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Meet Asgardia, the proposed space nation for those who want to escape Earth

The world is starting to feel like a three-ring circus. Dr. Igor Ashurbeyli doesn’t want to live on this crazy planet anymore, and he means to put a space station called Asgardia in orbit for like-minded folks to escape there. This is not an altogether terrible idea, but it’s close enough for government work. Since it intends to be a self-governing entity, this will probably prove to be painfully accurate.

The broad strokes go like this: Asgardia, named for the heavenly Æsir digs, is meant to be a floating techno-utopia of good faith, scientific research, and planetary stewardship, separated from the affairs of earthly states by a physical and philosophical air gap. It should serve to protect the planet from threats like space weather, asteroids, and extraterrestrial microbial pestilence. And the whole thing is sort of a wiki in low-earth orbit: even the “flag, insignia, and anthem” are being crowd-sourced and voted upon.

According to Ashurbeyli, the project lead for Asgardia, the physical structure should consist of one or more core satellites, along with clusters of ancillary network-centric ones and a protective space platform. That’s all the information the team has fronted so far – but they hasten to reassure the reader that it’s not because they have no idea how this whole venture will take shape.

“It is because we want the widest participation in this open project – participation from all interested scientists and companies, without limiting them by our own vision of the technological side of things at the moment,” Ashurbeyli explains.

Asgardia is a fully-fledged and independent nation, and a future member of the United Nations – with all the attributes this status entails: a government and embassies, a flag, a national anthem and insignia, and so on. —

On one hand, Asgardia is a starry-eyed, trusting sort of venture, something that aims to bring out the best in people and elevate it, literally and figuratively, to its greatest possible height. It’s a vision of a place where no one person has too much control, and the kick plates on the doors don’t get scuffed up and the Pipetmen don’t get stolen because everyone’s careful and high-minded about such things. If everything goes as planned, it’ll be beautiful, lofty, a sterling example to nations on Earth of an intentional community based on nonpartisan, real-world data. Proceedings will be democratic and without rancor; stakeholders will be adequately represented, ensconced on the station and properly compensated for their investments; science will proceed according to the best interests of the planet as a whole.

If everything goes as planned.

On the other hand, this project sure is getting a lot of airtime for a space-based, totally novel political entity with no articulated political structure, no disclosed leadership, and no planned physical architecture — to say nothing of not having bolt one to show for all of this. The thing about utopia is that utopia means a place that doesn’t exist.

All the talk about a perfect floating sci-tech paradise is grand, but according to the website, right now Asgardia is totally beholden to one subjective and fallible dude’s bank account balance. The project is obviously intended to be a product of collaboration on the premise that two heads are better than one, and Ashurbeyli says he intends to crowdfund his project at some undisclosed later date. But right now by virtue of the pursestrings Asgardia is under his unilateral control and creative direction.

Thankfully, the website has elaborated and clarified significantly on the prior mission statement, which originally said, in part, the following:

It is thanks to the inquisitive nature of past generations that humanity has continually evolved. And yet the science which allows such marvelous advances is not always a priority for society at large. Economical and political considerations often take precedence over purely scientific ones and ethical boundaries are considered necessary to sustain safety.

Calling out this wording is not supposed to be a “gotcha” — in fact, it’s much more likely to have just been the narrow, subjective, usually poorly chosen draft statement of one person scrambling to get something posted — but that phrasing is still telling, especially when it’s in the core mission statement. To become a citizen, all you have to do is provide a working email address and a name. Clearly nobody with terrible judgment or a vendetta also has enough money to venture capitalize their way onto a remote, private platform to use it for their own ends. *cough* Peter Thiel *cough* seasteading *cough* Clearly nothing can possibly go wrong with “independent, private, unrestricted research” at orbital velocity. Do you want BioShock? Because this is how you get BioShock.

Right now there are a lot of things left unclear about the Asgardia project, and it’s not yet clear whether that’s because it’s new, or a bad idea. It’s probably not damning to not yet be fully articulated when only a few decision-makers have signed on and met in person. Remember that in terms of actions having been taken, this is roughly equivalent to three guys doing napkin math on a bar, with or without the Manhattans.

But getting a thing into orbit is hard. It’s like trying to get a device built. Dealing with the manufacturing, with the literal, actual nuts and bolts, is the hardest part of any venture. The difficulty of properly constraining the mission and operations of such a satellite is dwarfed by the difficulty of getting it running and maintaining it on a day-to-day basis. How will this vaporous new nation bankroll its existence? Ad space? Rich benefactors? What concessions do those benefactors then receive? On the other hand, we all remember “No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.”

In any case, anytime you see something that adds up to “join like-minded people in our pay-to-play venture” you know for sure you’re getting into something dicey, from which someone else stands to benefit. Anybody can pay $10 for GoDaddy hosting and set up a smooth Kickstarter with a hit counter and an online sign-up form that makes people feel included in something big. The proof will be in the orbital pudding. And then what? What happens when there’s hardware and a launch contract?

For the low, low price of however much it costs, you too can escape earthly politics by moving to space… to be trapped in a floating Coke can you don’t own, subject to space station politics you physically can’t escape.

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