Angela Natividad's Live & Uncensored!

28 May 2010

Space: The Commercial Frontier

I recently got the chance to contribute to The3Six5 Project, a daily online diary written by 365 different people. May 26 was my day. This is what I wrote. (The original is here; support the project by perusing other entries, sharing and Liking items. You can also become an author.)

Humans are constantly constructing stories out of random data: seeing faces in electrical outlets, or omens in dark animals. It's in our nature to stab at the context of the universe, even if we lack details. This quest for deeper meaning makes it hard to justify getting up in the morning for something so much smaller than profundity. At least it's that way for me, sometimes.

Today I met Stephen Attenborough of Virgin Galactic. My pupils must've dilated to twice the size of my head because he asked if I'm one of those people who dreamt about space as kids. (He's not.)

I think about space a lot.

Attenborough thinks space can be used to expedite sustainable efforts, including the far-fetched but feasible notion of suspending robot-made solar converters in orbit to beam unlimited natural energy to earth. To realize them, "commercialization" is key to making space travel safer, more cost- and energy-efficient.

It reflexively bugs me to see the dream of space travel commodified, packaged into a "value proposition" with its own standards for "customer experience." But in a way, commodification always fueled it: consider what Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and Stargate did for generations of would-be Jedis and Klingon sympathizers. We buy lightsabers, throw themed weddings and braid hair around our ears. Then you get Virgin Galactic: for €200,000, get in line for the space experience! It even named its first ship the VSS Enterprise, which is either geeky or awful, depending on how you look at it.

As a kid I saw a picture of stars being made. The image was foreign, bathed in enigma. It gave me that static-cling feeling you get when you suspect something fundamental you thought you understood might be wrong or incomplete. It's unpleasant, like the teetery moment before having to vom.

But if you buy the idea that commercialization is key to realizing dreams locked within us, including experiencing zero gravity (the Real Deal™!), then people like me have a neat mission. We tell stories that lend context to products. Our job is to open-sesame the gatekeepers of funding that drives innovation.

In a way, the nebulous fruit of our efforts are like that place where stars get made: loud, sometimes garish celestial gas farts that can yield something bigger than ourselves. That's something ... isn't it?

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