We know surprisingly little about juvenile dinosaurs, so every time a paleontologist uncovers a clutch of eggs or embryos, it is cause for celebration – at least until someone in the media gets hold of the story and asks The Dreaded Question: “Is Jurassic Park only a few years away?” or some variant thereof.
Being a member of said media, I am occasionally assigned one of these stories. And, although I don’t much care for sensationalism in science coverage, I’m generally too thrilled to be researching dinosaurs and cloning to complain very much. Instead, I see it as an opportunity to tell a deeper story, like this one.
“You know, you can see it for miles – goes on for miles, over the hills and everything. But, so does the M6. Do you know what I mean? You can see that for miles. And you go, ‘Great. And that does a job. You can drive on that.’” Thus did an unimpressed Karl Pilkington of An Idiot Abroad describe the Great Wall of China, allegedly the only manmade object visible from space.
Which raises and interesting question: Why can’t you see the British M6 motorway from space? Or can you? For that matter, can you actually see the Great Wall?
Like international waters, space is a commons usable by all but owned by none; but, unlike any earthly commons, space borders every country on the planet, and actual or metaphorical fallout from an incident there could spoil days — or destroy lives — anywhere on Earth.
So, who watches the spacemen? And what laws or treaties exist to protect us all? The answers might surprise you.
History is so replete with property swindles that we still have jokes about them. The phrase, “if you believe that, then I’ve got a bridge to sell you” derives from a favorite dodge of turn-of-the-century confidence men like George C. Parker, who sold the Brooklyn Bridge multiple times — along with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Statue of Liberty and Grant’s Tomb. Selling Florida swamp land, a favorite scam of the early 20th century, continues to this day.
Scan the internet, and you’ll quickly find a half-dozen companies ready to sell you your very own piece of space property, starting with the moon. In this article, I ask whether anyone can actually own our nearest neighbor, or if all these companies are exchanging for your green is a load of green cheese.
While Russian launches fail by the dozen, threatening operations aboard the International Space Station, and the American space program stalls amid political wrangling, China is building its own space laboratory, growing its satellite network, expanding its crewed space program, upgrading its launch facilities, improving its lift vehicles and laying the foundations for a moon shot. Are we witnessing the dawn of Chinese dominance in space?