Strategic Corporate Expansion in 2016
oogle will start a new space race by New Years
Eve of 2016. The company is sponsoring the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a $20 million dollar purse offered to an independently funded organization that can land an unmanned rover on the moon before this deadline. Though it sounds like a modest start, Google’s slogan for the initiative is the sinister pun, “back to the moon: for good.” Aside from suggesting a role in the progress of mankind, the slogan indicates Google’s intention to establish permanent settlement on the celestial body. Peter Diamandis, chairman and CEO of XPRIZE, sees the moon as an imminent opportunity for “massive profit.” He predicts that in the next fifty years, with the help of Google, “private tourism to space will become a functional, real-life opportunity. Privately financed human research outposts will be common sights in the night sky and on the moon. We will be witness to the first births in space. Mining operations will spring up on the Moon. Asteroids will be claimed for their natural resources.” And he seems quite serious.
Google’s vision for the project is made clear, even hallucinatory, in a documentary titled Back to the Moon...For Good, made available on Google’s video streaming site, YouTube.com, as well as in screenings at a planetarium near you. The film situates Google in a rich and noble history of human exploration, comparing itself to both the Kennedy Administration and the British Empire of the 18th century. But Google insists it will go further. While space programs of the past century failed to make lasting impacts (Google accuses Apollo hardware of sitting ‘abandoned for more than forty years now’), it hopes to initiate more permanent moves to the moon.
This potential future is illustrated as the film evolves from an explanation of the Lunar XPRIZE to an animated fantasy of future moon settlement. The scene opens with a couple of humans coming upon a monument to the winning rover of the Lunar X Prize that started it all:
[child’s voice, muffled by space suit]
“I can’t believe how far we had to walk, but we found it!”
[Another voice, young male, similarly muffled]
“and still in the same spot where it won the x prize!”
“huh, I thought it would be...bigger.
“hey, it had some tough competition to win the prize. Sometimes smaller is better!”
As an ominous soundtrack swells, the scene then pans through a lunar colony, where humans in pressure suits roam through a solar array, and tractor-trailer-sized rovers transport mate- rial across the lunar surface. With a few more inspiring words from narrator Tim Allen (who at several points in the script very nearly says “to infinity and beyond”), the video’s credits begin to scroll, complete with bonus footage of cheering children.
As it proclaims in Back to the Moon...For Good, Google intends to “lead the way—not just to the moon, but from the present into the future.” Since it has encouraged us to think of the future, and to imagine space exploration not as science fiction but as impending reality, we venture here to imagine the potential outcomes of the 400 billion-dollar company’s intervention in the space industry. Google has made clear its intentions of “growth, expansion and vast wealth creation” as a result of lunar colonization. Should they succeed? What are the consequences of such influence in the company’s hands? As a corporation that profits from the data mass of consumer culture, and therefore an entity to which we already license a great deal of power, what do we make of this?
The following is a dialogue between Lunar Insurrection's architects to expand upon these speculations:
It’s so fitting that it’s Google undertaking this, on a number of levels. First of all, they’re the company that deals in information, in intellectual agency. And colonizing the moon is a sort of strange process of turning intellectual property into actual property. The moon is no more than an idea right now; it’s not a real place. It’s only as real to most people as the rendering we see on Google Moon.
Speaking of Google moon, I can only imagine the seeds of this being planted at Google . . . They’re probably all around the computer (on bean bag chairs) looking at the Google Moon site, and somebody says ‘well, it’s not very exciting is it. Not very hi-def . . . aren’t really any buildings you can zoom in on. There should be some more stuff up there by now—we should put some stuff up there!”
And of course, they’re one of the only ones with the type of money who could actually do it; the era of national space programs has floundered—that’s something they rail on in the documentary, saying that the next space race will be privately funded.
And they’re the organization with that type of “vision---” they’re thought of as the most forward thinking. They preach the democratic, collective right to information.
Yes, I even love the name ‘Google’ in this sense, how it’s galactic in scope. That’s the whole idea of the name, the sense of infinity and unlimited potential. It referred to the search engine, I suppose, but what are the greatest limits of our imagination but the colonization of outer space? It’s something that’s been a collective fantasy for so long.
There’s an interesting allegory here with the development of the Internet actually, where one’s a type of frontier explored in the last several decades, and the other is a frontier for the coming decades.
Well it’s the same type of paradigm shift in motion. The Internet changed everyone’s perspective on ideas of physical borders, instigating globalization and an entire virtual culture . . . And now Google is trying to expand our borders again in a terrestrial sense! They want to turn something we’ve only thought of as science fiction into a real possibility.
Is it at all concerning that the company that has such a hand in our intake of information is now trying to generate new information? How could this affect our daily lives?
I suppose it is difficult for us to even evaluate the role they’re playing, because the level of influence they have on people is so unprecedented in a way. I mean, most of the research we’ve done on the moon has been through Google… it’s hard to step outside of it.
Yes, Google’s hardly just a company or a service, it’s a way of knowing the world. It gives us a majority of our access to information. And people’s trust in that relies on the fact that they are so demo…. Such a “trustworthy” company….
Well that’s where things get a little sinister I think, actually. The chairman of the Lunar X Prize likes to refer to the project as ‘Moon 2.0.’ They mean it in the sense that they hope to outdo past space programs, but doesn’t that clearly evoke the idea of ‘Web 2.0?’ Web 2.0 being the term for, in many ways, the commercialization of the Internet. What does it mean for Google to commercialize the moon? What would their intentions be in colonizing it?
The Back to the Moon film states that pretty explicitly, going on about the moon’s great potential for “growth, expansion, and vast wealth creation.” That language sounds pretty imperial to me! So we have to weigh the potential outcomes of whom that wealth and expansion would benefit, whether we would sign off on it.
I can’t see there being much of anything but enthusiasm if Google were to initiate a new space race. Google, as we said, is perceived so highly. Thus far it’s just done a terrific job providing us with all these free services, they seem to do good in the world. If there are consequences of Google, they’re hardly as quantifiable as those of, say, the US military--or NAFTA.
Yes—wouldn’t you say that plenty of people have more faith in Google than in the government? Imagine what a different narrative this would be if it were the US Government stating that it was going to colonize the moon. Not only would people accuse it of—as usual—making presumptuous interventions abroad, but there would be tax riots! The public simply wouldn’t fund that right now.
I mean this does all come down to money---the reason it’s not the US government making these claims is because it doesn’t have the same kind of capital. I’m sure NASA would love to set up permanent bases on the moon, if it had the budget. I know China has stated intentions for a lunar base too, but nothing’s come of it. Rather, it’s a massive corporation like Google that does have that kind of capital today, rather than world power governments—another kind of paradigm shift.
I’m not convinced it is so different though. Being at the forefront of space technology and space exploration would give Google power---power like the US military has had power. That was what the initial space race was all about after all; it was the United States demonstrating its power. If Google were to settle the moon, it would become a colonial power, not so different from a nation.
Of course, I can picture it now! Imagine the Lunar X Prize succeeds, generates lots of excitement and funding, and Google establishes its own space program, ‘Google Space’ (complete with bean bag chairs). They could poach engineers from NASA no problem.
That would probably create tension with the government. I think they’d begin to feel a little threatened . . . But what’s to stop Google from then saying—“Fuck It. We’re moving to the Moon.”
A lunar headquarters? . . . that’s certainly poetic. And terrifying.
Yes, poetic considering that, of course, the Internet itself already resides in outer space, transmitted via satellites in orbit.
True, and the moon itself is also a satellite.
Picture the press release: ‘this isn’t an American company anymore, it’s a lunar company. Please, impose sanctions. Please send a tax collector.’
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