At first glance, the Asgardia project sounds like a concept pulled straight from science fiction.
Announced last week by a group of scientists and entrepreneurs, the project hopes to create a new "space nation" that will be founded on science and exploration and its intent is to foster peace and provide a platform to protect Earth.
"Asgardia is the prototype of a free and unrestricted society which holds knowledge, intelligence and science at its core along with the recognition of the ultimate value of each human life," the project's website writes. "You can join like-minded people on this new exciting step in fostering an extended future for humankind."
Exactly how this will be achieved is vague, but the founders of Asgardia are accepting applications to become "Asgardians" and, at time of writing, the project's website says that they have received nearly 400,000 applications. So, what will Asgardia look like and how will it be located in space?
Asgardia, which is named after a mythical world that is inhabited by Norse gods, appears to be based on the "micronation" model where a self-proclaimed nation declares itself an independent entity. By the founders' reckoning, if tens of thousands of people join Asgardia, the United Nations will be compelled to recognize it as a sovereign nation. That's the plan anyway.
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But what will Asgardia actually be? That's currently hard to decipher and, according to the project's website, the "technical details" will remain vague for now. The only time-sensitive goal is that they hope to put a nondescript satellite into orbit in 2017 in time for the 60th anniversary of 1957 Sputnik's launch.
Anyone on Earth can apply to become an Asgardian, so long as your country allows dual citizenship because, for now, a physical Asgardia nation (or space station?) doesn't actually exist and you're stuck where you are. It's little more than a philosophy for now, but it has some seriously lofty goals as being Earth's protector and has aims to be a state where free thought rules and science leads the way. It hopes to foster a very admirable "Star Trek"-like culture by breaking out of the mold and creating a new, futuristic space governance model.
Like any nation, Asgardia hopes to have a flag, anthem and insignia. It also has some founding principles, but this is where things seem to get a little ropy.
On the project website, Asgardia is envisioned as a "platform" to protect our planet against seven identified "space threats." Some of these threats are bona fide threats, but humanity isn't exactly sitting idly by just waiting for Asgardia to be launched to protect us.
The first space threat identified is "sun storms and flares, known as coronal mass ejections." Granted, space weather is a significant problem for communications satellites and solar storms have been known to knock out national power grids. Though we need to get better at understanding how the sun generates some of its most powerful flares and coronal mass ejections, space weather forecasters are currently pretty good at predicting when an event will happen and where its impact will be felt. Protocols are already in place and, although the sun may surprise us with an eruption that could disrupt my iPhone's emoji updates or jam air traffic communications, for the most part, we're on it.
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The same rationale goes for the "potentially dangerous asteroids and comets" threat they identify. We have observatories in space and on Earth right now detecting and tracking scary space rocks. As our technology and observing techniques improve, we're getting better at detecting these things. It's hard to see what Asgardia will do any different apart from building more observatories - which, in principle, would be great. But if they're thinking about building mega lasers or some other ordnance to vaporize incoming space rocks, I can't imagine the United Nations being cool about an orbiting weapon that could be used, potentially, to wipe out London, New York or Moscow. If the main premise behind Asgardia is the demilitarization of space - one of their founding principles - this would be a huge contradiction.