Fresh off his trek to the International Space Station last May, mega-millionaire Dennis Tito reached yet again for the stars in an appearance before a U.S. Senate session. Tito argued passionately that ordinary citizens should be flying into space, not just wealthy individuals. By transporting artists, journalists, poets, opera singers, and educators into space, "they can bring back the experience I've had and relate it in their own art form," Tito said.
It's easy to find fault with Tito. For starters, lots of nonprofits helping the poor or the environment could find good use for even a small cut of his $20 million rocket fare. Tito's joy ride was an act of sheer hubris; talk about placing yourself at the center of the universe!
Yet the political ramifications of Tito's saga transcend any individual morality play. You may recall that NASA argued vehemently that an ordinary citizen had no right going up in space. To fund the Russian space program in so doing was unconscionable.
How the times have changed. When the Russians boldly shot Sputnik into space more than four decades ago it would have been inconceivable-not simply unconscionable-for a private U.S. citizen to make a personal choice of such magnitude. But today "national interest" engages in a tense tug-of-war with the flow of global capital. The winner in that struggle is not definitive; the embargo on Cuba being one example. Still, count on global capital to slowly eat away like termites on the walls built by nation-state ideology. That trend is accelerated in the as-of-yet unclaimed territories of space.