Dr Igor Ashurbeyli, Asgardia’s first Head of Nation © Alexandr Omelianchuk/Asgardia
From its inception in October 2016, distinguished aerospace scientist Dr Igor Ashurbeyli had three goals in mind when he created the world’s first nation to colonise space; protect the Earth from space hazards (such as asteroids and solar flares), ensure a peaceful use of space, and create a demilitarised and free scientific base of knowledge in space.
On 25 June 2018, in the lavish Hofburg palace of Vienna, those goals took one step forward, with the inauguration of Dr Ashurbeyli as Asgardia’s first Head of Nation.
“Access to outer space should be a human right, beyond the control of any Earthly nation,” he said, addressing a crowd of Asgardian citizens there to witness this historic moment. “To safeguard humanity’s future, Asgardia is taking steps into the vast space frontier as the very first space nation.”
It’s a bold vision for the future of humanity, not limited to just those with a penchant for science fiction, gathering more than 200,000 sign-ups for Asgardian citizenship since 2016 (nearly 7,000 of which from the UK). They all share the same excitement for Dr. Ashurbeyli’s plan, but should you?
The Space Kingdom of Asgardia
During the inauguration ceremony, calls of “one humanity, one unity” echoed throughout the crowd and the national anthem was played repeatedly, to which a large portion of the audience were singing at the top of their lungs. You’d be forgiven in thinking there were some oddly persuasive and religious overtones to the whole thing, however, scratch beneath the surface of that initial impression and you see the formation of a nation whose citizens are not distracted by border disputes and geopolitics, but instead look towards one day leading a life in space.
The Space Kingdom of Asgardia though, is not just some sci-fi flight of fancy but, as Asgardian Parliament Chairman and former Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Öpik explains, will one day shape the future of space law.
“The founder has realised that unless we have a space nation, space becomes another opportunity for war, where earthbound territories fight for the right to own space. No-one owns space, but Asgardia recognises that you can be a citizen of space. If you don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the last few centuries, then this is the way we do it.”
Since its establishment, Asgardians have been busy running an exhaustive election process to form parliament, writing a constitution, creating a flag and writing a national anthem – it’s abundantly clear that the politics are of key interest to the people forming the nation.
Although nobody was willing to go on record about the details of parliamentary sessions, the general opinion was that they were debating matters far beyond party politics. There were no deliberate moves of sabotage to benefit one group over another, and instead individual opinions were all taken into account and settled through democratic due process.
Could this be a fresh form of political individualism that actually moves policies with a pace rarely seen in current democratic systems? Or will progress be slowed to a halt by too many people proposing too many solutions to individual problems? It’s difficult to tell without seeing what the parliamentary proceedings are actually like in action. But while the politics may be a new twist on space colonisation, the idea to live on space is clearly not new.
“[Space Colonisation] has been talked about many times before,” said Jonathan Tate, Asgardian MP and Director of The Spaceguard Centre. “All the other projects have crashed and burned, and it’s a case of seeing whether this one will as well. Given the amount of people here and the quality of people gives me some optimism.”
And what are the specific targets for the Asgardia project? As announced by Dr Ashurbeyli in his inauguration speech, to live on permanent, habitable platforms in low Earth orbit and on the Moon within the next 25 years.
This leads to three, very big questions: how are they planning to do this, how are they going to pay for it, and can they really colonise the Moon in 25 years?
From interviewing many MPs, specific plans are up in the air. “The strategy is clear, but it would be foolish to pretend we have designed the spacecraft or the Moon base, because we haven’t,” confirmed Opik.
So far, they are looking to partnerships with private companies and towards the scientific minds in the Asgardian community to help advance the innovation and technology required to create a functioning society in space, such as simulating gravity or building a permanent artificial environment for both humans and agriculture. But this comes with its own problem – funding.
MPs were clear in where their donations had come from, but again, the information was vague concerning the economics of Asgardia. “The money will come from Asgardia itself, but can be supercharged by a collective interest,” said Opik. “Asgardia will have a functioning economy, with the world’s first state-run cryptocurrency. Not based on trust, but on a logical, tried and tested formula.”
The official cryptocurrency of the space nation is the SOLAR, and will be saved onto an Asgardian ID card, which in turn forms part of a smartphone you carry around – a universal device for all your needs.
Current cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or Ethereum have their values established solely by the public with no bank in-between, something that can cause extreme volatility in the market. However, government backing of SOLAR from its inception should lead to a more stable system making it a more attractive proposition for potential investors.
The ability to store and invest money is one of the important milestones for Asgardia, with Dr Ashurbeyli claiming a national bank and currency would be formed by the end of the year. But that is just one part of a successful, financially solvent nation.
“That may not be enough. We have to rely on an entrepreneurial spirit,” Opik continued. “We have to work with the private sector, as many companies have shown their interest in what we want to do. That money will come from people who believe in Asgardia’s vision for the future.”
So, what about a permanent Moon habitat - can it really be colonised in only 25 years? This question was approached with a wide range of optimism from the MPs, from the belief it is totally possible to the slightly more cautious.
“That [25 years], I have to say is a little optimistic,” Tate said. “If you’re talking about timescales, then frankly who knows? If you’re putting a timeframe on it, you better well have the money to fund it. Asgardia has bigger ideas and much shallower pockets at the moment.”
However, the hesitancy showed toward the quarter-century deadline was weighed equally with his positivity that the think tank of Asgardian citizens were the best people to deliver on this promise.
“If you said to me [in the past] I would be carrying around a device in my pocket that was a camera, a phone and a computer, I’d laugh in your face. It’s easy to view Asgardia in the same way, given the plans announced. But I can’t see anything in [Ashurbeyli’s inaugural] speech that is beyond the realm of possibility.”
But the issues facing the fledgling nation of Asgardia are more diverse than the reduction in computer chip sizes that have enabled us to hold ever-more powerful smartphones. Comfortable and permanent habitation requires at the very least a stable source of water and a method to combat the centrifugal force a human body is put under with a limited level of gravitational pull. Even recognition by the United Nations as an independent nation is a distant milestone to reach if the citizens of Asgardia are to realise their dreams of building a base on the Moon.
But it is not their determination that will hold them back. “It’s a very long road to our main goal,” sums up Asgardia’s first Head of Nation “and we know what we want.”
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