Which way do you think global society is headed? Some people think that we can only go up from here. Others think that we’ll all wind up in a bad dystopian movie. There are a lot of people who think that we shouldn’t move forward until everybody is equal. It is fair to say that some regions on Earth move forward faster than others. However, just because you feel like the hare in the race doesn’t mean that you’re going to win, and just because you feel like the tortoise does not mean that you aren’t making forward progress. The important thing to remember is that you don’t need to voluntarily accept second place, but neither should you get upset if you haven’t seen the hare since the starting line. The hare may have stopped for tea with a friend.
It’s a matter of which choice we’re going to make. We shouldn’t automatically assume that our descendants are going to be living in the Star Trek universe in a few centuries. If we ever do, it will take lots of work to create and even more effort to maintain in any meaningful way. (“We have evolved beyond the need for revenge.” “Bullshit!!”) Neither should we all assume that we’re going to be living in the Mad Max universe, or that a rival is going to oblige the rest of us by standing still until everybody else catches up.
The awesome thing about the Blockchain is that it could theoretically create a level playing field in which anyone can participate if they want to, even if they do feel like a turtle sometimes. The awesome thing about outer space is that it’s becoming increasingly accessible to private citizens. (Some spaceflight insiders and enthusiasts will kid around that this is especially true if you are a turtle. Are you a turtle?) If the two can work together, it will make the choice between meaningful human progress and a dystopian world an easier one.
How Blockchain Can Help Aerospace
Space exploration has traditionally been seen as the exclusive realm of governments that could afford to pay for it. Naturally, the lucky elite of space travelers were exclusively military pilots at first, and then expanded to include scientists and engineers who could pass the tests posed by the governments that sponsored their trips into outer space. This image was enhanced by the fact that the members of the European Union had to band together to form the European Space Agency to do anything meaningful like being an equal partner in the International Space Station.
The image began to show some cracks when a private citizen named Dennis Tito paid millions of dollars to the Russians for a trip to the International Space Station. Granted, this was still more expensive than the average person can afford and it made the United States nervous, but suddenly you didn’t necessarily have to be a professional astronaut to take a trip into space. By this point, many people would be grousing that of course things like space travel are going to be the realm of people who can afford it – meaning rich people like Tito – while ignoring the fact that wealthy people and large organizations are usually the early adopters of any new technology.
If new technologies stayed that way, though, the computer would still be an expensive contraption that filled up an entire room and was vulnerable to literal bugs in the system. Only government agencies like NASA would be able to afford one. Now it’s just understood that anyone could own a computer or at least a cheap mobile device, or even build their own if they’re willing to learn how and buy parts. This happened because the technology improved and the price of a computing device went down. (Yes, your smart phone may have more computing power than Apollo 11’s lunar lander did. No, I do not see you using that smart phone to land on the Moon.) The decrease in price and increase in decentralization of computing technology means that there’s no single government agency, corporation or individual that controls it. Anybody can use computing technology in their daily lives.
Some Blockchain insiders believe that decentralization can benefit space exploration as costs begin to come down. The BitNation Space Agency was built around this concept. So is the Facebook group calling itself Space Decentral. Decentralization basically means that anybody can participate without having to jump through a lot of hoops put up by a centralized authority.
Imagine it as being like those workplaces where people can collaborate freely, scoot their desks together, join and leave a project at will, and work on their own personal projects on Fridays if they like. Decentralization might look chaotic to an outsider at first glance, but if that observer watches closely for a while, he’ll notice that the topology of a large enough decentralized network looks more like a detailed road map of the entire U.S. than anything. While you’re going from Point A to Point B and you know it’s going to be a long haul even without any traffic jams, any decent GPS device can easily calculate a new route to save you some time if it gets traffic updates and learns that one stretch of highway along your route has become congested. (Yay for artificial intelligence, right?) This kind of on-the-go rerouting makes it easy to change direction if you’re going the wrong way or need to avoid a traffic jam so you won’t be late for work. It will also make it easy for anyone interested in participating in space exploration to do a quick about-face and choose a Blue Origins rocket instead of a ULA rocket if the ULA is not producing satisfactory results.
Decentralization doesn’t mean that you and your devices can’t communicate or collaborate on projects that are important to you. It just means that no centralized authority is going to deny you permission to do your thing and you can always leave and join another team if you feel unwelcome. This is good for aerospace because organizations like the United Space Alliance have been around in one form or another since the 1960s and have been accused of being too big, bureaucratic and centralized to really make for cost-effective innovation. However, new kids on the block like SpaceX and Blue Origins can bring costs down by figuring out how to reuse a first stage rocket. That makes newer and smaller corporations capable of competing for launch contracts on an even footing with the ULA.
That’s the benefit of basic rocket technology not being under anyone’s control now that Robert Goddard’s widow has been bought out. The government paid her off decades ago, actually, but it would have been VERY annoying if Goddard’s heirs were forever using those patents to pick and choose who can build a rocket. His heirs would have been an effective centralized authority that controls everything. However, because the patents were effectively released to the general public, it’s just understood that any aerospace startup can either build a rocket, or decide which corporation to buy one from.
How Aerospace Can Help Cryptocurrencies And Blockchain Adoption
“Bitcoin to the Moon” is a fairly common catchphrase referring to the way that Bitcoin’s value can skyrocket. Bitcoin enthusiasts will sometimes tell you that this catchphrase was never meant to be taken literally. However, cryptocurrency insiders should really be making it possible for cryptocurrencies and the Blockchain to go along for the ride when aerospace insiders form permanent bases and, eventually, colonies on the Moon and elsewhere in the solar system.
Due to bureaucracies, often unpredictable funding, and the hacker community’s very real distrust of government, it’s been questioned whether government can even lead innovation in any meaningful way or avoid scuttling gains that have been made before a new innovation even gets very far. The real truth is that many government space agencies are either too bureaucratic to do anything meaningful, aren’t funded at sufficient levels to accomplish goals in any meaningful amount of time, or both. Projects are often canceled after billions of dollars have already been spent on them. The good news is that NASA has been investing in technologies that only need an injection of money to get off the ground. NASA won’t own these technologies; rather, they will be commercialized by private businesses that can sell products based on these technologies to both NASA and private organizations that are willing to make use of them.
This is a good thing because it means that space-related innovations can be used for a decentralized approach to expansion into outer space. One private organization can fund lunar bases on the Moon, another can establish a rudimentary “beachhead” settlement on Mars, and a third can look into mining the asteroid belt. They might compete in the fundraising arena and occasionally make snide comments about the other organizations, but otherwise, they’re not stepping on one another’s toes. As importantly, if they think ahead and stay flexible about exactly where they’re going to launch from, there’s no third party authority to tell them what to do. Aerospace corporations and nonprofit organizations can accomplish more if aerospace is decentralized enough that nobody’s really getting in one another’s way.
Let’s imagine a scenario that could occur a few centuries in the future. There are colonies on the Moon and on Mars, mining rigs have pretty much taken over the asteroid belt, and they’re just starting to experiment with creating “Cloud Cities” in Venus’ upper atmosphere. Each of these might have been sponsored by a different organization, so even two colonies on Mars can look very different from a socioeconomic standpoint because they’ve been founded with different priorities.
Decentralized? Yeah, it is, and the organizations involved will likely try everything that has a smidge of a chance of actually succeeding and some things that actually don’t. For the sake of brevity, I’ll leave out arguments about which socioeconomic model will be the most desirable for a Martian colony. In practical terms, the best socioeconomic model will be the one that maximizes the odds that the colony will be viable over the long term.
Things will get complex when colonies start interacting with one another in a meaningful way. Of course some trouble might be caused by two or more colonies with diametrically opposed societies, but let’s just assume that they won’t be launching heavy artillery at one another for quite a while yet. This is where the Ferengi say, “Opportunity plus instinct equals profit.” Colonists with a good instinct for conditions that will benefit their particular colony might wish to participate in interplanetary trade and will do it in a way that protects their internal sovereignty. That’s where cryptocurrencies and the Blockchain come in.
Keep in mind that the inter-colonial legal environment will still be fragile. There will be no United Federation of Planets at first. There might not be a complex judicial system in place yet, or at least not one that is willing to waste time with complex legal arguments. One of the problems that the World Court has is that sometimes one nation or the other will stomp off in a huff and refuse to recognize the validity of its rulings. The primary purpose of a Blockchain distributed ledger is to have a tamper-resistant way to establish the facts.
On the one hand, if war between Mars and Venus is declared, the battleships will travel slowly enough to give cooler heads time to prevail. On the other, a colony won’t be very popular if there’s no way to make them keep up with their end of any given trade deal. That’s where Blockchain-based Smart Contracts, supply chain apps, and notary systems come in. A treaty can be a form of Smart Contract in the sense that if any signatory violates the terms of a treaty, that treaty is automatically invalidated – though it may be helpful to have a diplomatic corps ready to deal with the situation if this happens. A supply chain app can prove that a shipment of supplies comes from a legitimate source and has not been tampered with. Because property rights are essential to any functional economic system, a notary system can establish those property rights, most often by drawing boundaries.
If you’re scratching your head wondering if the speed of light wouldn’t nark the whole thing up, you’re probably right. One thing that interplanetary trade would do is force cryptocurrencies and Blockchain apps to adapt to the unique needs of this kind of environment. It might mean scaling up – something that many Bitcoin users seem to be resisting in a big way right now. It might mean adapting the concept of a Lightning Network in a way that is suitable for traders that won’t want to wait for transactions to confirm before they move on. It will definitely mean having Blockchains that can “talk” to one another even if some of them only get read-only access to the data on other chains that they need to function. (A smart contract can check a notary system to see if a seller genuinely has ownership rights to a few hectares of prime lunar real estate, for instance.) There may be ways to confirm transactions quickly even when there might be a bloated planet between one node and the rest. (Yeah. “Bloated.”) No worries if you think that the obvious technical issues won’t be solved quickly. Cryptocurrencies and the Blockchain have a few centuries to get from Bitcoin to Federation Credits.
The important thing to remember is that human societies tend to have two choices. They can push for progress and become remembered as one of the great human societies like the Romans and Greeks were. Or they can refuse to push the frontier because they are afraid of new ideas and wind up collapsing into oblivion. Which choice will we make?