You are here: Why Asgardia Makes Sense

I love Earth. It’s our home. For the time being, it is the only planet we know that hosts a variety of lifeforms and a spark of consciousness. Remember Carl Sagan’s words about this “pale blue dot”?

Pale Blue dot, the picture of Earth taken by Voyager 1. Image source: BahaiTeachings.org
That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar”, every “supreme leader”, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

He goes on and says:

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

I find these words so beautiful and profoundly true but at the same time so painful that even after reading them for the 20th time my world just shatters in realization of two things. First, how lucky I am to be alive when we are able to objectively study and explore our solar system and beyond. There is no need to deify stars or invent the mythology behind the constellations. Their true origin and nature is what makes space exploration so fascinating. The birth of the universe, the mysteries of the so-called dark matter and dark energy, the beauty and formidableness of massive cosmic bodies, the studies of exoplanets and the possibility of spacefaring — all these phenomena are more than any imagination can conceive of. But there is also the second thing that comes to mind. How horrible it would be if something terrible prevented us from going farther than we are now, let alone destroying all our previous endeavors. That’s why when I hear about some bold ideas aimed at backing up life as we know it, like Elon Musk’s Mars colonization venture, I’m all for it.

But of course the idea of preserving life is not the only impetus for space industry and scientific research in that field. There’s the natural thirst for knowledge ingrained in us without, which going into space would still be something inconceivable. And there’s the practical needs of two competing countries of the 20th century that started this all. It’s a little unfortunate that in order to go big we needed to be motivated by fear, not our dreams, forced by technological competition, not cooperation. Today we have a chance to fix this and focus on what actually matters. My view might seem a bit sentimental, but I think it’s time for humanity to stop acting like a petulant child, grow up and become responsible. I envision us finally getting to how small and insignificant we are when not united by common goals of achieving true prosperity and well-being. Perhaps I’m not the only one who thinks that earthlings need to make a new step towards the unimaginable.

On October, 12, the world heard about the first Space Nation — Asgardia. The project is headed by a Russian scientist and businessman, Igor Ashurbeyli, who has founded Aerospace International Research Center and is also Editor-in-Chief of Room, The Space Journal. According to Ashurbeyli, the sci-tech mission of Asgardia can be summarized in just three words: peace, access and protection. But in reality it’s impossible to cover such a huge issue in just three words. So what Asgardia claims to achieve one day is to secure peaceful exploration of space, provide access to space to those countries that have no space program, and protect our planet and its people from space threats, such as coronal mass ejections, asteroids and space debris with the means of some sort of shield. How does Asgardia strive to achieve these goals?

They plan to launch their first prototype satellite in 2017–2018. The payload and the type of satellite, however, remain unknown. What we know is that it’s already funded, although the founder of Asgardia welcomes the resources of crowd-founding and private investments in his project. What kind of technology can create a protective shield for our planet is also a mystery for now, but we might have a hint thanks to another concept created by Ashurbeyli, URBOCOP. This suggestion prompts even more questions because none of the countries currently present in space know exactly how to prevent smaller collisions between space debris and working satellites, let alone asteroids or other cosmic threats. The idea of URBOCOP is essentially an armed, unmanned space station that will focus both on threats from Earth and outer space and thus should be able to spot and prevent such dangers as asteroids and missiles aimed at other countries. To remain impartial and fair, the station will be fully automated and should be able to make its own decisions.

Image source: http://asgardia.space/citizenship

Asgardia welcomes everyone who lives on Earth to apply for preliminary Asgardian citizenship. As of now, there are more than 450,000 applicants, although initially the target was 100,000 people who would make up special preference before the launch of the satellite. The new goal is 1,000,000 people. Next, Asgardia is looking forward to being recognized by the United Nations. In future, every applicant will probably be scrutinized and eventually given a passport.

However, moving to Asgardia would be a challenge. It has no land, and no land will be provided, because it’s a space nation. In theory, there might be new space station where some of the citizens would live and work, and since there are no claims to celestial bodies or resources, it sounds legit, albeit technologically and legally challenging. There is a question of how Asgardia is going to circumvent the article of the Outer Space Treaty that says space cannot be owned by anyone. Another major concern is that even if, or when, Asgardia launches its satellite, by existing laws it becomes the responsibility, and in case of an unfortunate event, a liability, of the launching country. But these are exact reasons why Igor Ashurbeyli initiated this project. There is an incipient need to review and maybe revise current laws of operation in space. Ashurbeyli is and advocate of “astropolitics” and universal space law, as opposed to geopolitics and international space law, respectively.

The Ark from TV show The 100. Image source The 100 Wiki — Wikia

On October, 21, Asgardia has announced the structure of its government. It is going to be a council of 12 ministers, which will be appointed until the first elections in June 2017. Eleven ministries are named, but the citizens are offered to vote for the twelfth ministry on the nation’s Facebook page. We don’t know whether there will be a constitution or any other fundamental document. It is not discussed yet what rights and responsibilities the citizens will have. The official website of the young nation offers to participate in creation of a flag, insignia and national anthem. The first space nation claims that it will become a platform for independent and private research, not bound by land-based laws of the governments, relying on scientific basis in its decisions, thus fostering the advancement in science. Igor Ashurbeyli is very elusive of small details about his brainchild, but, in his words, not because he has nothing to say, but because he welcomes creative and intellectual input from all possible sources. He lets us know that the intentions of Asgardia are demilitarized and should be beneficial for all of the humanity.

That’s a lot of information to fathom. We’ve come to a point when almost half a million people sign up to become citizens of “no man’s land” without giving it a second thought. So far, what I’ve managed to read about the founding father and the concept of this first space nation leaves me with a conclusion that can be summarized in another three words. Ambitious. Bold. Enticing. Initially, however, those words were “ambitious, bold, vague”.

Igor Ashurbeyli gives an impression of a man of action with his own vision. It is a little bit comforting that he seems to understand how extraordinary his ideas are.

And again, for the fourth time in my life, I am doing something extraordinary that could cost me dear and destroy my reputation as a conservative engineer and businessman.

Not only he founded the aforementioned companies, but also worked in a Russian military R&D enterprise Almaz-Antey and now holds position of UNESCO Science of Space committee. His experience, as well as endorsement of this project by such notable specialists as David Alexander of the Rice Space Institute in Houston, Texas and Dr. Joseph N. Pelton, Director Emeritus of the Space and Advanced Communications Research Institute, sound reassuring. At first, I was 75% sure it was some kind of marketing stunt or campaign for a new game. Yet, despite my skepticism, I don’t know how I managed to curb myself from signing up the first day I heard about this bizarre idea, but it was a positive thing.

If I signed up immediately, I would probably forget about it after a day or two, and would occasionally check news on this issue without giving it much faith, until some substantial evidence of their firm intention came up. Now I have hope that more international organizations, institutions and governments will look into the issues Asgardia is trying to cover. I was suspicious of the idea of space citizenship. Now I see how many people all over the world would like this dream to come true. I was questioning technological potential of this project. Now I realize that one person, no matter how fruitful and how astute, cannot bear this burden alone. It is our obligation as species to take part in creation of first space nation and establishing new space law that will benefit humanity in its future space exploration and sustainable use of space resources. And it is our moral duty to protect our home planet, the cradle of life as we know it, even if from ourselves.