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Development and imperialism in space


This article analyses established models of imperialism and seeks to apply them to possible space development scenarios. Inherent in such an analysis is a critique of the predominant rationales for advanced Solar System development (permanent planetary bases, settlements and colonies). The argument that emerges suggests that no single rationale is sufficiently strong to propel humans towards Solar System expansion as yet. However, in the instance that an extraterrestrial material becomes economically valuable, Solar System development will probably proceed. Under this scenario the present politico-legal regimes which govern prospective space development (and, moreover, the philosophical inclinations of many of those involved in formulating such regimes) dictate that Solar System development will be of an imperialistic nature.
Space Policy 1995 11(l) 41-52
1995 Ekvier Scmxe Limited
Printed in Great Britain
This article analyses established mod-
els of imperialism and seeks to apply
them to possible space development
scenarios. Inherent in such an analysis
is a critique of the predominant
rationales for advanced Solar System
development (permanent planetary
bases, settlements and colonies). The
argument that emerges suggests that
no single rationale is sufficiently strong
to propel humans towards Solar Sys-
tem expansion as yet. However, in the
Instance that an extraterrestrial mater-
becomes economically valuable, So-
lar System development will probably
proceed. Under this scenario the pre-
sent politico-legal regimes which gov-
ern prospective space development
(and, moreover, the philosophical in-
clinations of many of those involved in
formulating such regimes) dictate that
Solar System development will be of an
imperialistic nature.
Development and
imperialism in space
Alan Marshall
Will human expansionist development beyond Earth Orbit ever occur?
What will be the nature of such development if it does occur? This paper
seeks to apply models of development, as theorized by writers on
imperialism, to the extraterrestrial realm. Economic, strategic, military,
nationalist, populist sociobiological and sociopsychological models of
Solar System development are examined. Such an approach enables an
exposition of the motivations and rationales that exist for Solar System
development, and also allows an assessment as to whether these
motivations and rationales are of an imperialistic nature.
In the light of the arguments put forth in this paper, it is suggested
that space policy-makers and space advocates might have to rethink
many of their ideas with regards to the likelihood of current visionary
space plans ever coming about, and also with regard to the desirability
of such space plans being implemented.
While the analysis in this paper is focused on the American Space
program, the critique that emerges might appropriately apply to other
national space programs.
Alan Marshall is in the Institute of Develop-
ment Studies at Massey University, Palm-
erston North, New Zealand.
I would like to thank Andy Salmon of the
MSS and the editor and referees of Space
Policy for help in the production of this
Examples of officials and entrepreneurial-
ly minded writers, from throughout the
Space Age, advocating extraterrestrial re-
source development include; Arthur C
Clarke Profiles
of the future: An inquiry
into the Limits of the Possible
Harper &
Row, New York, 1963; Wernher von Braun
Space Frontier
(rev edn) Holt, Rinehart
and Winston, New York, 1967; Michael
Michaud Spaceflight, colonization and in-
continued on page
Economic models of development in space
Why should expansionist development occur in outer space? What is
there to motivate governments and private firms to develop space?
Throughout the Space Age many officials in the US public sector, as
well as many entrepreneurially minded space writers, have set their
minds on the utilization of extraterrestrial resources. Some industries
on Earth owe their existence (or a substantial amount of their revenue)
to the utilization of space resources (for instance; the telecommunica-
tions, weather forecasting and living marine resource industries). Other
private firms owe their success not to the utilization of space resources
but to the vague pursuit of space resource utilization. Such companies
succeed by campaigning their respective governments into giving them
multi-million dollar contracts based on the precept that at some time in
the future they will be able to utilize extraterrestrial resources
SPACE POLICY February 1995 41
Developmenr and imperialism in space: A Marshall
continued from page 4 7
Perhaps the most frequently elaborated rationale from human space
expansion is the pursuit of new raw materials - raw materials which on
Earth are unavailable or have become enormously rare. From this
perspective, development in space is based upon the search for re-
sources. Historical precedents for such a model can be cited to support
this idea. For instance, British colonialism in South East Asia secured a
ready supply of tin for Englands industrial revolution. American
economic imperialism in Latin America supplied the USAs burgeoning
automobile industry with cheap rubber during the early twentieth
dependence: a synthesis Pt 1: expanding
the human biosphere J6l.S Vol 30, 1977,
pp 8395; William Hartmann Out of the
Cradle Workman Publ, New York, 1984;
The National Commission on Space
Pioneering the Space Frontier Report of
the National Space Council, Bantam Bks,
New York, 1986; George Bush in America
at the Threshold US Government Printing
Office, Washington DC, 1989; Ben Bova
The Vision of Soacefliaht in F I Ordwav
and R Liebermann (eds) Blueprint fdr
Space Smithsonian Press, 1992, pp 19
Half a dozen recent examples exist of
extraterrestrial resource utilization propos-
als by company representatives. (i) Const-
ance Acton and S C Feldman of Bechtel
Corp., who propose to mine the
Moon for metal and oxygen for the con-
struction of lunar base support services
(see C F Action Processing of metal and
oxygen from lunar deposits in NASA
Space Resources Vol
Materials 1992,
pp 242-258; and S C Feldman et a/. Lu-
nar resource assessment: an industry
perspective in Lunar and Planetary Insti-
tute Joint Workshop on New Technologies
for Lunar Resource Assessment 1992); (ii)
Gordon Woodcock of Boeing, who prop-
oses to use robots to minimize lunar base
construction costs (see G Woodcock
Robotic Lunar Surface Operations: En-
.qineerin.o Analysis for the Design, Em-
placem&t, Checkout, and Performance of
Lunar Surface Svsfems 1990): (iii) Ed Re-
pit of Rockwell,*Claude Royof Spar and
Phil Richter of the Fluor Daniel Corpora-
tion, who propose to use lunar resources
to support a manned Martian exploration
programme (see E M Repic, Phil Richter
and Claude Roy The lunar resource base,
stepping stone to Mars Paper presented
to the 43rd Congress of the International
Astronautical Federation, Washington DC,
1992, paper No: IAF-920542); (iv) Michael
Simon of General Dynamics, who prop-
oses to utilize the Moons resources to
industrialize space (see M C Simon Uti-
lization of space resources in the Space
Transportation System in NASA Space
ResoLrces Vol 2: Energy, Power and
Transoort 1992. I)D 97-108): (v) Robert
Zubrin of Martin Marietta, who proposes to
terraform Mars by mass industrialization
and restructuring of its surface (see S
Nadis Mars: the final frontier New Scien-
fist 5 February 1994, pp 28-31); (vi) John
Garvey, Robert Sirko and others of
McDonnell-Douglas, who planned to oper-
ationalize the Space Exploration Initia-
tives suggestion for a permanent lunar
base (see, for instance, J M Garvey
Adaptation of space technology for lunar
operations in NASA Second Conference
on Lunar Bases and Space Activities of the
27st Century Vol 1, 1992, pp 25-29, and
R J Sirko et a/. Lunar base reference
design Paper presented to the World
Space Congress, Washington DC 1992,
paper No: IAF-92-0515).
Those that advocate the development of the solar system in the search
for raw materials often appeal to the neo-Malthusianism with regards to
the need to find ever more resources to satiate the expanding population
of planet Earth. Although the grand plan to develop outer space so as to
remedy an over-populated and resource deficient world reeks of du-
bious economic principles, and transparent self-interest, Malthusian
sentiments are still widely held by those within the astronautics industry
(especially by those charged with promoting the virtues of the industry).
Even if resource depletion was directly linked to the population of the
planet, the development of even more resources is not likely to provide
for the necessities of most of the worlds people. New resources
contribute to the consumptive wants of the wealthy, not to the needs of
the populous poor.
There is a major problem with regarding expansionist development
into the Solar System as being based upon the search for raw materials;
there are none. At least those minerals that have been identified as
existing in the Solar System (be that lunar titanium, asteroidal nickel or
planetary volatiles) exist abundantly enough on the Earth to render an
extraterrestrial mining programme commercially inviable.
It seems that the only use for extraterrestrial resources is not in their
ability to support commercial endeavours, but in supplying a number of
colonists or planetary visitors with materials from which to build parts of
the physical fabric of their colony. If such colonies are developed, they
will not have got there on the basis of supplying the homeland with
cheap raw materials. So what economic force would have motivated the
colony in the first place? Evidently we cannot use economic models of
outer space development based upon the search for raw materials
because we soon come up against a circular argument: why should we
develop the Solar System? To provide resources for space colonies.
Why should we colonize space? To utilize resources in the development
of the Solar System? And so we come back to the original question: why
should we develop the Solar System?
In the light of this, we must admit that the idea that space develop-
ment is bound to occur due to the search for new raw materials is
erroneous. Because there are no raw materials in the Solar System
capable of supporting profit-making enterprises, economic development
into outer space based upon the search for resources is extremely
doubtful. We must be aware, however, of the existence of a pervasive
concept in resource economics which critics of the above analysis might
be quick to point out. The conception of what constitutes a resource is
somewhat dynamic due to changes in technology, demand and informa-
tion. This is to say that while no commercially viable resources appear to
exist in the solar system that warrant expansionist space ventures yet, it
is possible that at some date in the future advances in technology,
SPACE POLICY February 1995
3The possible advent of nuclear fusion as
an economic energy source, for instance,
may cause lunar deposits containing the
Helium-3 isotope to be regarded as a
valuable economic resource.
As presented in P Baran The Political
Economy of Growth Penguin, Harmonds-
worth, 1973 (originally publ. in 1957), and
V Lenin Imperialism: The Highest Stage of
Capitalism 1917 (repr in 1950).
5As interpreted by D Hunt Theories of
Economic Development 1989.
6As described by A Brewer Marxist
Theories of imperialism Routledge, Lon-
don, 1980.
The new found interest within the aero-
space industry for the Earths environmen-
tal health can be exposed as thinly-veiled
self-interest when we note that the same
industry was quite happy to gain a living by
preparing the Earth for its destruction in
the name of national security, not more
than a few years ago.
As outlined in J Hobson Imperialism: A
Study (3rd edn) Allen & Unwin, London,
February 1995
Development and imperialism in space: A Marshall
scientific knowledge or changes in relative demand or scarcity will make
a valuable resource out of extraterrestrial materials that previously had
no economic value.3
If we follow the perspectives of economic imperialism as theorized by
Baran and Lenin,4 we have the view that imperialistic expansion is the
political and military manifestation of the search by nations for econo-
mic surplus. Economic surplus is defined by Baran as the difference
between a nations output and its consumption. Given the impossibility
of a nation milking an economic surplus from the trading of extraterrest-
rial resources, any search for an economic surplus through the medium
of space activities must lie in another direction. Allied to the Leninist
and Baranesque view of imperialism is that of other Marxist theorists,
such as Bukharin, Hilferding and Luxemburg, who perceive imperialist
expansion as the continual search by capitalist entities (nations, indi-
vidual investors and multi-national companies, etc.) to invest surplus
capital into profitable fields. This may be made increasingly difficult due
to the saturation of the original market and due to diminishing marginal
While the cost of extracting Solar System resources may be prohibi-
tively high to enable profitability, the astronautics industry itself is
extremely profitable because of its link with the supply of military
hardware. This may be viewed as an example of Rosa Luxemburgs
model of the association of militarism with imperialism.6 According to
this model of economic imperialism, military expenditure plays a part in
substituting for the lack of consumption in a free market since it absorbs
much surplus capital and acts to produce economic growth as registered
in the national accounts. Of course, national accounting systems, such
as Gross Domestic Product, fail to register the opportunity cost of
state-funded investment; ie whether the same government investment
could have yielded a greater return in other sectors.
With the end of the Cold War, those companies that made a living
from the supply of military hardware to governments have experienced
a drop in demand for their military goods and an associated drop in
profitability. Thus they are seeking to extend their interests in the space
part of their markets in order to secure profits from building rockets and
space stations rather than missiles and military aircraft. The same
companies that championed the causes of national defence against the
communist threat through massive military deterence now extol the
virtues of the benefits to be gained from massive investment in space
activities. In the light of this analysis, it can be explained that the search
for new fields into which surplus capital can be invested, may in fact be
promoting human space expansion (despite the dubiety of it ever
becoming a self-funding process). But its lack of success as a singly
powerful enough motivator of Solar System development is shown by
the torpidity of current human expanionist practices into space.
Another model of imperialism worthy of attention with regard to
outer space development is that originally put forward by Hobson.* The
Hobsonian thesis basically states that imperialism is the manifestation of
the search for new markets. Within the historical period with which
Hobson himself was dealing (the Victorian era) this search was under-
taken by the state on behalf of, and for the benefit of, the bourgeois
classes. Geopolitical imperialism was merely a way of ensuring the
continued economic expansion of the nation state. In many situations,
however, geopolitical expansion, was not regarded as important as
Development and imperialism in space: A Marshull
capitalist penetration into foreign markets, which may or may not have
required direct political control.
In space, the search for new markets as a predictive model of
imperialism will only find relevance on the very long timescale involving
the settling of extraterrestrial bodies and the growth of these as colonial
societies. As there are no commercial reasons for colonizing the planets
(given the lack of resources and the impossibility of drawing an
economic surplus) a model of expansionist development in the Solar
System based upon the search for new markets is not an adequate
predictive model. It is evident that no government administration is
likely to advocate the settling of other planets in the hope that they will
one day give rise to a lucrative market for the home nations goods.
It is often implicitly accepted within the astronautics community that
space ventures beyond Earth orbit are not of a commercially viable
nature, but that there are secondary benefits to be realized from a
strong expansionist space programme that justify its pursuit - benefits
that will supposedly spin-off to contribute to a nations wealth. For
instance, the US Office of Technology Assessment, in identifying
rationales for the human exploration of the Moon and Mars, declared
that human exploration of the planets would spark interest in science,
education and technology within American society and that it could
improve US economic competitiveness.” This is a view espoused by
many Aerospace companies through their advertising. However, the
OTAs publication goes on to say: It is not clear that investment in the
technologies which must be supported primarily from public funds,
would necessarily contribute to the USs competitive position in ad-
vanced markets. The vagaries of such economic spin-offs certainly
point to the fact that astronautics companies must continually grasp at
economic straws when justifying Solar System space development.
Most space advocates in the USA would claim that a national space
policy aimed at setting up permanent lunar settlements or Martian bases
would reestablish Americas technological and engineering excellence
and that this would afford the nation with considerable economic
advantage in the global market place. However, it is doubtful that many
of the worlds consumers are going to select to buy an American good
just because it was developed in a nation technologically proficient in
putting humans on Mars when they could buy a cheaper alternative
from an East Asian nation.
The commercial and economic inviability of extraterrestrial resource
use dictates that space programmes have to be justified upon secondary
benefits, in the realms of science, technology and education spin-offs.
To justify outer space development on purely secondary benefits points
to the realization that more than economic interests lie at the heart of
development in space. Other motives for space development must be
operating and other models of imperialism in space must be employed in
explaining them.
Strategic and military models of development in space
The imperialist expansion into space for strategic and/or military
reasons is a demonstrated phenomenon of Cold War history. The
OTA (Office of Technology Assessment)
Exploring the Moon and Mars: Choices for
initiation of the US space rocket programme under Eisenhower had
the Nation OTA-EC-502, US Government
much to do with the USSRs newly developed ICBM capability as
Printing Office, Washington DC, 1991.
brazenly demonstrated by Sputnik 1. (Unlike Kennedy in the early
SPACE POLICY February 1995
Development and imperialism in space: A Marshall
196Os, Eisenhower was more impressed by space travels potential as a
military tool than a political one(). Since the early Space Age the
strategic potential of space in military matters has been proven with
respect to the field of global espionage.
While the strategic use of Earth orbital space is accepted, any model
predicting expansionist development into the rest of the Solar System on
the basis of strategic concerns presupposes that there is something to
defend. Again, this model can only serve to explain space development
in the far future, when commercial or colonial ventures are set up and
trading routes are established. Apart from a few calls to utilize the
bodies of the Solar System as nuclear test sites the strategic or military
impetus to expand in space seems weak.
“‘See R Cargill
Hall Project Apollo in
retrospect in F
Ordway and R Lieber-
mann (eds) Blueprint for
sonian Press, 1992, pp 155-165.
W Mommsen Theories of imperialism
Wiedenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1980.
Quoted respectively from the Foreword
and Introduction of J Grey Beacheads in
Space Macmillan, New York, 1983.
Nationalist and populist models of space development
Nationalism has been the background against which the US space
programme has gained much of its popular support. The Kennedy and
Johnson Administrations were able to tap into the political mileage to
be gained from space travel. In the face of an attack on American
national prestige by the Soviet Unions space exploits nationalist
sentiments were easily excited to gain support for a space programme
that would reaffirm the USAs technological prowess. Technological
achievements are tangible examples of the superiority of a society, or so
many a political leader has sought to convince its subjects. The
Kruschev regime, too, held that the technological success of the Sputnik
and Vostok projects clearly demonstrated the superiority of the Soviet
communist system.
Throughout many periods of imperialist history, nationalism has been
an essential driving force. As Mommsen l1 declares Sometimes states-
men were far less inclined to engage in costly overseas ventures than
were those sections of the population, including the masses, who were
tempted by vague future greatness and economic advantage. This
situation may well apply to modern day USA, in which the repeated
public calls for a massive reassertment of Americas space programme
are repeatedly ignored by the US senate, who show a bias towards
prudent management of the federal budget rather than the future
imperial glory of the USA in space. It might be claimed that the lack of
receptivity of the US Senate to vast popular sentiments shows the
inadequacy of Americas political structures in matters of representa-
tion. This may indeed be the case, but it seems likely that the main
reason populism is not successfully spurring on Solar System space
development is because space development is not popular enough.
In the recent past, nationalist and populist calls for an increase in the
US space effort were often imbued with ideological stances aimed at the
activities of the USSR in space. Only two years before the onset of
American space advocates tried to ressurrect a flailing US
space interest by appealing to intrinsic ideological sentiments of the US
public. James Michener stated I am increasingly disturbed by the Soviet
Unions constantly widening lead in the utilization of low-Earth-orbit
flight and Jerry Grey stated Those goals, set by the Soviet Union even
before the US formed NASA in 19.58, focus on the permanent occupan-
cy of space by Soviet cosmonauts and eventual domination of the entire
cosmos by the Soviet Union.12 Since the break-up of the USSR in
September 1991, the efficacy of campaigning for more US space
February 1995 45
Development and imperialism in space: A Marshall
activities on the basis of a fear of a Commie cosmos has diminished
considerably. That, in turn, means a direct lessening in the role of
nationalism as a force in promoting solar system development, but
certainly not to its evaporation. Now, those who appeal to nationalist
sentiment in order to increase the space effort have to resort to
arguments based upon the resurrection of American technological
primacy in the face of European and East Asian competition, and upon
appealing to the frontierism supposedly entrenched in the American
psyche as being responsible for the nations economic and political
Frontierism, however, is not so much a social or psychological
concept as an economic philosophy. It emerges from the individualism
so entrenched in American political and economic thought (which
serves to secure the operation of
faire-ism as sacrosanct).
Frontierism involves a belief in the individual to surmount the chal-
lenges of a new situation, a new territory or a new environment and
carve out an existence. Once the individual has done this they deserved-
ly call that territory or environment their own. By this process the
frontier grows larger and carves out an extended base for economic and
demographic expansion, so contributing to the wealth of the nation (or
more accurately to the wealth of the bourgeoisie) by turning unproduc-
tive land into an economic resource. In US history, as in the history of
some of the other New World nations, frontierism was an economic
policy designed to tame the wilderness and present it in economic terms
as soon as possible.
In reality frontierism is a more accepted and socially-sensitive word
for capitalist imperialism, since (just as in capitalist imperialism) it
involves the appropriation of economic resources that are considered
previously unowned. Like capitalist imperialism, frontierism perceives
nothing of value in the frontier lands except what can be scraped from it
economically and converted into capital. In nineteenth-century USA,
the value of native peoples and the value of the landscape was
arrogantly ignored as the West was made to succumb to the utilitarian-
ism of the imperialistic capitalists. Such is also the outlook of those who
advocate pioneering the Final Frontier. Frontierists views that the
planets and moons of the solar system are valueless hunks of rock until
acted upon by humans to produce economic value and contribute to
capital accumulation. Space frontierists such as Wernher von Braun,
Arthur C Clark, Kraft Ehrick, William Hartmann and Gerard ONeill
feel that imperialism can be excised from their frontierism by appealing
to the innate curiosity in our personal consciousness. To them, frontier-
ism in space will amply channel the human propensity to explore and
expand in a constructive and benevolent way. These rationales for space
expansion must, however, stand up for themselves, since they are
ultimately separate from the frontierism experienced in history. The fact
that there is confusion between these socio-psychological elements and
the actual economic nature of fronterism in modern day calls for space
development gives credit to the nineteenth century idealogues who so
convincingly tied bourgeois economic policy with populist ideology that
it continues to fool so many into believing fronterism is a worthy
nationalist (even universalist) ideal.
Because frontierism is ultimately an economic philosophy its success
as a rationale for extraterrestrial development relies on economic
forces. As such, it is as doomed a rationale as the other economic
SPACE POLICY February 1995
Development and imperialism in space: A Marshall
models of space development discussed earlier. But what of the
socio-psychological and socio-biological aspects inherent in modern
frontierist thought. Might they offer a convincing rationale for Solar
System development?
13C Reynolds Modes of Imperialism
Robertson, Oxford, 1981.
14Grey op tit, Ref 12.
15A popular example of a naturalistic
theory of human space expansion is
James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis Gaia
hypothesis. An exposition of which can be
found in L Margulis and D Sagan Can
Mars be colonized? Paper presented to
the 29th Plenary Meeting of COSPAR,
Washinaton DC 1992 (oaoer No: F3.2 -
>nd M Allaby &bike to Gaia Opti-
ma Books, 1989, and a critique of which
can be found in A Marshall Gaian ecology
and environmentalism in Ecopolitics V//l
Lincoln University, Canterbury, 1994.
tit, Ref 9.
Sociobiological and sociopsychological models of
development in space
In the fifth chapter of his book, Modes of
Reynolds speaks of sociobiological models of imperialism.13 With
regard to space development, the expansion of humans into space can
be viewed by the sociobiological model, as just another natural progres-
sion of an advanced organism extending its ecological range. Or as
Grey14 states expansion into space is the next logical extension of our
past movements on land, over seas and into the atmosphere of our home
planet. And as with all growing organisms this expansion is inevitable.
From this perspective, imperialism is just the manifestation of naturally
selected behavior present in humans as in other living beings. Humans
moving into space to colonize other planets is essentially the same
phenomenon as a coconut falling into an ocean to be transported to a
new island or continent on which it shall germinate and instigate
colonization. This coconut hypothesis evades the central point that
extraterrestrial expansion by humans is a social phenomenon and not a
biological one. The forces that induce a coconut tree to disperse its
seeds are quite different to the forces involved in outer space develop-
ment. A coconut tree acts according to genetically and ecologically
prescribed rules which have been arrived at through millions of years of
evolution. A nation, or a corporation, are social entities that act
according to social, economic and political forces arrived at through the
course of social, economic and political history (a process quite different
to biological evolution). The coconut hypothesis argues that the expan-
sion of humanity into space is a natural phenomenon, just as it is natural
for a coconut to colonize a new land mass. However, a human embryo
does not happen to fall into space and begin to colonize another planet.
Biological models of human space extension are favorite theories
within the space advocacy community since they bypass the need to do
social analyses with naturalistic interpretations of imperialism.‘”
Sociopsychological models of imperialism attempt to explain im-
perialistic endeavours by concentrating on the sociopsychological char-
acteristic within an individual or a society that compel it to pursue an
expansionist agenda. A common example with reference to space
activities is that humans are naturally curious and have a fundamental
desire to explore the unknown.i6 One of the manifestations of the
sociopsychological model is the justification of space activities for the
benefits it offers for scientific advance. Throughout much of the history
of western science such scientific imperialism has been associated with
the European expansion into other parts of the world, involving the
desire to categorize nature and render its secrets knowable. However,
the search for scientific understanding has not been a prime force
behind expansionist development by itself, although, from Joseph
Banks to Harrison Schmidt, its presence close behind imperialistic
endeavours motivated by other rationales is demonstrable.
Because the basis of human survival and prosperity is essentially a
function of economic welfare it is arguable that the desire to explore is
SPACE POLICY February 1995 47
Development and imperial&n in space: A Marshall
not an inherently prime concern for most individuals (except those
whose economic wellbeing depends on it). Given this, and given the fact
that curiosity about the unknown is a variable trait between different
individuals and societies (to the point that some individuals and some
societies are unable to comprehend what all the fuss is about with
regards to space exploration) the desire to explore rationale can also
not be considered a prime motivator of outer space development. It is
doubtful that many political figures in history have decided on expan-
sionist policies to satiate their own curiosity or that of their subjects.
Having said this, though, it is possible that expansionist endeavours in
the Solar System based on other rationales (such as the need to find an
outlet for surplus capital or the search for new resources) might occur
under the cover of sociopsychological desire to explore reasons. This is
evident in Antarctica, where geopolitical and geostrategic imperialist
policies are pursued by a number of nations in the guise of scientific
Models of development in space: conclusions
The models of imperialism examined above suggest that there is little
reason to expect human expansionist development in the solar system.
Certainly no single model of space development predicts such develop-
ment as being very likely in the foreseeable future.
However, there may be the possibility that the rationales for develop-
ment presented above will act in a cooperative and synergistic manner
to make extraterrestrial space expansion not only possible, but prob-
able. For instance, one scenario might go like this: because of a desire
not to dislodge thousands of skilled workers previously employed in
military technology, it is decided by the US government to make a
sustained attempt to permanently occupy an orbiting space station or
lunar base. Perhaps the government is convinced that cooperation with
other nations in these activities will cut their costs quite considerably.
Such a space programme could attract enough public support through
nationalist or sociopsychological motives.
Once a base on the Moon is established, its expansion could be made
justifiable on the grounds that it is to some extent self-sustaining,
through the use of local resources in construction. Throughout all these
developments the venture never becomes truly commercial, but as it is
an outlet for surplus capital and contributes to economic growth as
measured in the national accounts, it might claim to be economically
valuable for the country as a whole.
Although the expansion into space would be carried out using
contracted private entities, their funding would come from the state.
Such a protected industry can only survive if the government believes
that the industry is strategically important (in either a political or
military sense).
The presiding government may also realize the political mileage to be
gained by pursuing expansionist space policies. For example, the Apollo
Program may have drawn considerable public attention away from the
ills of 1960s America (Vietnam, race relations strife and poverty, etc.)
just as Bismarcks expansionist agenda drew the attention of the
German masses away from domestic problems in the 1880s. With the
eyes of the people focused skywards, they are less likely to see the
problems immediately around them. While the nationalism associated
SPACE POLICY February 1995
Development and imperialism in space: A Marshall
with the US space program has diminished since the 1960s it is still
evident that governments actively pursuing imperialist policies often do
well in elections.
Robinson17 states that if expansionist development is an active policy
of a nation, the expansion must be done on the cheap. If he is right, and
expansionist development does not necessarily have to yield a profit, it
might be possible for space development beyond Earth orbit along the
lines suggested above to take place. But I doubt it. In the event that
space resources become commercially valuable, then the situation is
entirely different. Development into extraterrestrial space would then
become likely. We must, then, examine the nature of such space
Development in space as imperialism
If development does occur in space it will be of an imperialistic nature.
It will be undertaken by a few technologically elite space-capable
nations who will appropriate the commonly-owned resources of the
Solar System for themselves, without any committed provision for the
sharing of the benefits to other, non-space capable, nations.
Unfortunately such imperialistic tendencies are not just a prospect for
the future, they are evident in current space activities. Not throughout
the Solar System maybe, but certainly within the confines of the near
space of Earth orbit. Imperialistic tendencies in this realm have
provoked a growing sense of resentment amongst those nations being
subjected to it. For instance, with the continued development of the
geostationary orbit, concern is being expressed that the space a satellite
occupies in this type of orbit is becoming a scarce resource, and one
which is becoming increasingly unavailable to non-space nations. Some
of these nations have banded together under the 1986 Bogota Declara-
tion to express their right to benefits accumulating to users of geosta-
tionary orbits above their territories. Included in this group of nations
are the Third World states of Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Kenya,
Uganda, Zaire and Indonesia. None of these states receives rent for the
occupation of their geostationary space, just as no satellite launching
nation or company pays rent to the rest of the global community for
occupying a common space that belongs to all the world. Those nations
and firms that launch and operate satellites generally feel that the
benefits accrued from satellite activities are offered throughout the
world through the normal market procedures. However, unlike the
free-riding satellite operators, user nations have to pay to receive
satellite services. Additional to this is the ability of the space-capable
nations to obtain information about resources in the territories of
non-space-capable nations, which is either made unavailable to the
latter or is sold to them at a profit.
The highly technological nature of satellite launching and operations
not only means that poorer nations have less access to the benefits of
satellite technology, but also that they are unlikely to initiate their own
independent satellite operations. Even when they do, they come up
against the rules and practices of space operations as governed by the
worlds dominant nations, which are often inimical to Third World
Robinson The eccentric idea of im-
perialism in Mommsen and Osterhammel
space development.
(eds) imperialism
GHI, London,
Another significant issue of relevance here is the Missile Technology
1986, pp 267-289.
Control Regime (MTCR) implemented by the Bush Administration and
SPACE POLICY February 1995 49
Development and imperialism in space: A Marshall
The anthropocentrism in this question
presupposes that imperialism can only be
said to occur if humans suffer the conse-
quence of it. The possible existence of
non-human life on other planets of the
solar system may be small but it is real,
and the chances of these lifeforms being
detrimentally affected by human activities
is great. Such ethical/environmental con-
siderations in the face of human space
expansion are considered in E C Hargrove
(ed) Beyond Spaceship Earth Sierra
Books, 1986; A Marshall Ethics and the
extraterrestrial environment Journal ofAp-
plied Philosophy Vol 10, No 2, 1993,
pp 227-236, C P McKay Does Mars have
rights: an approach to the environmental
ethics of planetary engineering in D Mac-
Niven (ed) Moral Expertise: Studies in
Practical and Professional Ethics 1990,
pp 161-183; and N Tabachnaya Econo-
mics and ecoloqv of space commercial
activities Paper--presented to the 43rd
Conaress of the IAF, Washinaton DC,
1995 (paper No: ST-92-0003). -
See S Gorove The future of space law: a
legal regime for space colonies in Pro-
ceedings of the 19th Colloquium on the
Law of Outer Space 1977, pp 47-51.
and continued by Clinton. This regime is supposed to prevent Third
World states from developing ICBMs or IRBMs, but in practice it is also
stopping them from developing their own launch vehicles for satellites.
Brazil and India are two nations particularly stifled by the MTCR. US
launch vehicle manufacturers are the primary winners of the MTCR, as
they would have much to lose if every nation was able to launch its own
satellites and openly compete for payload customers.
Returning to extra-orbital space development, many are bound to
enquire: what is wrong with imperialism in outer space if there are no
indigenous peoples there? Apart from the anthropocentrism inherent
in this question,s what is problematic about extraterrestrial imperialism
is that it will increase economic inequalities between the Earths nations
by giving inequitable access to, what may eventually be, significant
amounts of resources. What also has to be noted is that imperialism
involves dominion over territory and not just people. The outcome of
this dominion being that others who have legitimate claim on the
resources within those (extraterrestrial) territories are effectively ex-
cluded from using them.
The politico-legal mechanism for the control of space development in
the solar system is the international treaty. Herein lies another problem,
since the attitude of the space-capable nations to the various space
treaties reflects their imperialist tendencies. The main international
treaty dealing with the development and exploitation of extra-orbital
space at the present time is the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. While this
treaty places a prohibition on national or private appropriation of areas
on extraterrestrial bodies, it can still be regarded as a regime that
facilitates imperialism since it allows an interpretation if its premises
that indicate that when materials of extraterrestrial bodies are removed
they become the property of the remover. In essence, the Outer Space
Treaty makes provision for usufructory rights, in the same vein as much
modern day minerals prospecting.
There is a regime in place aimed at ensuring imperialism is not
sanctioned in space. The 1979 Moon Treaty has as a central premise the
notion that no single nation or private entity has the right to appropriate
commonly-owned resources (whether they remain intact with their
parent body or are removed from it). The Common Heritage of
Mankind (CHM) principle is the basis of this notion and it suggests that
non-space-capable nations should have access to, and receive the
benefits of, resources extracted from extraterrestrial bodies. Alas, the
USA has not signed up to the Moon Treaty. Nor Russia, nor Japan, nor
any ESA nation bar France, leaving the Moon Treaty largely devoid of
support in those nations proposing expansionist space policies.
The normative prescription of the Moon Treaty for extraterrestrial
equity is not given its due respect by policy-makers in the USA, because
they adhere to the belief that those nations or companies that expend
effort to prospect planetary bodies should be allowed to use any
resources they discover. Debates in the USA surfaced when the Moon
Treaty was officially drafted in 1979, as to whether the Treaty imposed a
moratorium on extraterrestrial resource utilization until the setting up
of some regime or authority to administrate and manage the exploita-
tion. The US governments position with regards to this issue is that an
implied moratorium on the exploitation of space resources, until the
instigation of an international regulatory regime, is unacceptable.‘” As
the Outer Space Treaty imposed no such moratorium the USA felt able
SPACE POLICY February 1995
Development and imperialism in space: A Marshall
to become a signatory to it. But the implication for a moratorium in the
Moon Treaty is a notable barrier to its acceptance in the USA.
The USAs official position in space is one involving the desire to
have an open door policy. According to Mitchell and Tinker* this
would give US companies a clear advantage in the extraterrestrial
resource stakes. Under the Moon Treaty, US companies might have to
rent the site of extraction from the rest of the global community, the
price of the rent being set at a level corresponding to the predicted level
of profit. Such a policy would provoke yelps of horror from space
capitalists whose ideological tradition would make them reply that those
who take the risk and invest the capital should reap the rewards.
In essence, there are two approaches to formulating or interpreting
outer space law. One is to ensure that the legal framework to encourage
private commercial enterprise in the solar system is in place. The other
is to ensure that any resources that are extracted from space are
distributed to every nation, given that every nation owns them. In the
profession and practice of space law, the most common ideological
preference is for the former. This is not surprising, since most space
lawyers and space policy analysts are American.
Within the USA human space expansion is considered eminently
compatible with the operation of market forces, and a virtual impossi-
bility under a regime with a penchant for distributive justice. The Moon
Treaty is therefore regarded as a deleterious regime since few companies
are likely to embark upon commercial space endeavours if there is the
possibility that they will have to forfeit their profits.
Evidently, the arguments about what kind of regime to install in order
to direct space development along a particular path are imbued with
deep political and philosophical foundations so that the debate resorts
to being conducted along old Earth-based ideological lines. With the
prospect of extraterrestrial development and imperialism these debates
have found fresh material for development. One of the most important
considerations of these debates is the definition of, and the role to be
played by the concept of the Common Heritage of Mankind.
The meaning of the CHM concept as encapsulated in the Moon
Treaty is ominously vague. But its very inclusion promotes the Moon
Treaty above the Outer Space Treaty as the supreme formalised
anti-imperialist regime. Hence the Moon Treaty has received both
United Nations and Third World support. The CHM concept is often
regarded as a descendent of the
Res communis
concept. The
concept, itself, is often regarded as an outmoded and
pre-modern philosophical attitude to law rather than actual enforceable
legal principle. Its general focus is upon communal land or resource
ownership by all members of a community. It is a matter of opinion as to
whether the various solar system bodies should be regarded as
Res nullius.
The latter indicating an unclaimed territory
with no owner, until someone gets there and claims it for themselves.
The Outer Space Treaty with its tendencies toward the allowance of the
appropriation of extracted resources, is unclear as to whether it leans
Res communis
Res nullius.
But the Moon Treaty is distinctly
clear on this point, through its incorporation of the CHM concept.
These niceties are crucial when discussing the development of space,
since a strong
Res communis
attitude amongst the worlds space nations
“‘8 Mitchell and J Tinker
and Ifs
may render imperialism in space impossible. Whereas a fixation with the
Earthscan, London, 1980.
normative principles of
Res nuflius
very much promotes it. The frontier-
February 1995 51
Development und imperialism in space: A Marshall
ist attitude to space development is normatively allied to the
Res nullius
approach since it sanctions a physical appropriation of extraterrestrial
materials that amounts to annexation.
To delve into the CHM concept, is obviously to take a leap into the
ethical realm. Interpretations of CHM, whether they are legal, political
or economic interpretations, must also take normative stances. While
CHM is not a well-defined concept, my own predilections suggest to me
that CHM encompasses the following features:
1) non-appropriation (this is adequately encapsulated in the Moon
Treaty, but is deficient in the Outer Space Treaty),
2) universality of applicability (to all states and to all parts of space,
including space itself; this would thus make nations and private
firms liable for rent payment with regard to orbital occupation),
3) universality of formulation (so that all states participate in the
drawing up of space law),
4) equitable distribution of space resources (the meaning of equitable
being decided by all states),
5) the use of space for peaceful purposes (the intention of this is to
disengage the military from space endeavours, rather than legiti-
mize the role of the military in space to maintain peace and order).
The adoption of these features into a regulatory regime would work to
significantly repel imperialistic tendencies in the Solar System. The
mildness of the above prescriptions is demonstrable by the fact that
many, maybe most, space enthusiasts would agree with them. Those
that do not, I submit, are either more interested in the personal profit
that they can squeeze from space endeavours or so obsessed by the
notion of extraterrestrial space expansion that they are willing to
sacrifice the rights and concerns of many of the worlds people.
Will human expansionist development beyond Earth orbit ever occur?
The models of space development examined in this paper indicates that
advanced Solar System development (permanent planetary bases,
settlements and colonies) will not take place. At least there is no single
model of development which suggests expansion beyond Earth orbit is
likely. Even acting in a synergistic manner, the rationales for Solar
System development seem incapable of propelling humans towards
permanent occupancy of the Moon of the planets.
However, if there are economically valuable resources beyond Earth
orbit, and this is an ifof celestial proportions, then space expansionism
may be unstoppable.
What will be the nature of such development? Given that space
expansion is only ever likely to proceed due to economic forces, space
development must thereby operate by economic principles, which
themselves are regulated by political regimes. Currently the political
regimes in place (notably the Outer Space Treaty) dictate that solar
system development will be undertaken in an imperialistic manner.
Space advocates are not necessarily malevolently predisposed towards
the welfare of the worlds poor, but to hold to the view that extraterrest-
rial resource utilization is capable of positively contributing the global
community with the Outer Space Treaty intact is to bask in a vat of
optimism so large as to be unsupportable.
SPACE POLICY February 1995
... Exploring, settling, and governing space is pictured as something that earth states will do, no doubt (despite the idealistic language) for their own partisan nationalistic interests. Hence, development scholar Alan Marshall, writing in the journal Space Policy, was almost certainly correct when he declared that "the present politico-legal regimes which govern prospective space development (and, moreover, the philosophical inclinations of many of those involved in formulating such regimes) dictate that Solar System development will be of an imperialistic nature" [16] (p. 41, emphasis added). ...
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First anthropology became unbound from "the village", then from the single site, and gradually from the physical site altogether. As humans resume their push into space, anthropology is set to become unbound from the earth itself. This essay considers what the discipline has offered and can offer toward understanding the present and future of space colonization. It begins by examining the surprisingly long and productive history of anthropology's engagement with the subject, going back at least to the 1950s. Then it surveys current analysis of law, sovereignty, and nationalism in space, which largely imagines law and identity in off-earth settlements as more-or-less direct extensions or transfers of earth law and identity; in other words, space settlers will remain affiliated with and loyal to their source countries (or companies). However, taking seriously the analogy of terran migration and colonialism, where colonies developed distinct and separatist identities, the essay predicts the emergence of exonationalism, in which over generations colonists will invent new identities and shift their affiliations to their non-terran homes and ultimately seek independence from the earth. The essay concludes with reflections on how the settlement of space, still a distant goal, will reshape our definition of the human and therefore the practice of anthropology as the science of human diversity.
... It is also important to stress that the universe is increasingly becoming American imperial space which is not science fiction anymore (Marshall 1995;Ribić 2020). In relation to pseudo-archaeological narratives on the origin of life on Earth, isn't it reckless to post on Twitter that ancient Egyptin pyramids in Giza were built by aliens, even if this is cynicism or sarcasm? ...
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This paper analyses the change in the metanarrative of the Alien franchise initiated by the movie Alien (1979), directed by Ridley Scott, and continued with a series of three sequels. The franchise was revived in 2012 with the prequel Prometheus. The story of the first four movies is set at the end of the anthropocene, and it deals with the horror of alien life forms, offering an evolutionist approach to the development of the human species. However, the revival of the franchise with the movie Prometheus changed the metanarrative from evolutionism to a creationist and pseudo-archaeological metanarrative with Biblical motifs. This paper points to the dangers of popularizing creationist and pseudo-archaeological narratives in science fiction. Responsibility for life on Earth and in outer space, lacking evidence to the contrary, remains in the hands of humans collectively and not alien Others.
... While calling the spacefaring states to "rise above their short term, narrow, Shylockian view of profits" and show instead "magnanimity, compassion and camaraderie to the whole international community 21 ", Indian scholar V. S. Mani also acknowledged that the developed countries were seeing the Common Heritage of Mankind (CHM) concept as being -"the institutionalisation of the 'menace' of international socialism (read communism), proliferation of international bureaucracy, and threat to their technological superiority -in short … an anathema to everything the Western capitalist ideology [stands] for 22 ". According to Alan Marshall, a supporter of the CHM paradigm, the prospect that companies could have to rent the site of extraction from the global community was likely to "provoke yelps of horror from space capitalists whose ideological tradition would make them reply that those who take the risk and invest the capital should reap the rewards" 23 . And yelps of horror had already been expressed, three centuries prior, by the Father of Liberalism, English philosopher John Locke, who was criticizing what today we call the entitlement mentality 24 . ...
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The transition from the 1960s to the 1970s has been quite visible in the field of international space law. Whereas the 1967 Outer Space Treaty was a product of the 1960s Cold War between East and West, the 1979 Moon Agreement was clearly a result of the 1970s New International Economic Order paradigm on the NorthSouth coordinate axis. In the time passed between the UN-sponsored negotiation of the former and the latter legal documents, decolonization changed dramatically the geopolitical landscape, and the focus of the international discourse shifted from the security concerns of the ‘First’ and ‘Second’ worlds to the economical concerns of the ‘Third’ world. While the end of the Space Race may have been the end of utopia for the Cold War factions, it represented in fact the beginning of utopia for the new international actors hailing from the developing world. While in the 1960s the ‘have nots’ criticized the race to the Moon as a waste of money that could have found a better use as foreign aid, in the 1970s the same social category sought to benefit from the space age by declaring the Moon as the ‘Common Heritage of Mankind’ and by seeking a share in the yet to come untold riches from the Moon – seen as a solution to the ‘Limits to Growth.’
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Although the human species required over three and a half billion years to evolve, George Robinson, a space philosopher and attorney, observed that in the past 50 years we have moved beyond Earth to penetrate near space, deep space, and other planets [2]. In the process of transforming our perceptions of humanity, space law scholars speculate that Homo spatialis or spacekind will develop as a new species, altered in time from Homo sapiens, physically, psychologically, and socially (see Appendix A). In contemplating the human occupation of outer space, issues related to its industrialization and settlement may be viewed as problems or challenges [3]. Preferring the latter approach, there are indeed numerous multidimensional challenges: the first are technological, biological, and financial. However, in this chapter, we will delimit analysis to just three dimensions: commercial, legal, and political, ending with specific action plans to further space enterprise.1 We will also revisit and amplify some of the themes discussed in Chapter 1.
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A book that deconstructs the modern narrative of "Natural / Cosmic Unity"
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According to international agreement between the space faring nations of the world the bodies of the solar system are labelled the province of humankind and are made off­limits to annexation. Because of these agreements it might be thought that extraterrestrial space exploration and exploitation must be undertaken for the benefit of all nations. Unfortunately those charged with interpreting these international agreements tend to do so in a way that generally discourages equitable distribution of space resources and promotes a neo­imperialistic attitude to the development and settlement of space. This by itself may only be seen as a predictable development in light of the present state of international relations between the First and Third Worlds but given the grand rhetoric emerging from the space advocacy community­­where we are told all humanity will share in the final frontier­­it can also be seen as a betrayal of the humanitarian ideals of spaceflight.
This chapter takes seriously the prospects for applying Rawlsian ideas of fairness to various aspects of space policy. I argue that Rawlsian ideas of fairness are naturally suited to underwrite orbital access regulations, debris mitigation recommendations, and planetary protection policies. I also explore some of the obstacles to applying fairness to more speculative aspects of space policy, including asteroid mining and space colonization.
I argue that the moral justification for space science is more compelling than the moral justification for space development. Thus, we ought to reemphasize the status of science as a major stakeholder in space, especially when entertaining policies which might encourage the kinds of space development activities (e.g. resource exploitation) that are liable to conflict with the scientific uses of space.
The Vision of Spaceflight
  • Bova
The future of space law: a legal regime for space colonies
  • Gorove
Project Apollo in retrospect
  • Cargill Hall
Gaia hypothesis. An exposition of which can be found in L Margulis and D Sagan 'Can Mars be colonized?
  • Lovelock
The eccentric idea of imperialism
  • Robinson