I watched Apollo 11 one arms-length from the B&W TV screen. Grew up on Heinlein. The libertarian screed "Moon is a Harsh Mistress" was my favourite.

But you're right, of course. A weird thing is that Heinlein also did a short-story about "Coventry" where the libertarians could all go to be shut of Big Government - and the place was basically run by its organized crime, crudely feudal, which was the realistic picture for how the prison Moon would actually be in the novel 20 years later. (Never think you've nailed Heinlein's own views; he contained multitudes.)

This isn't the reason to be eye-rolling about planetary colonization, though: you'd never get that far. The technical issues are so large that everybody will give up "colonization" after some eventual Mars-base shows no sign of being anything but a giant money drain.

As Charlie Stross says, call me about space colonization when Antarctica is full.

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Charles is right (and I hope to have him in person in these pages soon)

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I read "Moon is a Harsh Mistress" as a Marxist novel. Wasn't it about the workers seizing the means of production? Maybe it was just the 1970s when I read it.

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On the Internet, beware sarcasm, people will take it seriously without winks and grins to telegraph it.

But, if you're serious: no. Note sentence #2 about it:


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That's just a statement with nothing to back it up. If I remember the story correctly, the moon was a sort of penal colony, sort of like Australia, but it was strictly controlled by earth even though the people living their thought of themselves as moon citizens. Eventually, they rebelled, took over the moon colony and threatened earth if they attempted to retake the colony. That's roughly the plot of dozens of Marxist themed novels and movies. When I read it, it reminded me of the Battleship Potemkin with its ill treated sailors.

One can flat out assert that the story reflects libertarian ideals, as Wikipedia does, but the revolt, as described in the book, was fundamentally collectivist, and the exigencies of the lunar colony would enforce that. Maybe the cost of air would be spread more widely, but if one wanted air, one was going to have to get it from whatever they were using to produce and recycle air on the colony. There was no talk of privatization. The moon people wanted to control their own collective destiny, not fragment the colony and monetizing its assets.

It's a lot like Elon Musk's proposed Mars colony which some say offers a possibility as a libertarian paradise, but as many critics have pointed out, Mars lacks breathable air, drinkable water, tillable soil, radiation shielding and a host of other amenities we take for granted on Earth. Anyone living on Mars is going to be beholden to Elon Incorporated for things like air, water, food and basic safety. Who is going to be running the place? That's rather obvious, Musk and his minions. That is not the formula for a libertarian paradise. In fact, one can imagine a revolt on Mars against Elon Inc. not all that different from the one in Heinlein's book and the goal would not be to form a more perfect libertarian paradise, at least not if the rebels have any intention of breathing.

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You may want to edit the wikipedia page, then. Or take part in this discussion on stackexchange:


All the best.

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Not sure space bros have yet grappled with the fact that the most efficient solution to founder effect genetic disorders in their colony would be to import gametes from Earth such that none of the offspring would be genetically theirs (exploring this in my sci fi novel). It ranks high up alongside the near-ubiquitous ignorance of how much radiation sucks without a protective magnetic field and atmosphere. Seen estimates that daily dose on Mars is anywhere from 20-100x that of Earth (approximately same as being on ISS) — you'd have to shield those imported gametes pretty well to survive long term.

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I'm really enjoying this, but I'd like to offer a bit of a counterpoint. Until well after 1950 it seemed entirely reasonable to assume that the steady improvement in transport technology since the rise of the steam engine would continue to the point where space travel would be as cheap and easy as air travel has become in reality. For the average person, the breaking of the sound barrier presaged a similar breakthrough with respect to the speed of light (the Einsteinian understanding of why this isn't possible was new, and still not fully established).

And little enough was known about Venus in particular to leave open the possibility that it would have a breathable atmosphere.

Finally, worries about overpopulation, which play a big role in the current rhetoric of space colonization, weren't a big deal until the 1960s.

With all these assumptions, there was no need for a complex rationale for going to other planets - it just seemed like an obvious thing to do. For people who grew up at the time, like me, it took a long while and a fair bit of thinking to get away from this mindset.

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Exactly what Ray Brander said in the last two paras. In fact, I was pointed here in response to a Mastodon post where I made the point about Antarctica.

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