“To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance, too!”

March 25, 2013 § Leave a comment


Question: What is 150’ in diameter, weights 80 tons, carries 60 scientists, a cannon, a big rooster, an escape pod for women, and makes transcontinental flights?

Answer: nothing.

And so: what is ten times bigger, and carries ten times more people? Bigger but still the same nothing–though a more-magnificent nothingness.

The first example did however live in print as the great balloon La Minerve, the  prankish gesture of the Belgian optico-magician, physics experimenter/exhibitionist and general experimenter (and probable crumbun) “Dr. Roberston”, who was actually Étienne-Gaspard Robert (1763-1837). Robert did have vast experience with balloons—he was Commandant des Aerostiers during the war, serving under General Jourdain in Belgium and Holland in 1803/4, providing valuable observations on the enemy troops and movements from tethered (and not) balloon observing stations; he is also regarded by some as the inventor of the parachute. He had a wide interested in optics and toys, making a very profitable tour with Brewster mirrors, demonstrating all manner of specters and floating bodies and such for a paying audience.

He came up with this sci-fi-ish idea in the early 19th century, and published his dream broadsided swipe at other aeronauts in 1820 under the title of La Minerve, vaisseau aérien, destiné aux découvertes et proposé à toutes les Académies de l’Europe par le physicien Robertson. There was nothing about this balloon that would’ve worked, and Robertson knew it…  read more

ART: Christian Hetzel

I’ve done boring jobs. I’ve worked in abattoirs stunning pigs and musicians and by the end of the day your back aches

October 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

One historical irony of this transition from the intensive, state-coordinated investment in these grand projects (with their significant blue-sky R&D components) to our current model (with its emphasis on “results,” i.e., profitable applications) is the extent to which the current crop of profitable technologies came out of that previous era of state development.

Rather than a mystical substance exuded through the pores of entrepreneurial ubermenschen, like Steve Jobs, most of the actual innovations that have driven capitalist profitability over the last several decades—including computerization and the internet—were first developed through research intensive, collective state projects, like NASA or DARPA.

Entrepreneurial “innovation” in our neoliberal period could be likened to a process of enclosure, whereby, in John Gulick’s words, corporate capitalists and a reconfigured neoliberal capitalist state commodify and reapportion already existing technical infrastructure and cultural wealth, “rather than creating anything new.” Leigh Philips details these more recent uses of space technology in “Put Whitey Back On The Moon,” in the process of advocating a return to manned space exploration as part of a comprehensively social democratic program that includes  “guaranteed incomes, well-funded pensions, a transformation to a low-carbon (or even carbon-negative) economy, and investment in space exploration.”

In other words, rather than ceding the utopian legacy of space travel to the likes of Newt Gingrich, while offering a standard neoliberal “austerian” justification for such a rejection, leftists should wholeheartedly embrace the old dream of modernity. The specter of communism, in interstellar form, haunts this call.

Communism put human beings in space. The Moon landing was the Soviets’ greatest accomplishment: a quip that transcends its most immediate nationalist point of reference, as evinced—Newt Gingrich aside—in the American right-wing’s longstanding antipathy toward the space program,  or “big government” in space (unless it’s say Ronald Reagan touting a Star Wars-style space weapons program run by conservatives’ command economy of choice).  read more


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