Why We Need a Decentralized Autonomous Space Agency

Everyone should have the chance to explore the stars.
July 27, 2017, 12:00pm
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Giulio Prisco is a futurist, theoretical physicist, and computer scientist. He writes about science, technology, and the future. He's also a cofounder of Space Cooperative.

Last month, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking called for re-igniting and accelerating the space program to "elevate humanity" and give people a sense of purpose. "I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth," he said.

I share Hawking's conviction that expanding beyond Earth is our cosmic destiny. But it's been 45 years since man last walked on the Moon. Surely there must be something wrong with the way the world is approaching space.


To me, what's wrong is that wealthy governments and corporations have a monopoly on the last frontier. Big government is only interested in gaining power, and big business is only interested in obtaining government contracts. I think there's another way to reach the stars. The new space makers aren't major businesses, and don't care about pleasing governments.

What we need is a decentralized space agency that leverages new technologies like crypto-payment systems and open distributed manufacturing.

After reading "How to Make a Spaceship — A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight," by Julian Guthrie, I longed to hack space hardware under clear Mojave skies in California. The nonfiction book tells the story of SpaceShipOne, the first nongovernmental manned spacecraft, which flew to space in 2004. SpaceShipOne was a good start, but I think we can do even better.

You see, not everyone lives in Mojave. What about that girl in the middle of an African state, or that Polynesian boy? If they look at the stars and want to get there, chances are they have something to contribute.

"To leave Earth demands a concerted global approach, everyone should join in," said Hawking. "We need to rekindle the excitement of the early days of space travel in the 60s."

In "A Virtual World Space Agency," I proposed ways to revitalize global enthusiasm for space and let everyone join in. I envisioned space makers all over the planet cooperating online, swapping designs for 3D-printed space hardware, and sharing test results. 3D printing is a truly innovative technology—today, it permits printing military-grade and space-qualified hardware, and tomorrow it could smoothly evolve into molecular nanotechnology. The road to 3D printing spacecraft is open.


How can this work in practice? By utilizing blockchain technology (yes, bitcoin and all that). I won't bore you with ethereum smart contracts, ICOs, and crypto-token economies—it's enough to say that modern crypto can enable open Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) with ultra-streamlined operations and smart mechanisms for fundraising and compensation.

This technology is exactly what is needed to allow a global community of space professionals and enthusiasts to efficiently collaborate on ambitious next-generation space projects. A Space DAO could reboot bitter wage slaves and turn them into enthusiastic freelancers on the road to the stars.

A few months ago I created a Facebook group to move the idea forward. The project is now part of Space Cooperative, a worker-owned cooperative that is developing a crowdsourced approach to settling the space frontier.

"Decentralization is the only way to truly create a global space agency," said Space Cooperative's co-founder Yalda Mousavinia in an interview over Facebook. "Such an agency can in fact unite humanity as we all learn to live and work in harmony, to reach the stars as is our destiny."

Yalda gave a talk at a recent virtual workshop, alongside science fiction superstar David Brin. The general spirit of the workshop was that new methods of social cooperation—such as DAOs and platforms for creating virtual worlds like High Fidelity—have an important role to play in our space futures.

One of Yalda's side projects, which is still on the drawing board, is a live-in Mojave desert community of space makers. But if you don't care for scorpions and snakes, you'll be able to join Space Cooperative virtually and actively participate in future space adventures.

I think an open, decentralized, crowdsourced space agency is an idea whose time has come. It will help us develop new ways to reach and settle far-away planets and beyond, and also new ways to work together here on Earth.