Spaceport America : Contested Offworld Access and the Everyman Astronaut

Spaceport America, a spectacle to see with curvilinear geometry that itself looks like a spacecraft rising out of the desert near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, conveys a hope of the everyman astronaut. Yet this private-public project, spending over $200 million in state taxpayer money to build and with a $2.85 million operating budget for 2017, does not provide the vertical transport analog of an airport. As Virgin Galactic stalls in launching its astronomically-priced zero-gravity music festival and commercial passenger flights, the facilities have been dusted off for educational rocketry club launches and Hollywood film backdrops while most public access to the grounds is restricted to expensive guided tours. As with the Spaceport, access to outer space itself raises questions of public versus private ownership and exclusivity. With the shifting role of nation states in offplanet activity, there are openings for outer space to become another site of capital accumulation or to manifest as envisioned by social movements and "community space programs." This paper traces the ongoing realignment of public and private interests in offworld activity, of which Spaceport America is representative, considering how notions of offworld access have evolved since the aspirational vision of space as a commons laid out in the 1967 UN Outer Space Treaty. The paper juxtaposes the emerging public-private hegemony with the actions of three autonomous space organizations that actively construct alternative political economic models, technological systems, and cultural imaginaries of offworld access.

To be published in Geopolitics.