Saturday, 17 October 2009


Battleground, via Nasa

I'm out Sunday, so I'm bringing you tomorrow's post today (which is more than can be said of the actual post).

In theory, the moon belongs to no one. That is to say, it belongs to everyone. We take solace in the fact that while the Earth might be geo-politically torn by the petty disputes of its microscopically visioned peoples, there lies beyond our fragile sphere the vast reaches of deep space. It calls to us with the voice of the New World, inviting us into the tranquility of eternal emptiness, a profound vacuum of silence.

This is perhaps why the recent bombing of the moon by American satellites sits so uncomfortably in the public mind. The idea of pristine lunar landscapes being exploited by nations (India, China, Japan, Europe) and corporations is abhorrent, because we do not trust our own countries to behave responsibly. We're no longer sure who is the parent and who the child in the modern citizen-state relationship: 20th century policies of paternalism have largely dissolved into models dictated by the Market Economy.

One thing you sometimes hear from astronauts, although it is now fairly passé, is that 'from space, the earth has no borders'. This invokes for me not grandiose visions of one nation, nor one love, one hope, nor any of that other white-rasta-fake-hippy shenanigans. I am after all a realist. It makes me reflect more on why there are no boundaries on other heavenly bodies. The moon is an inaccessible, but perpetually present, celestial element that for us is unified because it is unoccupied. I've written about the problems of mapping the moon before – the subtext of this post is concerned with the conceptual difficulties of creating a socio-political map of the moon. But what will happen when it is colonised? Most people hardly know the geography of the earth, let alone the moon. But will we begin to look up at that satellite and subconsciously divide it into its political regions, as we do with images of the earth?

The final thing I wanted to say is that the difficulty of visualising the future human boundaries of the moon is tied up in the fact that we know those boundaries are arbitrary. When we view maps of Antarctica, the effect is similar. Yes, that segment belongs to Britain. But it is not a part of Britain, because it is physically unconnected to the socio-political evolution of that country. The New Millennium requires humanity to radically shift the way it conceives of boundaries, and I am not just referring to those that are socio-political. Perhaps the effect of a divided moon will have far-reaching impacts on the way we conceive of space that we cannot even begin to predict...

1 comment:

  1. Makes me think of Kim Stanley Robinson's constitution for Mars, in that it is essentially exploring the same question. Though once Mars is a unified polity, that sets up a boundary between it and Earth. Then later, when they colonise the moons of the gas giants, new boundaries are developed since people who have grown up on those moons can't withstand Earth's gravity... a boundary of ability rather than politics.