Moon Tourists

Inspired by the recent SpaceX moon tourism announcement, here’s a piece I wrote for Wired Italia issue number four, back in 2009. Of course it was published in Italian. This is the first time it’s been seen in English.

Kill the Moon

by Prof. F. Tomasso Marinetti, Chief Librarian, Biblioteca del Dipartimento di Ingegneria Aerospaziale dell’Università di Roma “La Sapienza”

April 17, 2061

It embarrasses me that Italians have been to the Moon.

As a scientist, of course I admire the Moon. But why are Italian celebrities bounding around up there in an operatic spectacle? Why are we Italians always so guilty, in the sober eyes of the global public, of these undignified extravagances?

I have heard all the arguments in favor of the Italian moon trip. Yes, I know that Italy was one of the first space powers: Italy built the Vega launcher, Italy explored comets, Italy built all the best-looking pieces of the International Space Station. Other nations had their space programs in the past century, too: the Japanese, Indians, Chinese. Why are we Italians the only people who still believe that space flight is romantic?

Of course many companies still launch hundreds of unmanned weather, communications and observation satellites. Everyone agrees that the commercial space-launch industry is profitable, useful and necessary. I make no protest there. My specific complaint is about my fellow Italians, loudly trampling the Moon. Why are we gleefully celebrating this empty publicity stunt? Why can’t we see how silly this is?

Yes, this year is the centenary of the first manned flight of Yuri Gagarin, in April 1961. We Italians are always painfully keen on historical anniversaries. I agree that something solemn should have been done to honor this brave though long-dead cosmonaut. That should have been done in some archive in Moscow — not by two Italian celebrities in brightly-colored spacesuits clowning around on the Moon.

History tells us that the Americans sent two highly-trained astronaut-soldiers to the Moon. The American astronauts spoke seriously to mankind about world peace. And who did Italy send up there? Some eccentric billionaire and his busty actress girlfriend. Both of them on live global television!

I don’t care how many billions of people enjoyed this silly video. His jokes about lunar science were not funny, and she’s not as sexy as people say. Their new world fame, all those ticker-tape parades — that crude popular reaction only intensifies the embarrassment of intelligent, cultured people.

It’s not that I oppose space tourism. I can understand space tourism. All Italians understand tourism. We Italians have been world masters of the tourism industry for seven hundred years. So of course the Italians can, and we do, make all the private spacecraft for wealthy space tourists. Who else would do that kind of work? We make the best spacecraft in exactly the same way that we make the world’s best yachts, sports cars and ski equipment.

I can also understand the appeal of some quick tourist jaunt into orbit. I wouldn’t do that myself, but being weightless clearly has some attractions for certain people. You fly into zero gravity, your bring along a pretty girl, you pour some bubbly prosecco into strange fizzing spheres: things follow their natural course. I understand all that, and I don’t complain about it. Million of tourists behave in that fashion in Italy every single summer, and no one is ever surprised.

Yes, the “Gabriele D’Annunzio” is a very beautiful rocketship. With such superb Italian industrial design, obviously it is the prettiest manned lunar rocket ever built. I also admit that creating a spacecraft that runs on clean, renewable Italian solar energy was a nice piece of public relations.

In fact, all the public-relations aspects of this stunt were handled very cleverly: the lunar theme music, the sleek designer logos, the sexy spacesuit costumes. Even the Eurovision dance routines at liftoff were surprisingly good.

But a Moon launch? Surely we must admit that was extravagant! We Italians are one of the world’s oldest peoples: can’t we behave as adults here? Here, in the year 2061, it should be obvious to everyone that a manned flight to the Moon is an empty-headed lark! It simply does not matter in any important way! This act has no public consequence!

I don’t care that they planted the Italian tricolor all over the Galileo Crater! The beautiful inflatable tent with the seamless plastic furniture did not impress me! When they took two hours for lunch, and ate their freeze-dried grissini… All right, I admit it, that Piedmontese grissini was an interesting choice. Eating grissini on the Moon, that took some imagination.

However: except for stunts of this kind, there is nothing for any human being to do up there on the Moon! Nothing useful at all! No human being is ever going to settle or colonize the Moon. The Moon is a purely astronomical phenomenon; it is a barren, airless rock with no commercial or military value whatsoever! This fact is entirely obvious to any educated person!

We Italians have become the world’s “last major space power,” and we are happy about that. Yet everybody else thinks that space travel is old-fashioned and adorable. They simply tolerate our space illusions here. They patronize our “space heritage industry,” our Italian “space museum economy.” They simply give us the Moon with a cheery smile and a blown kiss, in the same way that they admire our unique penchant for grappa, Baroque architecture and labor demonstrations.

We Italians are the last people on Earth who fly to other planets. When will we realize that we have the world’s oldest futurism?

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