A space-bound utopia or bizarre ego trip from a millionaire scientist? Russ Swan fails to get to the bottom of Asgardia…
Great news for those exercised by the announcement of the 'space nation', Asgardia, first discussed in Lab News back in 2016. Then, our esteemed editor Phil confessed that he didn't quite know what to make of this eccentric project: a new country in space, with a constitution to hold knowledge, intelligence, and science at its core.
Asgardia is the brainchild of billionaire scientist (those are two words rarely seen next to each other) Igor Ashurbeyli. His vision is for a fully-fledged independent nation in orbit, extending to settlements on the moon and vast Golgafrincham space arks traversing the solar system. It would ensure the peaceful use of space, protect Earth from 'space hazards', and create a demilitarised scientific knowledge base.
Only days before the 25 June inauguration of Ashurbeyli as the leader of the nation, with his optimistic proclamation about demilitarisation, the leader of a rather more tangible state announced the actual militarisation of space. Trump's Space Force, as easy to ridicule as Asgardia, does at least come from a place that exists. Plus it has rockets and stuff.
This raises the alarming prospect of the peace-loving space nation being at war before it even exists.
Asgardia-1 is destined to burn up on re-entry in the next few months, saving the Trumponauts the bother of shooting it down.
Asgardia is not completely devoid of real estate. True to his 2016 promise, Ashurbeyli launched a satellite in November 2017. The fledgling state's first foothold in the final frontier is a two-unit CubeSat, a commercial nanosatellite about the size of a loaf of bread (10x10x20cm), containing a 500Gb hard drive. On this are copies of the constitution plus documents and images contributed by some of the 100,000 early adopters of space citizenship.
The official excuse for this is an experiment in the reliability of data in the high radiation environment of space. For those early citizens it is probably more of a laugh, being able to say that their picture is currently in orbit. Nasa pulled a similar stunt as the Space Shuttle programme drew to a close, with its Face in Space project (my own mugshot flew on Endeavour in 2011).
Asgardia-1 is destined to burn up on re-entry in the next few months, saving the Trumponauts the bother of shooting it down. But this is just the beginning for the space kingdom.
Hang on a millisecond – kingdom? Asgardia describes itself as a kingdom, not a republic, so the glorious leader must be King Igor. King Igor of Outer Space. This has a certain ring to it.
Like any monarch, King Igor is much too important for the day to day business of actually running a country. For that there is a 140-member parliament, chosen by a bizarre electoral system that allows citizens to vote for as many candidates as they want to.
All citizens are eligible to become members of the cosmic parliament as long as they accept the constitution and are at least 40 years old. So who, among all the candidates, has King Igor appointed as his head of parliament, the first prime minister of space?
Heavens above, it's none other than our old friend former MP Lembit Opik.
According to his own manifesto, Opik's most important qualifications for the job are that he was born in Northern Ireland and his grandfather was a famous astronomer. Being a British MP for 13 years ranks only fifth, slightly ahead of his private pilot's licence. His tabloid-friendly love life including high-profile relationships with a Cheeky Girl and a TV meteorologist are, thankfully, not included.
Surely, though, the backing of somebody who – behind the scurrilous headlines – remains a serious politician must auger well for the new nation?
Perhaps King Igor has never heard of the Curse of Lembit. As a high-profile LibDem MP, Opik backed Tom Foster in the party's 1999 leadership contest. He was one of only two who did so (and the other was not even Foster, who voted for Charles Kennedy). In 2006 Opik supported Kennedy, who promptly stood down. He transferred his support to, and became campaign manager for, Mark Oaten – who promptly stood down. He supported Jenny Randerson in 2008 for leadership of the Welsh party. She lost. In his 13 years as an MP, Opik backed the wrong candidate four times out of five (the exception being Nick Clegg; make of that what you will).
Welcome to Asgardia, the spacefaring nation that definitely isn’t a personal ego trip for a billionaire and which is absolutely not destined to merely repeat the failures of the home planet.