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New era, Ideas, People.

You Don't Need a Rocket to Develop Your Own Space Program!

Ewen Chardronnet, artist, member of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts.

 In your words, What was and what is the Association of Autonomous Astronauts?

Having started with a simple idea in 1995 - space travel should be open to all - the AAA has evolved into a complex social movement. This concept of an evolving space program was used as a framework for discussing and studying the ideas to see where the astronauts wanted to go independent and how they would achieve. The AAA said shortly after its official launch that its own ideas were already in the heads of everyone. In 2001, the AAA decided its own non-existence as an organization. What remains from the early years is the directions explored collectively - movements that has been and will be crossed, extended and transformed by the following generations.

How do you define an Autonomous Astronaut? Are there any requirements or “must do” things for a person that makes her/him an Autonomous Astronaut?

The AAA has developed space exploration as a language game that moves in several directions at once, and so shown that anyone can use words to imagine and create their own possibilities. Words can be used to subvert the commonly held view that space travel requires vast amounts of money, and language has been set in motion by the AAA as part of a vast collective fiction that concludes with the creation of a world-wide network of AAA groups all dedicated to building their own spaceships. Back at the turn of the millennium, everywhere where there was underground art work, the AAA interfered. Since the experimentations on new compositional data in the repetitive, noisy, climatic and industrial, acoustic and electronic music, to the programmed wandering of new drifts, from theater to dance in zero gravity.

Autonomous astronauts conducting avant-garde experiments. Autonomous Astronautics has been propelled as an opening of the sensory pleasure to new climates and new situations. The crossing of unknown atmospheres and moods.

Is it possible for people from not so high tech countries - to start their own Space program? What would be your advice?

First you have to reclaim the sky above you! More seriously your question makes me think of the «Movimiento de los sin satélite» by artists and hackers in Latin America. Many interesting people have been listening and spotting satellites, trying to hack forgotten or supposed dead satellites or build their own satellites to develop independent communication networks. They have been documenting their research in an interesting manual as well as organizing a revival of the forgotten 1976 Bogotá Declaration . In Bogotá in 1976, eight states traversed by the equator, Colombia, Congo, Ecuador, Indonesia, Kenya, Uganda, Zaire and Brazil as observer, signed a declaration to reclaim the geostationary orbit as natural resource. Geostationary orbit is a band 36,000 kilometers above Earth’s equator where a satellite orbits the Earth at the same speed the Earth rotates. So satellites in geostationary orbit are always above the same equatorial location and bring satellite TV to both hemispheres. The declaration was arguing that geostationary orbit is a scarce resource and because there are only 360 degrees of orbit can be used, and satellites must be several degrees apart to avoid interference, satellites positions are limited. Furthermore, sections that cover landmasses are particularly valuable. Equatorial states, consequently, have a large incentive to argue that they control sections of the geostationary orbit, as the 1976 declaration wanted to state over the 1967 Outer Space Treaty . The network behind the recent re-enactment wants to call on a new declaration that identifies the operational programs (scientific, military, media communication, market mapping) of the many satellites flying above their heads. Amateur technology of today allows to track the ISS (International Space Station), so its possible to map from above-up many of those mysterious objects located at low and high elevation orbits.

In the tropical latitudes, is quite often the case that people lay in the grass at dusk (and smoke sacred ganja) and that the rays of the sun help them track those bright and fast moving artifacts up in the sky. Most of the times they will feel observed, analyzed, measured, mapped, but often it will be a feeling of being contaminated, beamed by an intrusive ash of light. A usual reaction is to yell at the distant operators, to shout as loud as possible fuck o Yankees!! Leave us alone!

You might say this is an extremist reaction, but is not, unfortunately is not, is a simple way to become aware of the use of technology by the majority of the countries able to develop such devices. 

Can you comment on a new “space race” where governments are replaced by corporations and citizens: There are start-ups in the field of Asteroid Mining, Elon Musk and few others want to give birth to Space Tourism, there are even plans for the cities on Mars.. there are Mars one, project Asgardia etc.

There is definitely a new space race. We can see it loud and clear since the decommissioning of the Space Shuttle in 2012. NASA really opened the doors for privatization since then. With people like Blue Origin, Space X, Boeing, Bigelow Aerospace, etc. I was once visiting a meeting for space investors at the Mojave Spaceport in California. You could feel that aerospace is really part of Californian entrepreneur culture, this mythology of the «final frontier» etc. Now some of them invest in companies like Planetary Resources for asteroid mining. And to support that, the US Government opened the capitalist race for exploitation of minerals in space with the Spurring Private Aerospace Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship (SPACE) Act of 2015 . The update to US commercial space law explicitly allows US citizens to «engage in the commercial exploration and exploitation of ‘space resources’ [including ... water and minerals].» The United States recognizing ownership of space resources is an act of sovereignty, so it could be considered that the act violates the Outer Space Treaty. Chinese and Russians are also showing great interest with the vast quantity of Helium-3 present on the Moon, a non-radioactive isotope of helium that can be used for «clean» nuclear fusion. One of the main goals of the Chinese Moon Program is the mining of Helium-3 to «bring enough fuel for all human beings across the world». RKK Energiya wants to set a lunar base and start mining as well by 2030. So there is definitely a new race for space resources... Talking about space tourism, I was also visiting the Spaceport America in New Mexico three years ago. Its an incredible facility in the desert, very strange in a way, as I must say the building is really beautiful in an astonishing landscape, but with very little activity for now. But they see big, and Virgin Galactic plans to build several spaceports like that around the world. In UK, Singapore, Dubai, etc. And to sell super expensive tickets for super rich people. I am quiet worried with this kind of tourism for rich cosmocrats actually.

Some scientists say that the big threat from the scaling-up of space travel comes from black carbon - a type of particulate matter that makes soot black - when hurled into the stratosphere, builds up for years, absorbing visible light from the sun.

According to one study , black carbon emitted into the stratosphere by rockets would absorb 100,000 times as much energy as the CO2 emitted by those rockets. How this extra heat in the stratosphere would effect climate is less clear, but it would definitely cause some climate change – both warming and cooling. The study evaluate the impact of 1,000 launches per year from the same location and suggests that a ring-shaped cloud of black carbon would form at the latitude of the launch site (of the Spaceport America in their model), leading to shade that would cause cooling there, with corresponding warming in other places. Polar regions warmed or cooled by up to 5 degrees, depending on the season. The heating also caused ozone to radiate throughout the stratosphere, causing lower levels in some places and increases in others. The point of the study was to say that 1,000 launches per year of space tourism flights will have a significant climate change effect.

About “Temporary Autonomous Zones” in Space: How far are we from times when small communities can build and launch their own, fully working spaceships? And if there will be limitations to leave the planet -- do you think we could one day see ”illegal emigrants” who leave the planet without a permission in order to “Squat the moon”?

Well there are open source space exploration program developing nowadays. I think we are really close to see the first autonomous non-commercial program up in space soon. Just take Copenhagen Suborbitals, a non-profit, open project, amateur based space endeavor, funded entirely by private sponsors and donors, they aims to build suborbital space vehicles for manned space flight on a micro size spacecraft with micro size budget. This seems interesting, but I think its a pity that these programs still rely on propellants. If you think of what I just said regarding pollution caused by space tourism, we really need to move towards zero-carbon space exploration programs. In the last decade I became really interested in balloon-based space programs, in stratollites and high altitude airships, aerosolar infra-red balloons, etc. In October 2015 I took part in the «Space without Rockets» action organized for the COP21 in White Sands Missile Range (very close to Spaceport America) by the Aerocene initiative founded by Argentinian artist Tomás Saraceno. It was the first officially registered aerosolar hot-air balloon to fly with a passenger, a symbolic premiere as White Sands is a military site where first american rocket was launched in space in 1945, seventy years earlier. The Aerocene Foundation wants now to organist the longest, emission-free journey around the world with balloons becoming buoyant only by the heat of the Sun and infrared radiation from the surface of Earth. I was also interested to hear at the «Space without Rockets» meeting about the activities of JP Aerospace , a non-profit DIY balloon-based space program in the US. Concerning immigration, well, if you look at USA history, since the early years of its creation, the country has always been the destination of many outlaws fleeing away (the status of outlaws is even in the early Philadelphia Constitution), alternative religions rejected from Europe (Theosophists, Amish, etc. etc), or poor people from post-war countries searching for jobs...

I don’t see why it would not be the same pattern with space.

We admire new unorthodox synthesis of old “orthodox” role-models. For example, we love the image of an astronaut who is a great engineer and good scientist, but also practices shamanism, loves to dance at rave parties and studies schizoanalysis. And on the other hand we love the image of a poet, who studies programming, robotics and cosmology in order to inspire her /his poetry. Do you think we need this kind of mixture? In other words, should we send poets and artists to space to get a fresh visions of Cosmos?

Definitely. But more than that. Space exploration must be composite of art of science. There will no be proper life and space culturalization in the cosmos without that. Thats why I decided to work closely with my friends from Slovenia, who I like to call the Noordung AAA branch , when they created in 2012 the KSEVT, the Cultural Center of European Space Technologies in Vitanje near Maribor in Slovenia. You have to remember that through the development of science and technology, national or commercial space programs influence the development of modern social-technological culture. But due to their limited sphere of national and commercial goals their influence on culture and vice-versa remains merely coincidental, inconsiderate and unreflected. So KSEVT aims to develop a cultural space program that sets its main frame around the topics of culturalization of space and the composite of art and science. KSEVT focuses on exploring and developing guidelines for the implementation of a cultural space program; it wishes to encourage both culturalization of space and composite research and development. Exploring and developing guidelines for the implementation of a cultural space program enables interaction of various experts, artists and scientists. They deal with a cultural cross section of space programs, each from his own method of thought and, moreover, they establish composite diplomatic protocols between the fields of art and science. KSEVT encourages individuals and organizations included in space and culture related activities to develop common projects. Through those efforts we can begin to recognize cultural patterns of space programs. Supporting composite research and development encourages scientific and artistic public to develop composite diplomatic protocols and models of thinking even further, all serving the same cause – a more complete understanding of the question: «What is it like to be human in space?»

What is your message for all the young space dreamers from all over the globe? From the skyscrapers of Shanghai to the slums of Venezuela?

You don’t need a rocket to develop your own space program!


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