L5 News: Statehood in Space – Political Evolution on the High Frontier

by Philip Bosshardt

From L5 News Jan. 1986, Feb. 1986, March 1986, May 1986, June 1986


Human beings are social beings. Natural evolution has provided us with the skills necessary to cooperate and coordinate. Society began when the first protohuman dropped from the trees and took up the challenge of the savannah, organizing the hunt and dividing the spoils. Humans especially need each other in new and hostile environments, where quick response to rapid change means the difference between life and death. The high frontier of space will be no different.

Sociability gives humans an evolutionary advantage. Before animals were domesticated, cooperation among men was the only technology available for big projects. The transmission of new knowledge, vital for the survival of a slow, weak bipedal transplanted from the forests was accelerated in a group setting, making it easier for this unlikely predator to adapt to new environmental challenges.

With the first stirrings of society, however, human conflict was inevitable. On the open plains and grasslands, conflict took on an ominous new dimension, threatening not only the combatants themselves but the survival of the tribe as well. A way had to be found to settle arguments short of death. A small, exposed tribe surrounded by predators better equipped to compete for food, water, and shelter could ill afford to lose a vital skill or another strong back. From this need, laws and ultimately politics evolved.

Humans compete with each other for almost everything. Territorial gain, economic profit, faith or ideology, personal aggrandizement, all of these have provided plenty of motivation for bigger sticks and more bloodshed. Without a way of channeling the conflict, no tribe could ever have secured enough food to survive.

Animal conflict follows a similar dictum. The competition is ritualized into certain forms to prevent overall species destruction. The main purpose is to display messages of dominance and hierarchy: “This is my territory. This is my mate. My position in the group is here.” As Maruyama has stated: “Survival of the fittest means survival of the most symbiotic, [not] the strongest [1]. Nothing is gained by bringing about the destruction of the tribe. Society — sociability — equals survival.

Law is nothing more than ritualized human conflict, like the threat displays animals use to warn off trespassers. It’s a way of preventing species destruction. With the accumulation of rules describing acceptable ways of fighting. some means of managing the rules had to be developed. Enter politics. The history of man’s political evolution is the story of tighter and more centralized organization of larger, more complex, and more dispersed groups of people. There is a continuum from the single-cell protozoa to the multicellular organism called man and the megacellular organism of the nation-state-empire. Since there are no known physical limits to the size of such organisms, except for the Universe as a whole, it’s probable that political evolution in space will bring even larger, more complex, and more intricate systems. Later on, we’ll take a look at some possible forms these systems might take.

Gary Hudson gives three dimensions by which a society can be judged successful [2]. The first requirement is for the members to have common goals in mind, to have a certain congruity of interests and outlooks. Without this, no social contract can work. There must also be sufficient resources to achieve these goals. Resources can be anything human ingenuity can use to produce goods and services of value: the only real limit to growth is lack of ingenuity. Finally, the social contract must provide the freedom — the mechanism — by which resources can be converted into goals.

A society deficient in any of these dimensions won’t be as successful in the survival game as one that provides all of them. And Nature is utterly unforgiving of half-hearted efforts. Prosperity is nice as an end to work for, but the national imperatives of Earthside states and the needs of survival will shape the earliest political landscape. The first skirmishes over that landscape are being fought today.

Space law is an attempt to bring some order to what is inherently a disorderly process. Opening the frontier of space means opening new frontiers in law as well. Space law has its roots in aviation and maritime law: much of the thinking implicit in the Law of the Sea Treaty has been transferred to the proposed international legal regime for space.

Many legal scholars see in the practice of maritime law a good foundation for developing a body of space law [3]. In the view of Jack Glazer, Chief Counsel of the NASA/Ames Research Center, “outer space has more in common with ocean space than with air space.” Spacecraft float for long duration in space, much as ships float in the ocean, whereas gravity dictates that the flights of aircraft will be short and limited. Longer missions aboard the Space Station will bring to mind the expeditions of Drake and Magellan, Columbus and da Gama.

There are five international legal instruments applicable to the business of spaceflight:

  • The Outer Space Treaty
  • The Agreement on Return of Astronauts
  • The Space Objects Registration Treaty
  • The Treaty on International Liability
  • The Moon Treaty

The Outer Space Treaty will have the greatest impact on the politics of emerging space communities, especially in its Article II provisions:

“Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”

We will see later that the nucleus of this treaty’s destruction will hinge on the growing disputes over the nature of the word “sovereignty.”

Under intense lobbying by the L5 Society and other space advocacy groups, the United States did not ratify the so-called Moon Treaty in 1979. By rejecting the Moon Treaty as it is currently written and by refusing, virtually at the last moment, to sign the Law of the Sea Treaty, the United States has served notice to the world community that it implicitly denies the legal validity of the principle of “the common heritage of mankind.” Let’s look at the common heritage principle. Historically, common heritage has meant many things to many people. Galloway states that “the idea that the earth and its bounty belongs to everyone…is at least as old as the Beatitudes. Modern notions…come from the thinking of John Locke, Adam Smith, Jean Jacques Rousseau and Karl Marx [4].” The question is how can such a principle be reconciled with the national interests of states? Locke indicated that man increased the value of the common wealth by appropriating land and applying his own labor [5]. Rousseau, on the other hand, believed that the first piece of ground enclosed and proclaimed as private property had led inexorably to all the ills of modern society [6].

Much intellectual effort has been expended on fashioning a consensus that the fruits of nature deserve to be shared by all. But, as Galloway has said, the concern for how best to organize an “international regime” to achieve this is misplaced [7]. No single regime will be able effectively to coordinate the exploitation of such different resources as lunar oxygen and titanium: indeed, the history of natural resources is quite the opposite, being more a story of fragmentation and cartelization than collective action “for all mankind.” Whether the Law of the Sea Treaty will bring about a lasting change in this cycle is problematical. Past experience suggests otherwise.

The main reason for questioning the devotion of states to the common heritage principle stems from the many forms in which national sovereignty is exercised and the way such sovereignty evolves through use. Although explicitly forbidden in Article II of the Outer Space Treaty, sovereignty is ultimately a slippery concept. In an earlier series of articles in the L5 News, “Real Property Rights in Outer Space,” Wayne White described the ambiguities inherent in the Outer Space Treaty regarding a nation’s exercise of sovereignty. He maintained that far from prohibiting such exercise, a full reading of the text showed that, in certain instances, states would be required to exercise sovereignty in order to meet their obligations to demonstrate jurisdiction and control [8]. Thus, space law can be seen not only to permit but actually to require states to exercise functional sovereignty.

There is ample evidence for the evolution of functional sovereignty into national sovereignty in fact (if not in principle) or even into private/corporate appropriation by means of use or occupation extended over time. Witness the case of off-shore oil drilling rigs, where a state exercises functional sovereignty to permit safe and efficient navigation in the surrounding seas [9]. Although the state may not claim the ocean as its own territory, in practice the perogatives of functional sovereignty — exclusion, conditional admission (for reasons of safety), continuous display of state authority — differ little from the appearance of national, territorial sovereignty. One writer has even developed the idea of an “object-space” contiguous to the zone in which a governing authority is required to exercise jurisdiction and control, implying that such object-space may expand in accordance with the authority’s changing perceptions of operational needs [10].

History provides little doubt that nations will exercise whatever level of sovereignty in space is needed to achieve national objectives. In the 15th century, Spain and Portugal were the most active seafaring states in Europe. Through a series of Papal Bulls issued in the latter decades of that century and ultimately in the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, Alexander VI, the Spanish Pope, sought to adjudicate the growing disputes between the two nations and establish a demarkation line that would effectively split the New World into spheres of influence [11].

Ferdinand Magellan, Portugese by birth, ignored the Pope’s declarations when he offered to discover rich islands in the East for the Spanish Crown, having already gained foreknowledge of the wealth and extent of the Moluccas on a previous voyage. He sailed from Seville on his epochal expedition in 1519. Competition continued to unravel the Treaty from then on, and the Pope’s dictates were completely ignored by the British, French, and Dutch, who objected that “even the Pope could not apportion what God had created for all” [12].

If there is to be any formal legal regime for space development, it must be as flexible as possible, allowing plenty of room for national and/or private-corporate maneuvering. It is impossible to pre-judge what conditions will obtain in isolated settlements at the edge of the frontier: in the course of evolution, life forms need adaptability to survive. The ideal system of regulation should encourage exploration and development rather than stifle it (and provide stability during the expansion), provide a strong mechanism for settling the inevitable disputes, guarantee essential services that must be shared by all users (protection from piracy, a common standard of monetary exchange, a central claims registry), and perhaps most importantly, provide a path for political evolution toward some desirable end state or condition since, as we have seen. centralization of complex systems seems unavoidable [13].

In US history, two pieces of legislation stand out as examples of positive, effective state-building legal regimes: the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the Homestead Act of 1862. Both of these acts provided a means by which frontier settlements could acquire formal status as political entities; in each case, certain qualifications had to be met before official recognition was given. The main value of this approach was the provision for specific, easily verifiable goals to be met along the way to statehood; criteria of population growth, time of occupation, and level of land development were laid down. A similar mechanism will have to be worked out for space settlements.

The divergence of interests between major spacefaring powers ensures that any measures detrimental to displays of national power will be ignored. The Moon Treaty is only the first example. As Myers has pointed out, the rules of conflict will prevail [14]. Just as with the Spanish Crown, Western nations must develop a consistent strategy for exploration and use of the high frontier and reserve for themselves maximum flexibility for political maneuvering. To abdicate our political heritage to an ill-conceived international regime is not only folly in an historical sense, but legally inconsistent with the requirement that States Parties to the Outer Space Treaty exercise jurisdiction (read “functional sovereignty”) over their settlements and facilities [15].

We don’t know the extent of our Solar System even yet. In many ways, the quickening search for a massive extrasolar body, a new “Planet X,” to account for still unexplained irregularities in the motions of Uranus and Neptune is reminiscent of massive efforts mounted to locate Terra Australis, the Southern Continent, in the 16th and 17th centuries. We have our own Terra Incognita, appropriately scaled for our more capable technology today. Despite the best wishes of diplomats and legal theorists, political development will follow national cultural and economic imperatives; Soviet-initiated settlements in space will no more resemble New England towns than Soviet cities do today. The best we can do is to provide a healthy nucleus for the coming communities; in other words, satisfy their basic physiological and psychological needs, then provide the framework within which natural development can occur. A wise parent and the law of space should do no more.

It is important to remember that flexibility and adaptability will pay large dividends when it comes to ensuring the steady growth of space settlements. By refraining from shackling themselves to vindictive or restrictive international obligations during the formative years of space development, free nations will preserve the chance to extend the advantages of freedom to new communities. The next installment of this article will show why the future of freedom and opportunity in space settlements can not be taken for granted, but will have to be included in the design from the start.


Space communities will still be human communities for all the strangeness of their environment. Encouraging and designing for the full expression of communal spirit is important to the healthy growth of any town; obstacles to this sense of belonging and shared identity will result in settlers who feel no stake in the future of their community. That is dangerous in an environment where lack of attention to small details could be fatal. This installment will describe some of the factors designers of space communities will have to consider.

Just what is a community? The Random House Dictionary defines community as “a social group whose members live in a specific locality, share government, and have a common heritage.” Etymologically, the word community shares roots with the word common, and this relationship bears looking at and understanding. No social group will be more dependent on each other, on the attributes they contribute to the common good, than early space settlers. This may have lasting consequences for political forms that will evolve later. There is every reason to believe that democratic processes will suffer in the tightly disciplined, relatively deprived, and economically precarious settlements in space. The trick is to prevent this from becoming a permanent condition.

Maruyama has defined some of the physical characteristics of non-terrestrial communities [16]. Among them he includes such things as abundant sunlight and solar energy (less true of the outer Solar System); artificial or unusual diurnal or seasonal cycles; everpresent vacuum, hostile atmosphere, or perhaps a completely artificial weather system; long-term exposure to energetic radiation and charged particles; and a limited, artificial biosphere. There is no question that the magnitude of man’s migration into the Solar System is a cultural transition equal to the emergence of our aquatic ancestors onto the land or the evolution of our quadrupedal ancestors into bipedal, tool-using ground dwellers [17]. No less important will be the social-psychological impact of life on the high frontier. Isolation and confinement in small spaces, overtechnologized environment, perhaps even long-term divergence from Earthside biological norms will have profound effects on the political landscapes the settlers face.

Space settlers will be dependent on technology as never before. Yet studies have consistently shown a powerful psychological need for variability and unpredictability in the environment [18]. Maruyama suggests a conscious effort to introduce art into the lives of the settlers [19], in order to make their lives feel more real. Indeed, many writers have noted the harmful effects of too much artificiality. Sensory deprivation, solipsism, low tolerance for things going out of control, even autism [20] are all potential problems that will have to be factored into design, perhaps even alleviated artificially through neuroelectronic enhancement of the brain’s memory, analytical, and other functions [21]. Would a settlement whose citizens had to resort to mood-altering techniques or substances in order to withstand the psychological rigors of frontier life be nimble enough to survive the physical dangers? To date, this conflict seems unresolved.

Much has been made of the potential for cultural, even biological divergence, of distant settlers from their Earthside brothers. Maruyama has even suggested that such divergence should be encouraged, as there is scant evidence in Nature of differing species making war on each other [22]. Michaud mentions the value of cultural (and ultimately genetic) diversity for the long-term health of the human species [23], implying that future genetic technologies may find fertile ground in enchancing the settlers’ adaptability to their new milieu. And there will be direct physical changes as well: prolonged lower gravity and exposure to radiation will bring a greater rate of mutation to the human genotype, with unforseen, perhaps unimaginable consequences [24]. Constant, rapid, unpredictable biological change is yet another argument for flexibility in political forms.

In the late 20th century, the small high-technology business corporation, founded to market a new product with plenty of venture capital financing and state-of-the-art technical skills, may be the best organizational model for the raw colony at the edge of civilization. This is one way of saying that the economic environment of such settlements will be no less influential in shaping their politics than physical dangers.

The history of exploration and settlement from the 15th century on is in many ways a history of how the limited liability, joint stock company with a state mandate to operate in a specified region became the dominant economic species in the New World. The British East India Company and similar trade and shipping cartels had exclusive privileges in their operating regions and were the main engines of growth and expansion in the early years of English settlements, providing a ready-made authority structure around which settlers shaped their political dialogues.

Indeed, governors and colonial bureaucrats had considerable latitude in their authority, not only because of distance and communication times, but because the financial machinery of the mother state could not transfer money fast enough to wherever it was needed [25]. Loyalties developed to local magistrates or enterprising ship captains far stronger than allegiance to a distant, often ineffectual king.

The economic principles of space settlements will be familiar enough. Cities have always tended to locate near sources of water and other raw materials that can be most efficiently converted into wealth. As economic factors, the cost of extraction, refining, production, and transport, and the availability of energy will be decisive in determining where to stake the claim and set up a base camp. One difference is paramount however; understanding it is essential to a thorough grounding in space economics.

That difference lies in the relationship between energy, velocity, and distance under the influence of a central gravitational field. Getting anywhere on Earth or in space requires energy. Throughout human history, we’ve always imagined that the greater the distance we had to go, the greater the energy it would take to get there. There has always seemed to be an intuitive linear relationship between the two; this idea has been factored into transportation cost accounting for so long that any other point of view seems absurd. In space, steering among competing gravity wells of varying strengths, we’re going to have to unlearn this idea. The absurd will become daily practice.

Imagine the effect on cost accounting when it becomes generally grasped by economists that a gentle nudge on a nickel-rich chunk of asteroid can send billions of dollars worth of metals literally billions of miles down the Sun’s gravity well with no further expenditure of energy until the very end of the trip (and none even then if we can use the upper atmosphere of Venus as a braking path for final orbit in the inner Solar System). Distance will have to be calculated in feet per second rather than miles and costs will have to be reckoned in increments of delta-vee, perhaps with additional coefficients to account for different types of propulsion. With an indigenous fuel supply such as a mass driver would have, accountants will have to allow for mass loss during the trip (and consider its opportunity cost for alternative use). Perhaps, near-Earth mining companies will pay premiums for faster delivery times (thus more delta-vee), but once the pipeline is open and deliveries regular, economists may have to figure out how to place a value on resources that seem virtually limitless. Past experience with water and petroleum may offer lessons.

In fact, resource cost allocation will change utterly from the way it’s done today. Air will no longer be a free item, and away from all but the tiniest of minor planetoids, even gravity may have to be permitted a place in the economists’ equations. Whether it functions as a debit or a credit may depend on its effects on the end product.

Early settlements will be extremely fragile systems, where preparation and a thorough knowledge of the environment will be critical; the English colony at Roanoke came to America woefully unprepared to produce items essential to survival. The mistake of misunderstanding the settlement’s potential will be as fatal in the 21st century as it was in the 16th.

Space settlements will be completely dependent on Earthside support for a long time. Because they will be essentially small islands in a vast ocean totally dependent on trade to survive, negotiating and bargaining skills will be well exercised. The craftiest diplomats and horsetraders of the 21st century may come from the rough and tumble world of inter-colony merchants and buyers. They will have a keen eye for value, sharpened by incessant dealing and a visceral understanding of the meaning of scarcity. We can see in this an inkling of how contentious the politics of these small communities may really be, at least beneath the surface. Outwardly, the settlers will be just as image conscious as a blushing debutante. And no doubt this dependency will encourage a prickly sense of independent-mindedness too; when economic disputes must be smothered (in the beginning) for suvival’s sake, differences will be all the more emphasized in social and cultural matters.

Like any small country dependent on trade for survival, space settlements will want to diversify their exports as quickly as possible. Extremely sensitive to changeable or obsolete markets, the settlers will invest a lot of time in staying ahead of the technology curve and keeping themselves current on economic trends, especially Earthside. Failing that, they may suffer the same fate as in mining towns in the American West, where the initial frenetic boom is often followed by an equally spectacular bust.

The capacity for innovation will be sorely tested on the high frontier, as it is on any beachhead. Yet the human penchant for ingenuity under adversity has been demonstrated time and again. The Eskimos’ efficient use of indigenous resources — principally the walrus and seal — to satisfy food needs, heat, and clothing is a classic example of living off the land. Scandinavian Lapps use the reindeer and caribou similarly [26].

Another factor which the economists of the high frontier will be forced to deal with is a coefficient of unknown but potentially incalculable value. Robots, machine intelligence, and particularly self-replicating systems may be the wild card of Solar System development. Nigel Calder has written extensively of “Santa Claus machines” [27] placed on virgin worlds, where they break down soils and atmospheres into their constituent atoms and reassemble them into facsimiles of themselves. Growth multiplies geometrically under this scenario; it may well be that human settlers will arrive to find civilization already in place and possibly in a form not to their liking.

Is there any parallel to this in Earthside exploration and colonization? Only slavery, perhaps. Columbus left behind a small band of crewmembers on the island of Hispaniola to carve a going settlement out of the wilderness. That they failed utterly is perhaps more a testament to lack of preparation than anything else; with better information and plentiful energy, Santa Claus machines should do better. But the laws of space have not yet dealt with volition and if the history of gold rushes and diamond wars are any guide, claim jumping and jurisdictional disputes will be endemic. Can a state truly exercise jurisdiction and control over an intelligent, self-aware machine some light-minutes or hours distant? The subtleties of the programmer’s art may soon be applied to the timeless human pursuit of putting up a fence.

The culture of space settlers — their politics, their living styles, their values — will be as varied as are the cultures of Earth, ultimately perhaps even more so. The settlements will be islands in an unimaginably vast ocean and it’s a fair assumption that an island mentality will develop, at least until technology knits the Solar System together into some sort of “Global Village” network. That is probably some centuries away. In the meantime, space settlers will display all the traits of insularity, superiority, emphasis on differences, xenophobia, awareness of limited horizons, and dependence on trade that islanders have always shown. Only the forms of display will be different. Lest be thought that such cultural characteristics may limit a settlement’s chances for success, a quick study of British or Japanese imperial traditions should dispel any doubts.

Perhaps a word should be said about what type of person the “ideal” colonist should be. Much has been made of the historical example of using distant colonies as dumping grounds for malcontents and misfits. Some writers believe such a practice is both unlikely and unhealthy for a struggling space colony since the technical skills and cooperation needed to survive would be improbable for such social deviants [28]. But the answer begs a larger question: there is a fundamental, perhaps irresolvable conflict between the mindset of the explorer and that of the settler. Both have always been needed on the frontier. The perils of isolation — what has been called the shimanagashi syndrome, after a Japanese punishment of confining lawbreakers on small islands [29] — affects explorers differently from settlers. The sturdy, self-reliant quick-witted pioneer, tracking the spoor of tomorrow’s meal through unknown woods or tracking a vein of platinum on an unknown asteroid, would likely not be sturdy or self-reliant if he weren’t in many ways a social outcast. Comfortable people don’t push back the horizons. When Daniel Boone saw the smoke of his neighbor’s campfire, he moved on. Both malcontents and homemakers will find a place on the high frontier.

There will be a strong impulse toward achieving self-sufficiency, if for no other reason than that the settlers will be keenly aware of how dependent they are on the trade lifeline and how precarious that lifeline is. Toynbee has pointed out in A Study of History that civilizations grow as they meet the challenge of their environments [30]. The settlers will spend enormous amounts of time scouting and developing indigenous resources; they will not build stone palaces if log cabins are better. Michaud has pointed out how the difference in natural (planet or satellite-surface) biospheres and artificial biospheres in free space may well lead to differing ideas about individualism, social mobility, and conformity [31]. The desire to preserve a unique cultural identity will work against federation for a long time.

A corollary to the impulse toward self-sufficiency is the impulse toward expansion. Why do communities grow? Why does one settlement gain wealth, power, and influence while another stagnates? Communities develop because they transform human energy into wealth, natural resources into social structure, less complex systems into more complex systems, and they do this more efficiently than nomadic tribes, farms, and other less concentrated social systems. Communities are antientropic and life-enhancing collectors of energy. Those that perform this function best grow and dominate those that do not. In the Mediterranean Basin, cities such as Rome, Venice, and Constantinople are good examples of settlements which gained preeminence because of their unrivaled abilities to marshall resources.

All this is not to say that the settlers of space will be purely philistine in their outlook. Much energy will be put into the development and preservation of unique identities; the coming centuries should see an explosion of cultural ingenuity. The drive toward a unique identity (and cultural evolution proceeds much faster than biological evolution) will inevitably clash with the charter of the settlement as initially drawn up. What the originators of the settlement intend may well be altered in the accomplishment of that intent and even relatively short communication times (versus much longer transportation times) may not be enough to keep the inevitable misunderstandings from developing. There is a parallel here in the attitude of a company’s home office toward its far flung branches, and vice-versa. Who has not at times wondered about the true meanings behind cryptic directives from Headquarters? For quite some time, Western space settlements may in fact be branch operations of large corporations, with all that that implies. Other peoples will organize differently.

In order to survive the rigors of a new environment, a social organization has to provide room for change and growth. Freedom flourishes in a loosely structured setting and maintaining as much freedom as possible without threatening survival is essential to allow the inevitable change and channel it toward healthy ends. Equally important is the role of political power: who will have it and what will be done with it? The next installment of this article examines these important questions.


The first installment of this article examined the legal environment under which space settlements are born and showed why current space law is too restrictive for the rapid evolution such settlements will face: laws which fail to meet the needs of people are ultimately ignored. The second installment illustrated some of the factors which space settlement designers will have to deal with in adapting human habitats to the space environment. Not only physical needs will have to be met. New social and economic forces will shape the settlers’ lives in unpredictable ways. Allowance has to be made for these as well as for the political structures which will evolve to meet these needs.

This brings us to the Great Political Question: where will ultimate control and authority reside? Who will be in charge here? This question will be asked in every generation and will be answered differently by the Soviets, the Japanese, and other spacefaring peoples. Indeed, it is probable, at least in the beginning, that the more collective-minded peoples may have an evolutionary advantage in space and that Western peoples may suffer if they can’t channel their individualism toward a collective goal (the frontier is a demanding teacher). The Soviet legal scholar Vereschetin has indicated that the Soviets believe the Outer Space Treaty does not protect the rights of private enterprise or natural persons because of its explicit emphasis on the public character of the Treaty’s provisions [33]. What form this challenge will take once colonies are up and operating remains to be seen.

Political power is fashioned out of four interactive elements: structure, mechanism, flexibility, and legitimacy. Americans will be especially concerned to ensure that there is room in the cosmos for democracy. Maximizing freedom in a hostile environment will be a daunting task that cannot be taken for granted.

To a biologist, structure equals destiny. Just as a mollusk can’t take wing and fly, no society can be more than the potential inherent in its form. Although this is a truism, it is often forgotten. There are several reasons.

First, and perhaps most inimical to Western concepts, any real dispersion of authority in a space settlement runs the risk of being not only politically undesirable but absolutely fatal. Our proposed community should be designed so that its inhabitants have the political rights of citizens, the investment rights of stockholders, and the cultural and even familial adhesiveness of a clan or tribe.

In many ways, the atmosphere of a small settlement will be similar to a small, newly formed company. There will be the same idealism, the same false starts, fluid social structure, garbled directives from home base, challenges to appointed and unearned authority, potentially high turnover (if this is possible at all, given the settlement’s location and delta-vee requirements). An important point to remember is that when political institutions are new, weak, inchoate, or under stress, personality is more important than bureaucracy in building a society, ad hoc solutions more valuable than formal procedures. We may yet see spaceborne equivalents of the Saudi monarch Ibn Saud or Kwame Nkrumah, perhaps even a Castro, in the nascent states on the high frontier.

Are there Earthside analogs to these structures? Perhaps space governments will initially resemble boards of directors and their citizens will resemble employee-stockholders. The settlers’ rights and duties would then be spelled out in a contract, perhaps for a specific term of years, after which the contractee would have to decide whether to “re-up” for another hitch or leave on the next shuttle back to Earth. This would be one way of ensuring some continuity of skills in the settlement’s formative years. Alternatively, the government could resemble the paternalistic state capitalist societies of Hong Kong or Singapore, although this is rather more unlikely until a vigorous inter-colony trade has begun. The truth may be closer to that of a company town, in which a single entity oversees all aspects of the settler’s welfare.

If structure is the form that a political system takes, then mechanism is the flow of energy and information within the system — the metabolism of our hypothetical political animal. How things are done, or not done, will have crucial impact on the living styles and “character” of the settlement. Because of the enormous social inertia that habits, traditions, and rituals give to a society, first principles in designing the community are decisive. It is easier to change the design of a bridge while it is still on paper than it is when the last girders are being swung into place. So it is with communities. A good initial design will strengthen both in the end.

A systems analysis of a community will quickly show how important it is to have the lines of decision-making authority clear and visible. A community can hemorrhage if the information flows are obstructed. This would seem to favor American-sponsored communities with their free-for-all, multi-node communication networks, but the American penchant for dispersing power and forming goals by a lengthy consensus process may put them at a disadvantage against more overtly authoritarian systems. Heppenheimer has suggested the Panama Canal Zone authority as a model for social-political relationships [34]. The Alaskan pipeline project might be an equally appropriate model. In both cases, the “management” had a strong sense of the goals of the organization and was able to infuse that sense of mission in the employees. In systems terms, the signal-to-noise ratio was high.

The traditional desire for maximizing freedom will have to be restrained in favor of physically consolidating the settlement. Desires for material gain will have to be submerged (for a time) in order for profits to be reinvested in the growth of the settlement, as in a new company. Other peoples may be more patient and willing to sacrifice. A long-term view will be essential.

The mechanism for control and decision making must be flexible and adaptable, yet tight enough to meet settlement needs promptly. A corporate-authoritarian model may be the best with some provision for evolution to a freer, more multiply-variable system. Systems engineers call this type of evolution progressive factorization; its effect is to detach and differentiate the elements of a system. Interestingly, such a process can lead either to growth or decay [35].

Space settlements will remain politically fragmented unless technology can reduce travel and communication times. Recall that nationhood became rampant in the 1400-1600’s, when transoceanic trips took weeks to months. Today, national aspirations are epidemic among ethnically distinct peoples; the centrifugal pressures of nationalism will be even harder to resist when central government authority is dispersed across Solar System distances. Forseeable technology, especially nuclear fusion-pulse type rockets, could perhaps reduce transplanet times to months by the mid-21st century. A year is an appreciable fraction of time to spend in travel, so federation between settlements won’t occur (if ever) until transplanet times are reduced to less than a year (communications are less limited). By then, cultural divergence may work against federation. It will be a race between propulsion technology and cultural divergence.

The long term stability of our political system will depend on how flexible it can be within the initial structural constraints. Self-restoring, low-oscillation response to feedback is a major feature of stable systems with adaptive behavior as a characteristic. Our proposed community will probably be compact and well-integrated enough so that system response lag will be negligible. If our design is sound, then the system’s response to such inputs as economic fluctuations, environmental stresses, political assassinations, major crimes, etc. will be smooth, predictable, and without the catastrophic response which could induce a “phase change” or chaotic degeneration to a more random or destructive condition. Modern catastrophe theory provides many tools to analyze system responses at discontinuities of a function’s behavior; we will want to damp oscillations in our system, to provide a brake on system variation to avoid these discontinuities completely.

Perhaps a limited term charter, renewable and subject to periodic review, would be a good solution, but stability will still be needed and highly prized. Any settler’s contract will probably specify terms of service with strong penalties for shipping out before the term is up (or perhaps outright prohibition). The skills each settler will bring will be too necessary for survival to make turnover or resignation easy.

We have mentioned the importance of legitimacy. If the governing authority is not seen as competent, fair, legally and morally invested with the right to command, and equitable, the results will almost certainly be disastrous. Mutinies and revolutions will be unlikely in the early years when crewmembers and settlers have a high degree of commitment to the ideals of the founders. It may also be suicidal in a hostile environment. But the transition from a politics based on Earthside ideas to a politics better adapted to frontier conditions will be tricky; the transfer of political legitimacy has generally been bloody on our planet.

In the beginning, legitimacy will surely derive from the originating authority: a national government, a corporation or consortium, some international organization. With the inevitable divergence, legitimacy may be transferred to those with the closest connection to the former authority, unless the divorce of settlement and homeland is bitter. Then the opposite may occur. Gradual estrangement between the colonists and the mother country (or company) is more problematic.

Marx claimed that power resides in those who own the means of production. The men and women who handle the colony’s trade affairs will be in a position to have the most influence on the colony’s prosperity. Their beliefs will have great impact. If there is a formal or informal council of trade, legitimacy may reside there since space settlements will depend heavily on trade.

To ease in the transition of the colony from dependence to independence (especially the transfer of legitimacy) and to define explicitly the role of the settlers in the context of a political-economic system, a formal Settler’s Contract is needed. Ideally, it should be simple, brief, easy to understand and portable from one settlement to another (itself a novel idea; portable citizenship is a long way off for Earthside nations enamored of passports, visas, and immigration departments). The Contract should cover the following points of settler rights and obligations:


1. Settler would have the right of periodic (say once or twice an Earthside year) review and grievance of status within colony.

2. Settler would have full judicial and civil rights which must be guaranteed by colony (subject to emergency conditions) to include:

  • Speech
  • Peaceful assembly
  • Faith
  • Trial by peers
  • Due process in all proceedings
  • Vote
  • Appeal (to founding authority)
  • No unreasonable search or infringement of privacy of person

3. Settler would have right to supply of sufficient life support consumables.

4. Settler would have right to equivalent accommodations (adequate shelter equivalent to other settlers).

5. Settler would have right to defense against attack.

6. Settler would have right to share of profits earned by colony.

7. Settler would have right to purchase remainder of any residence contract after serving minimum requirement.

8. Settler would have right to non-prejudicial severance of residence contract after specified probationary period.


1. Minimum full term of residence required (perhaps seven years).

2. Technical skills the settler must possess and maintain.

3. Performance/production/service standards the settler must maintain in his contribution to the colony (would the colony or founder retain rights to a settler’s patentable ideas?).

4. Raw materials consumed by settler (air, water, food, etc.) must be in balance with materials produced by settler (perhaps colony will record mass balance of settler inputs and outputs).

5. Settler must agree to abide by decisions and directives of Governor, Director, and/or the council of peers.

6. Settler must not cause or permit human reproduction within the colony without approval of governing authority.

7. Settler must provide one year advance notification of his intention to withdraw from colony, after residency requirement is satisfied.

Obviously, the worth of this Settler’s Contract will be judged on how well it can be enforced, and on who enforces it. Soviet, Japanese, and other space settlers will draw upon their own legal and ethical traditions in formulating similar arrangements; it’s unlikely their governing documents will be guided by English common law. Still, it is important to establish a precedent that can be built upon and the governing authority, whether it is an Earthside government, some consortium of companies, or the colony itself, should be designed from the outset to provide as much room for individual initiative as possible. The colony will be more viable in the long run for it.

Given the creation of a viable society adapted to the unique conditions human settlers will face on the high frontier, what will the political landscape of the Solar System look like at the end of the 21st century? What can be said about the organization, the sources of power, the potential conflicts and shared values of human beings after a century of homesteading the Solar System?

Gary Hudson has written that
nationhood in space may be more a state of mind than a piece of territory and citizenship something like being a stockholder [36]. This places the concept of federation in a new light. Despite commonly held assumptions and the general tendency toward greater
integration of larger and more complex systems, the union of disparate communities across Solar System distances will be slow, costly, difficult to achieve, and in the end perhaps unnecessary.

We have seen that cultural divergence works against federation. Barring
unforseen developments in relativistic physics, settlements will never be in instant communication with each other. Message flow may resemble more the speeds of royal message runners in the Persian and Incan empires, taking minutes if not hours to traverse the distances between settlements. Modern technological societies could scarely function without the ability to shift huge volumes of information nearly instantaneously; without up-to-date information on events in the “provinces,” no ruler of trans-Solar System empires is going to know if his directives are being carried out. And at the other end of the chain of command, local governors will be reluctant to cede power to a ruling body that cannot have very good knowledge of current conditions.

Granted this is partly a matter of scale and perceived distance. The United States functioned as a nation in the late 18th century even given the poor highways and erratic (or worse) mail service. But space settlements will necessarily be high-technology environments, unaccustomed to information flows at 18th century speeds. Autonomy and self-reliance will be built in from the start (transportation times will be weeks to months — perhaps years), especially if we rely on self-replicating Santa Claus machines to do much of the dirty work for us. There will be strong economic, cultural, technological, and (given 20th century man’s fierce desire for self-determination) political pressures working against centralized federation or nation-state type structures for a long time, at least as we think of nations today.

The upshot of all this is fragmentation. Just as Renaissance Italy was comprised of a swarm of roughly equal states, constantly bickering and trading with each other, the Solar civilization at 2100 AD will be dispersed. Earthside nations or alliances will still exert preeminent influence in orbits from several astronomical units (AU) inward toward the Sun. That influence will wane rapidly in the far more daunting vistas of the outer worlds. From the Main Belt asteroids outward, settlements will have to devote far too much energy to surviving and trading to consider consolidating in anything other than very tenuous alliances of convenience. The Polynesian seafarers who populated the scattered islands of the South Pacific never achieved any centralized federal government among their distant settlements. Likewise, it will be decades before any space settlement will have accumulated enough surplus capital to invest in political adventures.

Earthside history provides countless examples of political power vacuums. The end state of such vacuums varies. The withdrawal of the British from “east of Suez” was widely predicted to result in political chaos, upheaval and revolution throughout the Middle East. Certainly considerable instability has resulted. But here the fragmentation has not resulted in the expansion of power of any one state to the position of regional dominance. There is a rough balance of power. So it will be with space settlements.

The seeds of empire will not grow well where distance and environment overwhelm technology. Space settlements will direct their resources to the accumulation of wealth; territorial gains will be meaningless on a frontier vast beyond imagination. The next installment of this article will examine the means and ends of such wealth.


We have examined in previous installments the legal environment, physical constraints, and political consequences of space settlement. Nothing will better ensure the growth and future of space settlements than a clear-headed recognition of the role they will play in the sphere of human economic activities. This means serving and supplying Earthside or near-Earthside markets in the beginning. Sober calculations of profit and loss will have to be made to ensure that demand for a product or service exists and that such a demand will last. The start-up costs of space settlements will be so high and the transportation and communication times so long that market continuity will be just as important as market volume in determining the success of these enterprises.

Like any islands, space settlements will trade among themselves because they have little choice. The resources necessary for life and prosperity are not always concentrated in favorable locations as they are on Earth. What commodities will they exchange and why will some colonies thrive while others fail completely?

A full analysis of the economically useful resources of the Solar System is outside the scope of this article. The broad outlines are clear enough though, especially given the assumption that in the beginning, the most profitable industries for these virgin colonies will be extraction and refining activities.

Virtually every industrially important mineral or metal is available somewhere in the Solar System, but mining camps will locate where the ore is most plentiful and easily attainable — as they always have. This would seem to rule out locating such a camp in a strong gravity well because the price of bulk ore is sensitive to transportation costs. A great deal of debate has been expended on the virtues of lunar versus asteroidal materials, but it seems safe to say that both sources will find their respective markets. Carbonaceous chondritic bodies in the Main Belt will be especially prized however for industrial developments in trans-Jovian space (a particularly strategic region of the outer Solar System for reasons which will be explained later) because of the abundance of water and other volatiles, which the Moon lacks, and because of their weak gravitational fields which permit less costly maneuvering from market to market.

The mineralogical transition of Solar System bodies from the metal-rich, rocky inner worlds to the lighter gas planets and water-carbon-nitrogen laden outer planets and satellites should utimately create a vigorous trade in basic commodities across the spacelanes. Settlements on or around the Moon will be deficient in hydrogen so an exchange of abundant lunar materials such as oxygen for hydrogen (or more likely water ice) for exports from asteroid communities will be mutually profitable. Better sources of carbon, nitrogen, and water ice will be developed in the Jupiter and Saturn systems to augment these trade flows [37]. There is even a proposal to convert Ceres into a food exporting colony [38].

Given that settlements beyond Mars will have primarily raw element stock to sell, the trade flows will develop into an exchange of bulk value for manufactured value. Inner Solar System bodies other than the Moon are at a disadvantage from several perspectives: impulse requirements to remove materials from Earth, Venus, Mercury, or Mars are high and maneuvering deep in the Sun’s gravity well is inherently more costly than it will be beyond the Main Belt asteroids.

The outer settlements are better located to ship large quantities of material “downhill” toward the Sun, a fortuitous circumstance since raw materials will be the major items of value these colonies have to export for the forseeable future. Conversely, the inner Solar System settlements, especially Earthside nations and communities in near-Earth space, will be better advised to add value by manufacture or some other conversion process or to ship effectively massless products such as information, rare medicines, and unobtainable luxuries against the Sun’s gravity. Transporting items of low mass but high value will be the only way these settlements can compete until propulsion technology overcomes the long uphill climb more efficiently. To a good approximation, materials transfer costs will be equivalent to total velocity increment squared because fuel costs will be the primary recurring cost to be absorbed once the transport ships have been designed, built, and proven [39].

Perhaps a final word should be said about money. In any economic system, money is as money does. Money is anything people are willing to accept in exchange for goods, services, or debt. Ideally, it should be portable, convertible, easily recognized, or visible, not too defined as the ability to influence or impose one’s will on another. In space, the ability to project power will be directly related to resources, trading skills, and strategic location. The haves and the have-nots will compete fiercely for advantage in the interplanetary marketplace of the twenty-first century.

Power will diffuse to the volatile-rich outer worlds, where water is more abundant and delta-vee requirements (except deep in the gravity wells of Jupiter and Saturn) not so great. Rivers and deepwater ports have channeled the growth of Earthside nations; in space, a position at the top of Jupiter’s gravity well would be highly advantageous in gravity assist to other places. Remember that position in a gravitational potential field can be just as valuable a resource as any vein of gold.

This position at the “top of the hill” with respect to Jupiter’s strong gravitational field will be the most strategic location in the Solar System away from near-Earth space. Here, minimal velocity changes and remaneuvering back into high orbit will be simple to accomplish with judicious choice of orbits — not too deep in the gravity well and well outside the planet’s radiation belts.

The situation is analogous to making use of favorable currents or sailing winds for a seaport or perhaps a strategic location like Singapore which is astride the plentiful or easy to manufacture, yet accessible to all.

In Solar System trade, water is just such a commodity. Water is crucial to life, its constituents are excellent rocket propellants, it can be transported in any of three different phases, is fairly easily convertible from one phase to another, and will be an important part of many manufacturing and refining processes. Its essential value is recognized and understood by all, and its presence cannot be taken for granted except on Earth since it may not always exist in economically useable form. Still, water is vital and a water-based standard of wealth makes sense.

Just as in the American West, lives may be lost and empires built over the question of who will control the water. That makes certain comets the equivalent of free flying mother lodes. Perhaps in time, a commodity exchange system or stock market will develop where settlers will own and trade shares of comets, as they do corn or cattle futures today, in the expectation that the water resources of a comet will be developed in the future. The outlines of future space fortunes can already be discerned.

Armed with an understanding of how trade flows will evolve and how wealth will be accumulated, the distribution of political power (closely related to economic power) can be seen in a clearer light. Power is transit lanes to two oceans. Effective political power will be as much a function of delta-vee potential at any given site as actual physical location. The outer moons of Jupiter (and Saturn, but especially Jupiter because of its proximity to the asteroids) will be highly prized as gateways to the Solar System. They will be no less important than the Panama or Suez Canals.

By extending this idea, it is clear that have-not communities will be more poorly located, requiring large delta-vee to get to and from them. As Gerard O’Neill pointed out to his Princeton physics classes, any planet-bound settlement will be at a disadvantage and not only gravitationally. The have-nots will likely be deficient in some critical resource or they will be dependent on trade of one main
commodity, the demand for which is highly elastic. This may turn out to be metal producers more than volatile producers for the simple reason that metals are more easily substituted for than carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen compounds. Perhaps the surface of Mars, the larger asteroids, even the Earth’s Moon, and free flying colonies inside of Earth’s orbit, where maneuvering against the Sun’s gravity would be energetically costly, will be at a competitive disadvantage against the smaller “outworld” settlements. The space inside one AU may well evolve into a stagnant backwater, valuable only as a source of raw mineral stock and inhabited (aside from Earth) only by hardy teams of prospector-explorers, many of them robotic automatons.

The stratification of wealth and
economic influence portends much for the future of Solar System civilization. How well a community can meet its citizens’ needs and aspirations is a true index of social and ultimately political stability. Communities of wealth will have many options; poorer settlements will have few. Upheaval and political revolution may be words too strong to describe the impact of simmering frustration. Perhaps mutiny is better. But with the accumulation and uneven distribution of wealth that seems unavoidable, the seeds of conflict are sown. The final installment of this article examines the forms this conflict may take.


The final installment of this article takes a look at the cause and forms of
interplanetary conflict. Disputes, arguments, dissension, and hostilities will surely accompany human settlers into space, despite the best intentions of Earthside diplomats. What seems worth fighting over will vary according to different senses of value and ideology. And there seems little question that values will differ from one settlement to the next. Distance alone will see to that.

With the recognition of certain “Panama Canal Zones” in the strategy of space politics, conflict becomes inevitable. How and why will space communities fight?

The whole panoply of economic warfare weapons (cartels, denial of resources, interference with shipping, sabotage) will be the most cost effective form of conflict between states. Unconventional warfare will prevail because maneuvering is so costly and distances and transit times so great.

To be sure, the growing cultural, even biological divergence, may mitigate conflict. Perhaps, for this reason, diversity should be encouraged. As Maruyama has pointed out, competition rarely occurs across species lines [40]. But divergence takes time and Solar System distances may not be great enough to allow it. Human history shows little real tolerance for differences.

Since corporations, consortiums, and government-corporation associations will predominate in the early years, disputes are sure to arise over claims to specific bodies or locations, perhaps even selected orbits. Adjudication will be tried first in Earthside forums. But space law is vague in application.

If a competitor is seen to be threatening a breakthrough or a major strategic gain, a paramilitary force of on-the-spot-settlers might be formed, a sort of futuristic posse. Troop transport by some yet-to-be-organized Space Command would be out of the question given transit times, unless forward bases were set up — such would be costly and difficult to maintain. Perhaps cargo ships will do double duty as light cruisers or frigates with the capability of surreptitiously laying space mines to deny certain orbits to the enemy. Just as with the mining of the Red Sea in the summer of 1984, the identity of the perpetrators would be hard to establish.

Sabotage, espionage, and other forms of intelligence gathering and covert warfare will be the most useful in projecting force or influencing politics. Political terrorism will not long be confined to Earth. Perhaps even corporate support for piracy will be tried, as Queen Elizabeth financed Drake’s harrassment of the treasure-laden galleons of Spain. Ultimately, corporations and their colonies may invoke the protection of Earthside guarantor-states.

Will the US-Soviet rivalry survive Solar System settlement? A great deal of energy has been expended recently on efforts to avoid carrying the Cold War into space. The US-Soviet competition will probably intensify until one or both has spent themselves or until a stronger force emerges to challenge them.

The rivalry, however, may dissipate itself in the vast distances of the outer Solar System, leaving behind a continuum of roughly equal settlements, trading and feuding and forming quickly shifting alliances. Fourteenth century Venice may be an appropriate model for an affluent, powerful space city-state at the end of the twenty-first century. The controllers of the crossroads, the great traders, and fleet operators should be in preeminent positions at the turn of the century. They will congregate among natural and artificial worlds at the top of Jupiter’s gravity well. And if these commercial-cum-politico-military settlement-spaceport-mining camp-cargo ship fleet owners should ever find a way to federate, their position may well challenge that of Earthside nations themselves. They could dominate
everyone in this Solar System from their newest, richest, grandest City on the Hill.

The people of space will be just as complex and contradictory in the values they hold as Earthsiders, maybe more so. The beliefs they find important will evolve from the conditions they face in making their communities work; what doesn’t work will be quickly discarded. Just as with the initial settlement design, first principles or first traditions will have powerful cumulative effects as the settlement matures. By understanding the psychic environment the settlers will face, we can channel the growth of their values toward beneficial rather than destructive ends.

There is a unique psychology to life at the edge of civilization. Bluth has pointed out similarities between spaceflight and life aboard submarines, oil drilling rigs, and Antarctic research crews [41]. Living with the daily stresses of a new environment will tax every skill humans can bring to bear. Life will be much more intense and every decision will have immediate, perhaps dramatic, consequences. Humans will have to be every bit as alert as when they first descended from the trees. In the truest sense, exploration is a reaffirmation of timeless human values; it is life engaged in living.

There are four principal parts to this kind of existence that will shape the values of space settlers and explorers. First must be the constant stress of living with the unknown and the uncertain. How settlers cope with this stress will vary but most of the strategies will feature some kind of displacement process. In his book Future Shock, Alvin Toffler introduced us to the medical-biological impact of accelerating novelty, diversity, and transience in our lives [42]. The adaptation syndrome became famous in the early 1970s; space settlers will face similar stresses. One of Toffler’s prescriptions was to engineer a number of “future enclaves” where scenarios of new life styles could be acted out and studied. The idea has merit for space settlements as well.

Human settlers in space will sublimate their fears in work and ritualize their concerns in myth. Work will be constant and at times overwhelming and leisure time nonexistent. Preoccupation with the demands of survival will help them submerge their fears. Those fears will surface in the settlers’ mythology though. Myths may center on a longing for union, stability, and closeness. A popular subject will be the human diaspora into space itself, complete with Exodus-like tales and a return of the literature of heroic adventure. Sagas of the greatest explorers, ballads of violent deaths in the frigid wastes of the outworlds, these will be stories that capture our settlers’ imaginations.

A second aspect of life at the edge of civilization will be the need for constant adaptation to change. As Toffler showed, change is stressful and coping painful. Any living system subjected to repeated stress becomes sensitized to that type of stimulus with consequent maladjustment to other stimuli and deleterious effects on system stability. This type of response in humans is the essence of one of our oldest impulses: the desire to tame nature, to control change in our lives. Such impulses may propel our settlers’ desire to achieve ultimate control through terraforming and planetary engineering.

The third aspect of frontier psychology is an everpresent and constantly reinforced awareness of the nearness of death. Space dwellers will treasure life, in every form, more than any Earthsider ever could. Already, Soviet cosmonauts have reported the pleasure they get from tending tiny vegetables gardens aboard the Salyut stations. Radishes, onions, and other sturdy plants are tended even during off-days; contact with growing, living things seems to go a long way toward relieving the sterility of their environment. The nearness of death will bring out feelings of nurturing and protectiveness in space settlers. Farming may become an important part of their mental health and the attitude of the settlers toward life-threatening crimes may be particularly harsh.

The final characteristic may ultimately become the dominant one. Biological separation from Earth will induce profound yet scarcely imaginable differences in values. We can only guess at some of them. Space dwellers may well adopt Earthside fads or cultures even more zealously than Earthdwellers in order to reaffirm their essential humanness. Anglophilia survived in America after the Revolutionary War precisely because it was a ready-made culture that surrounded the colonists with the comfortable and the familiar in an otherwise strange and threatening land. The Chinese have consistently transported their culture wherever they went.

A yearning for home and a deeply embedded racial memory of Earthside natural cycles will remind the settlers of the gulf that separates them, and thus, these memories may be enhanced, perhaps artificially, to relieve a growing sense of alienness and estrangement. They will surely treasure any physical artifact from Earth, the more exotic and useless, the better. The garbage of visiting merchants may some day wind up in museums.

Space dwellers will not be Americans, Russians, Japanese, Frenchmen, or Indians. Such national identity consciousness will fade without the reinforcement of daily interaction with the homeland, and artificial or traditional enhancements will only delay the inevitable. The politics of the high frontier will be forged on the high frontier and will deal with the fears, concerns, hopes, and aspirations of the settlers in their new homes. Nations may well evolve in space, if not some even more efficient political system we can hardly conceive of, because human beings are still social creatures. But whatever form the political systems of the Solar System take, we cannot assume that they will resemble our own or even that we will like the outcome. As mature parents, we must recognize, as Tsiolkovski aptly put it, that children cannot remain in the cradle forever.

The Fundamental Space Act of Representative Newt Gingrich (R-GA) is an effort to deal with the needs and concerns of future US citizens in space. The Act, introduced as HR 4286 in 1981 to the US House of Representatives, sought to incorporate language from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 in providing for, in the words of a letter Gingrich circulated to Congressmen in July 1981, “government of Americans in space, including their constitutional protection, the establishment of a territorial government, and its eventual statehood.” This type of legislation and future bills like it deserve your strong support.

Additional legislation is now needed throughout the Western world to better define a mechanism by which Americans and other peoples can directly participate in the fruits of space development. The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Participant Astronaut program for Shuttle flights is a good and necessary example. We should also begin debate on a bill that would provide all freedom-loving peoples with a chance to claim and develop a piece of the high frontier, either individually or collectively, a sort of Space Homestead Act. The bill should explicitly recognize the right of this and other nations to exercise functional sovereignty over specific physical locations in space and ultimately to deed ownership (or perhaps, to satisfy international sensitivities, stewardship) of these locations to natural and legal citizens with the proviso that a certain amount of development and improvement must occur in a given time for the deed to become effective.

Obviously, this proposal will be controversial, but recall that cultural inertia becomes difficult to overcome once a civilization has matured. First principles are critical to preserving in space settlements the heritage of freedom we have fought for on Earth. It is possible to design consciously a society from the start; we have the Pilgrims’ Mayflower Compact as an early US example. Leaving enough room for future evolution, it is not too soon to start thinking about what principles we would like to encourage in our space settlements.

What can you do to bring this about? Three things are needed to put us on the road toward the kind of political systems we want to develop. First, decisively reject the argument that there are limits to growth. The philosophy behind this thinking is poisonous to space (or any kind of) exploration, to freedom and maximum choice, and to any kind of desirable future. Second, talk up frontier consciousness. Communicate to everyone who will listen that the frontier is the cutting edge of human evolution. Without frontiers, we are destined to extinction as a species. We can no longer grow without fouling our own nest, and without growth, there is no life.

Finally, support legislators and other political, business, and spiritual leaders with the vision to implement a far-reaching program for space settlement. Their influence will be critical in the years ahead: we must find ways to provide leverage for their efforts to have the maximum effect on a largely inert population.

Without you, nothing can be done. Your ability to mobilize enthusiam for the work ahead is vital if Americans, Canadians, Europeans, and free peoples everywhere are not to abdicate their responsibility both to their ancestors who fought for freedom and for their children who have yet to enjoy it. Anything less than full commitment will not be enough to ensure the future we desire.

About the Author

Philip Bosshardt, suthor of six novels and numerous articles, is a technical writer for a large defense contractor and holds a degree in Industrial Engineering from Georgia Tech.


1 “Social and Political Interactions among Extraterrestrial Human Communities: Contrasting Models,” Magoroh Maruyama, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Vol. 9 (American Elsevier Publishing Co., Inc., 1976), p. 349-360.

2 “Beyond Earth,” Gary Hudson, Galileo, Vol. 9. 1979, p. 22-26.

3 “International Cooperation and Orbital Manned Stations,” Hamilton De Saussure, Proceedings of 26th Colloquium on the Law of Outer Space (IISL, 1983), p. 298.

4 “Political Philosophy and the Common Heritage of Mankind Concept in International Law,” J.F. Galloway, Proceedings of the 23rd Colloquium on the Law of Outer Space (IISL, 1980), p. 25-27.

5 Galloway

6 Galloway

7 Galloway

8 “Real Property Rights in Outer Space,” Wayne White, L5 News, November 1983, p. 9.

9 De Saussure, p 296.

10 “State Jurisdiction and Control in Outer Space,” Martin A. Rothblatt, Proceedings of 26th Colloquium on the Law of Outer Space (IISL, 1983), p. 135.

11 The Age of Reconnaissance, J.H. Parry (New American Library, 1963), p. 175-176.

12 The Age of Exploration, John R. Hale (TIME/ LIFE Books, 1966), p. 56-58.

13 “Economic and Political Climate for Exploitation of Space Riches,” David L. Kuck, Advances in the Astronautical Sciences, Vol. 45 (American Astronautical Society, 1980), p. 187-192.

14 “The Moon Treaty in Legal and Political Perspective,” David S. Myers, Proceedings of the 23rd Colloquium on the Law of Outer Space (IISL, 1980), p. 49-54.

15 Myers

16 “Aesthetics and the Environment in Outer Space, Subterranean, and Underwater Communities,” Magoroh Maruyama, Futures, April 1984, p. 149-150.

17 “Social and Political Interactions among Extraterrestrial Human Communities: Contrasting Models,” Magoroh Maruyama, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Vol. 9, (American Elsevier Publishing Co., Inc., 1976), p. 350.

18 “Human Needs in Space,” Space Settlements: A Design Study, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, SP-413, 1976, p. 21-33.

19″Outer Space, Subterranean, and Underwater Communities,” Maruyama, p. 152-153.

20 “Outer Space, Subterranean, and Underwater Communities,” Maruyama, p. 152-153.

21 “Spaceflight, Colonization and Independence: A Synthesis, Part Three: The Consequences of Colonization,” Michael A.G. Michaud, Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, Vol. 30, 1977, p. 326.

22 “Extraterrestrial Human Communities,” Maruyama, p. 356-358.

23 Michaud, p. 325.

24 “The Extraterrestrial Imperative,” Krafft A. Ehricke, Futures, April 1981, p. 114.

25 The Age of Reconnaissance, J. H. Parry (New American Library, 1963) p. 318.

26 The Poles, Willy Ley (Life Nature Library, 1962) p. 133-136.

27 “Santa Claus Machines,” Nigel Calder, Spaceships of the Mind (The Viking Press, 1978) p. 17-25.

28 “Human Needs in Space,” Space Settlements: A Design Study, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, SP-413, 1976, p. 21-33.

29 “Human Needs,” p. 21-33.

30 A Study of History, Arnold Toynbee, abridgement of Volumes I-VI by D.C. Somervell (Oxford University Press, 1947) p. 60-139.

31 Michaud, p. 325.

33 “Space Activities of Nongovernmental Entities: Issues of International and Domestic Law,” V.S. Vereschetin, Proceedings of 26th Colloquium on the Law of Outer Space, (IISL. 1980) p. 261-265.

34 Toward Distant Suns, T.A. Heppenheimer. (Stackpole Books, 1979) p. 179-187.

35 A Methodology for Systems Engineering, Arthur D. Hall. (Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1962) p. 66.

36 “Beyond Earth,” Gary Hudson, Galileo, Vol 10, 1979. p. 24.

37 “The Use of Outer Planet Satellites and Asteroids as Sources of Raw Materials for Life Support Systems,” Ted E. Divine and Peter M. Molton, Advances in the Astronautical Sciences, Vol. 36, Part 1, American Astronautical Society, 1977, p. 309-345.

38 Divine and Molton.

39 Divine and Molton.

40 “Social and Political Interactions among Extraterrestrial Human Communities: Contrasting Models,” Magoroh Maruyama, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Vol. 9 (American Elsevier Publishing Co., Inc.. 1976). p. 357-359.

41 “The Human Spirit in Space.” B.J. Bluth, Proceedings of the 19th Space Congress (Canaveral Council of Technological Societies. 1982), p 8-51 to 8-55.

42 Future Shock, Alvin Toffler (Bantam Books, 1970), p. 36-47, 185-188. and 392-393.