James T. Kirk was right: space really is the final frontier. We may have conquered the highest peaks and furthest reaches of our world, but it’s fair to say that the universe beyond Earth’s atmosphere has remained firmly outside our reach, a territory to which no man has ever been able to make a claim… until now.
At a Parisian press conference on October 12, 2016, Igor Ashurbeyli (Chairman of UNESCO’s Science of Space Committee and founder of the Aerospace International Research Centre in Vienna) announced that mankind is now set to establish a sovereign nation amongst the stars. The first ever ‘space nation’ – dubbed ‘Asgardia’ by the project leaders in reference to 1 of the 9 Worlds of Ancient Gods found in Norse mythology – will use an orbiting space station as a base through which to promote peaceful space exploration and prevent the conflicts on Earth making their way into the cosmos.
The project’s 3 primary goals are defined as follows:
- To ensure the peaceful use of space
- To protect the Earth from space threats
- To create a de-militarised and free scientific base of knowledge in space
With this emphasis upon peace, access and protection for all in mind, Asgardia’s founders have opened citizenship up to the entire globe (including under 18s), with the only requirement for entry being the possession of an email address which is needed to complete the sign-up process on their website. However, the website also claims that the first 100,000 people to claim citizenship will be given “special preference” over the rest; to put this in context, almost 500,000 people have already claimed citizenship in the few days that the site has been up and running. Although this makes the whole thing sound a bit gimmicky, the intentions for this project are far from that: indeed, Ashurbeyli claims that his team is determined to build nothing less than a “fully-fledged and independent nation” with the same status as UN-recognised states, complete with its own government, embassies, national anthem and flag.
You may be wondering how exactly the nation of Asgardia will be able to manifest itself given that its citizens will all be remaining firmly on the ground (well, for the time being at least). Well, it appears that the wheels are already turning in this respect. According to the website, the initial stages of Asgardia’s nationhood will be put into action as early as October 2017 – fittingly enough, on the 60th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik – when they aim to launch the Asgardian nation’s first satellite into orbit. The project leaders also have future plans for the design and implementation of a “protective shield” around the Earth to protect us from asteroids, solar winds and space debris (although the specifics of this are left entirely unexplained) and build a fully-functional space station that will facilitate the conduction of “independent, private and unrestricted research” in orbit.
Is this just the stuff of sci-fi dreams? The bombastic claims being made by Ashurbeyli and his team seem at best rather premature, especially given that the competitions to design the nation’s flag and insignia and compose its national anthem are still pending. The idea that Asgardia can offer an “independent platform free from the constraint of a land-based country’s laws” has a certain appeal, but it is not clear how exactly this would be achieved given that claims of sovereignty in space are prohibited by international law. As director of the London Institute of Space Policy and Law, Professor Sa’id Mosteshar, stated in an interview with the BBC: “the Outer Space Treaty… accepted by everybody says very clearly that no part of outer space can be appropriated by any state.” Although its arguable that the current UN laws and treaties that govern operations in space are in need of revisions to ensure they can account for technological advances in the near future, this does not justify an outright dismissal of the existing framework – especially when a cohesive vision of the new legal system has not been outlined at all. Little is known about the individuals who have already been assigned a position in government (a fact that is worrying in itself), and so it is difficult to gauge their intentions for this brave new world.
The claim that all research will be “independent, unrestricted and private” is also potentially cause for concern, as if Asgardian sovereignty was recognised and Earth law therefore rendered inapplicable, this would create an ethical loophole of sorts that scientists could use to conduct experiments which would never be permitted on Earth. As part of the website’s description of the concept of Asgardia, explicit complaints are made about the fact that “economic and political considerations often take precedence over purely scientific ones” and “ethical boundaries are considered necessary to sustain safety.” Are Ashurbeyli and his team suggesting, then, that these ethical boundaries and economic/political considerations should be removed entirely? Will any Asgardian be free to conduct whatever research they want, so long as they can fund it? History has taught us again and again that the pursuit of pure knowledge can have dangerous and unforeseen consequences. Could history repeat itself in space?
It the founders of Asgardia have pure intentions, this could be the start of something wonderful that could benefit the whole of mankind… but it’s also possible that it could become a platform for the rich to get richer (farming asteroids for precious metals, perhaps, or developing military-grade technologies?) while the rest of us wait in line for our passports. We will all just have to wait and see…
If you’d like to become a citizen of Asgardia, click here to complete the sign-up process.