The Orbital Perspective
Ron Garan, 2015
Astronauts are our experiential surrogates. They go and we watch. Meat machines in orbit are not practical as tools and actuators and sensors - while people in orbit can make flexible responses to emerging problems and opportunities, so could robots if we spent the same money developing them, and developing the predictive-adaptive telepresence software and procedures necessary to use them effectively. In environments where human beings simply cannot survive and be useful, like the bottom of the ocean, we deploy machines and accomplish great things with them. Vacuum and microgravity are much friendlier to both machines and encapsulated people, and much more amenable to communication. Why don't we send far more machines, and let far more people control them?
Governments have chosen to filter the space experience through the humans they select to launch, in the bounded environment of the International Space Station. In this way, they control what is seen in space and who sees it, and the stories that are told about space. The "orbital perspective" is the "government employee perspective", and it is no accident that NASA has never launched a human being that was not drawing a government paycheck (and strongly objects to the 7 private astronauts launched by the Russians).
Garan has travelled all over the world as an astronaut ambassador, and the message of the book is that we should protect the earth and its people. Excellent message, but - how? The means seems to be spreading western technology, increasing surveillance, avoiding competition, and doing things the NASA way. Absent are communication satellites (the paying app), weather and other earth observation satellites, astronomy, robotics, private space travel, ...
Giving well pumps to the exotic natives may feel good, but without repair infrastructure or water testing, you may be replacing robust evolved local technologies with fragile dependencies, toxic water, drained aquifers and parched trees. Change should evolve, and be locally selected and modified. Westerners can be helpful contributors, but not as overseers. Colonization - been there, done that.
So - instead of "the" orbital perspective, there should be many, one for every person alive, self-chosen and personally accessable. If we disagree on what we see, we talk it out and learn from each other. I hope we can construct technologies that permit everyone to look for themselves, in their own unique way, and share with the world what they see.