We’ve seen quite a bit of NASA in the news recently. The latest photos of Pluto rattled up considerable excitement — and why not? The celestial body was dead not too long ago, heartlessly stripped of its 9th planet status. Now it’s back with a vengeance.
NASA made headlines again on Friday, when it announced a watershed mission to Europa, the icy moon of Jupiter that many scientists believe could harbor life in the oceans under its glacial surface.
Last year, coinciding with the cinematically poignant, if not propagandistic film, The Martian, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) unveiled its “Visions of the Future” project, a set of 14 posters meant to instill a new generation of Americans with a renewed interest in traveling to other planets and moons in the solar system and beyond.
The posters, made by the design company Invisible Creature, are fascinating. They depict a future in which advanced space travel has allowed humans to freely hop around the solar system; it is intrasolar space tourism of the highest order.
One particularly beautiful poster features humans in advanced hot air balloons touring Jupiter. The description reads:
The Jovian cloudscape boasts the most spectacular light show in the solar system, with northern and southern lights to dazzle even the most jaded space traveler. Jupiter’s auroras are hundreds of times more powerful than Earth’s, and they form a glowing ring around each pole that’s bigger than our home planet.
Other posters include an illustrative future history of Mars exploration; a journey through the clouds of Venus; a boat ride on Titan’s rivers and lakes of liquid ethane and methane; an undersea exhibit of the life forms under the ice of Europa; exoplanets with red vegetation; a dark orphan planet flying through the galaxy without a sun (“where the nightlife never ends”), and many more.
The posters are undeniably inspired and sure to delight space buffs, science fiction fans, and children alike. More than a few people have noticed the strangely propagandistic feel of the posters. One writer even compared them aesthetically to the Atomic Age posters from the 20th century.
One of the artists responsible for creating the posters admitted the influence. “We were inspired by vintage travel posters, WPA-type posters from the 1930s and then all the way up to mid-century modern— 1940s, 1950s, 1960s,” he said.
There is certainly no denying that while these posters have an altruistic goal of getting a new generation interested in space travel, they are also greasing the wheels for new NASA budget proposals and the new age of the space-industrial complex. The agency, which many mistakenly believe has been on essential furlough since the moon landings, has actually been prolific in recent years, with unmanned missions to Jupiter, Pluto, and Mars. Currently, NASA is running very exciting, groundbreaking projects, including JUNO, DAWN, and the New Horizons mission to Pluto, which garnered over 10 million visits to the NASA government homepage.
Despite the recent fantastic recent discoveries and NASA’s robust social media presence, there has been the perception that the agency’s missions have become “boring.” Rocket launches barely even make the news these days, and, until this decade, the only space endeavors that truly got people talking were images from Mars and speculation about life there. Many believed space travel was dead.
That is the perception NASA wants to overcome. Movies like The Martian — which NASA influenced heavily — and the “Visions of the Future” space tourism posters can be seen as ambitious moves to get the public excited about space exploration again. An excited public is a powerful leveraging tool for requesting more funds.
Some have noted that efforts by NASA to infiltrate popular culture are nothing new. The agency launched an entire series of novels called “NASA-Inspired Works of Fiction,” for which they conscripted science fiction authors to produce novels amenable to the new eclectic age of federally sponsored space travel. One of these novels, William Forstchen’s 2014 science fiction novel, Pillar to the Sky, for example, argues that bureaucratic slashes to the NASA budget are one of the biggest threats to humanity.
For the record, this is a textbook example of a psychological operation (psyop) — or a planned operation by the government meant to manipulate public opinion. Specifically, this would be classified as a “white psyop,” which is an official statement or act associated with a government source. To put it bluntly, it’s the nicest form of propaganda, as contrasted with grey and black psyops, which use varying gradations of subterfuge and covert operations. There are thousands of psyops being conducted around the world, some acknowledged, some top secret with classified government budgets.
The release of both the “Visions of the Future” series and The Martian coincided with NASA’s request of $19 billion to fund a manned mission to Mars. The request comes at a time when NASA is increasingly partnering with private companies to bolster the United States space apparatus. Earlier this year, the agency issued massive contracts to three companies — SpaceX, Orbital ATK, and Sierra Nevada Corporation — that will complete six cargo resupply missions for International Space Station (ISS) by 2024.
SpaceX, of course, is run by Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, who has openly said he wants the company to help enable the colonization of Mars. Last year, the company released its own Mars propaganda posters. Over the weekend, the company made headlines by successfully launching and delivering the first inflatable room for astronauts.
Orbital ATK is an American aerospace manufacturer and defense industry company that produces tactical missiles, defense electronics, and medium and large-caliber ammunition.
Sierra Nevada Corporation is an electronic systems provider and systems integrator specializing in microsatellites, telemedicine, and commercial orbital transportation services. In addition to the NASA contract, the United States Army contracted them to manufacture Mobile Tower Systems (MOTS) and help fund Gorgon Stare, a remotely controlled, aircraft-based Wide-Area Persistent Surveillance (WAPS) system. Since 2006, the United States military has awarded the company 65 contracts, totaling nearly $3 trillion.
That NASA’s functions are interwoven with the military-industrial complex should come as no surprise. Since its inception, the Pentagon has controlled the agency through an oversight committee, with the open goal of utilizing the space between Earth and the moon for strategic military operations. Space is widely considered to be the next frontier of warfare. The militarization of space in the coming decades will see tactical satellites capable of launching nukes, disarming weapons, and collecting vast amounts of surveillance data. Noam Chomsky calls it one of the biggest threats facing humanity.
How does this connect back to the “Visions of the Future” posters? To be fair, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting excited about space. We live in an incomprehensibly large universe with billions of galaxies, each one containing billions, and even trillions of stars. Our species has finally stepped off its front porch and is looking to venture out into the cosmos. While some might question whether the human species is safe — both to ourselves and others — leaving its home, we must colonize other planets in order to ensure the long-term survival of the species. We’re set to render our home planet uninhabitable, but that doesn’t mean splinter groups of humans might not someday live sustainably on a colony world (think big, folks!).
Though we are likely centuries away from traveling to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, there is a very real chance we will explore other planets in the solar system in the coming decades. As we rekindle our excitement about space, let’s keep in mind that NASA’s space technology will also allow us to wage wars and engage in planetary surveillance. With great promise comes great peril. As with artificial intelligence, biotechnology and countless other burgeoning fields with revolutionary potential, we must proceed with great caution. With space, especially, we must carefully consider the people to whom we’ve entrusted our explorations — or the human race could end up like George Clooney’s character in Gravity, metaphorically speaking.
This article (NASA’s Propaganda Campaign Wants You to Embrace the Militarization of Space) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Jake Anderson and theAntiMedia.org. Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. Image credit: NASA/SpaceX. If you spot a typo, email [email protected].