represents a new territory,” Ashurbeyli said in a statement. “Asgardia-1 took all of the nation’s essence to space: its Constitution, its national symbols, and all of the Asgardian citizens – virtually.”
At the Kingdom’s website you can apply for citizenship, and even (once successful) nominate yourself for the virtual nation’s parliament. As I type there are 114,746 citizens of Asgardia, which the Kingdom says makes it the 174th most-populous human nation.
The executive secretary of the National Space Council, Scott Pace, has some interesting, even troubling, ideas about who owns commercial space vehicles.
“Heavy-lift rockets are strategic national assets, like aircraft carriers,” Pace said. “There are some people who have talked about buying heavy-lift as a service as opposed to owning and operating, in which case the government would, of course, have to continue to own the intellectual properties so it wasn’t hostage to any one contractor. One could imagine this but, in general, building a heavy-lift rocket is no more ‘commercial’ than building an aircraft carrier with private contractors would be.”
You don’t have to wade too far into the comments before someone hits on why heavy-lift rockets are not aircraft carriers: aircraft carriers are custom-built to the specifications of one “customer,” and there are no commercial applications for them. But that sets to the side the issue that Pace is arguing that the government either owns the “assets” or else must own the “intellectual properties” [sic] and, I don’t know, license it/them to private contractors under its essentially unilateral terms and conditions. It doesn’t work that way.