The Dangerous Religion of the Corporate Space Race
The Dangerous Religion of the Corporate Space Race
As environmental, political, and public health crises multiply on Earth, we are also at the dawn of a new space race in which governments team up with celebrity billionaires to exploit the cosmos for human gain. The best-known of these pioneers are selling different visions of the future: while Elon Musk and SpaceX seek to establish a human presence on Mars, Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin work toward moving millions of earthlings into rotating near-Earth habitats. Despite these distinctions, these two billionaires share a core utopian project: the salvation of humanity through the exploitation of space.
In Astrotopia, philosopher of science and religion Mary-Jane Rubenstein pulls back the curtain on the not-so-new myths these space barons are peddling, like growth without limit, energy without guilt, and salvation in a brand-new world. As Rubenstein reveals, we have already seen the destructive effects of this frontier zealotry in the centuries-long history of European colonialism. Much like the imperial project on Earth, this renewed effort to conquer space is presented as a religious calling: in the face of a coming apocalypse, some very wealthy messiahs are offering an other-worldly escape to a chosen few. But Rubenstein does more than expose the values of capitalist technoscience as the product of bad mythologies. She offers a vision of exploring space without reproducing the atrocities of earthly colonialism, encouraging us to find and even make stories that put cosmic caretaking over profiteering.
"A gung-ho approach to speed would violate the considerations of space ecology promoted by Rubenstein in Astrotopia: The Dangerous Religion of the Corporate Space Race. Rubenstein, while expertly dismantling some overblown claims of companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, proposes a gentler mode of space exploration that refuses to rehearse the violent history of colonialism on earth. In a way her vision recalls Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock’s Prime Directive: to avoid interference with other life forms. The original Star Trek series began in 1966, only months after the death of Sergei Korolev. Perhaps it still has something to teach us."
Steven Poole | Wall Street Journal
"Rubenstein succeeds in highlighting both the debate over whether future space exploration and exploitation should be led by government or entrepreneurial entities and the manner in which neoliberal, private-sector emphases have come to dominate the thinking of a particular segment of the pro-space community. Her criticisms of this phenomenon—part of a growing body of literature in environmental studies, Afrofuturism, and anticolonialism investigations—are on point.”
Roger D. Launius | Science
“In the cold war, space exploration’s wonders served a race between political systems. Today, argues religion and science scholar Rubenstein, they are subject to commercial rivalry, notably between billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, who are littering space and advocating it as a refuge from Earth’s destruction. She argues that we must eschew such myopic, colonialist ‘astrotopia,’ and listen instead to a sort of ‘pantheistic mysticism’—valuing and learning from the cosmic environment—scorned by past imperialists.”
Andrew Robinson | Nature
"Astrotopia is superb and will fascinate anyone curious about the current space fervor."
"Rubenstein lends fresh energy to a familiar debate about the value of space programs, dreams of mining the solar system, and colonizing the moon and Mars."
"A singular perspective on space technology, with unexpected comparisons to colonialism that will make readers think twice about the future of humanity on other planets."
Jennifer Moore | Library Journal
"Rubenstein's work is always delightfully readable and engagingly enlightening, but Astrotopia feels more immediate, because the message is both timely and urgent. A book of cultural criticism as well as consciousness raising, Astrotopia is meant to reach beyond the philosophers of religion and space historians to the interested layperson who needs to know how the world’s wealthiest people are 'rehashing' themes of Christian conquest to justify their manifest destiny in space. . . . Astrotopia is downright fun when it’s centered on the two focus-pulling, spotlight-stealing, grand-gesturing, dueling ringmasters themselves—Musk and Bezos—mostly because Rubenstein’s tone as she recounts the litanies of their outsized ideas is that of an exasperated Greek chorus."
Catherine L. Newell | The Revealer
"I’m not a pantheist but the argument does carry some weight: our rationalistic relationship with the modern world has denied us of any real, meaningful connection with Mother Nature. We’re instead too focused on our divine destiny in the stars. But if we ruin the Moon or Mars or any other planet, then what is really the point of it all in the first place? . . . In the conclusion of Astrotopia, Rubenstein asserts the need for a pantheist revolution against the Western view of God as a single entity. Instead we should embrace God as being within everything. It’s a fundamental rewriting of our position in the cosmos, and a repositioning of the cosmos around us. A more spiritual approach to spacefaring might just allow us to avoid our earthly mistakes, and explore space ethically. And if we learn any lessons from our time here on Earth, it should not be ‘how space belongs to us, but how we belong to it.’ As Carl Sagan said, we are, each of us, made of star-stuff."
James Tatam | Nature Astronomy
"Astrotopia makes a powerful argument that we are approaching space exploration with the same old imperial Christian mythology, making space merely a thing to be exploited."
Hilary Lamb | Engineering and Technology
"Astrotopia presents an examination of the current state of space exploration juxtaposed with the history of previous periods of exploration—and exploitation—here on Earth. Rubenstein . . . brings a particularly interesting perspective to the subject in examining not only the histories themselves but the motivations concurrent with them. . . . What’s more, she caps her examination with the presentation of an alternative of how the future of space exploration might unfold if undertaken with appropriate reflection upon the past, and a reexamination of the motivations and methods for its continuance."
Johannes E. Riutta | Well-read Naturalist
"Few books of late have given me such pause as Rubenstein’s thoughtful Astrotopia. Like many, I had considered space travel an untrammeled good (despite its origins in the destructive political rivalries of the Cold War and recent reliance on individual, stupidly-rich capitalists to move its development forward). Like many, I would love a Star Trek universe where humans peaceably coexist and thrive on hundreds of new worlds, the sins of the past behind us as we progress together in the noble spirit of exploration ever onward into bright futures. But what Rubenstein makes so clear is that today that kind of future utopia seems wholly unlikely. Without a severe imaginative reset, we may be doomed to repeat our imperialist and colonialist sins of the past, this time with the planet at stake."
Jeremy Brett | Ancillary Review of Books
“A timely book that makes an important and well-argued point: that the new space race, indeed much like the old one, is driven largely by a combination of an instinct for capitalist exploitation and colonization coupled to a quasi-religious impulse drawing on some of the worst of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Astrotopia ought to stimulate some much-needed debate.”
Philip Ball, author of "The Modern Myths: Adventures in the Machinery of the Popular Imagination"
“One of the most philosophically sophisticated, mythically impactful, contemporarily relevant, and wickedly funny books I have read in a very long time. ‘Influential’ is a grotesque understatement. ‘Game-changing’ is more like it.”
Jeffrey J. Kripal, author of "The Flip: Epiphanies of Mind and the Future of Knowledge"
“The NewSpace era is marked by growing excitement and worry. The most significant issue moving forward is how to prevent destructive practices from crystallizing as the space endeavor grows. The first thing to do is to dispel the myth from the reality, and this book is one attempt to do that. For this field to advance, we need more critical perspectives that are forward-looking and suggest a pathway toward alternative hopeful and inclusive space futures.”
Timiebi Aganaba, School for the Future of Innovation in Society, College of Global Futures, Arizona State University
“This book is a must-read for anyone who believes that the space race is a romantic enterprise defining humanity’s destiny. Alas, as Rubenstein argues with wit and urgency, the space race is a reinvention of the worst colonialism has to offer, a mythologized narrative of exploitation and hubris poised to turn outer space into ‘another theater of greed and war.’”
Marcelo Gleiser, Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy, Dartmouth College, 2019 Templeton Prize Laureate
“Astrotopia is an adventurous ride into outer space. Rubenstein masterfully places our desire to travel the cosmic seas within a historical and religious context, which is illuminating. Sublimely entertaining, Rubenstein brings levity to such a complex subject matter. To understand the future of the space industry, Astrotopia is a must-read.”
Ingrid LaFleur, founder and director, The Afrofuture Strategies Institute
“Astrotopia is a timely and lively read that helps us see the old myths behind NewSpace. Rubenstein exposes the religious and imperialistic roots of our outer-space plans, challenging us to rethink our motivations and justifications for our dreams of leaving Earth. Anyone who has ever asked why we are so intent on going to Mars and elsewhere, and especially those of us who consider ourselves space enthusiasts, should read this and ask whether we’re really satisfied with the futures being drawn up for us by astro-oligarchs or whether there may be other, and better, options.”
David Grinspoon, coauthor of "Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto"
Table of Contents
Introduction: We Hold This Myth to Be Potential
1 Our Infinite Future in Infinite Space
2 Creation and Conquest
3 The American Promised Land
4 The Final Frontier
5 Whose Space Is It?
6 The Rights of Rocks
7 Other Spacetimes
Conclusion: Revolt of the Pantheists