I just interviewed Peter Kleeman , Founder of the Space Age Museum and we discussed space travel; the culture, the possibilities and how it can open up the human imagination. With the recent SpaceX launch and Elon Musk at SXSW talking about the Mars colony its quite topical. I’ve written some notes below if you don’t have time to watch our entire video.
Peter seems as excited as I was about the recent SpaceX achievements. That day he was out doing things but rushed back to see the boosters simultaneously land. He said he was giggling. I think I was as well – what a sign of human ingenuity. The entrance of private companies into this sector has really accelerated the pace of development with SpaceX and Jeff Bezzos’ Blue Origin. It’s all bringing us closer to Mars.
But I think he agreed with me that putting the Star Man mannequin into a Roadster then launching it into space had cultural significance. Including lots of human history into the car as well as the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy etc was a ‘nod to Carl Sagan and the teams’. They put plaques on the Voyager and Pioneer probes to give information in case alien life encountered them.
I was almost crying with glee as I thought that symbolically we were putting a human at the epicentre of things in a time when many of us are a little uncertain of our place in the world, with transhumanism or the threat that we will all be replaced by robots. To me it seems that humanity just needs a good pep talk, and to be inspired as we were by the Apollo Mission.
Peter agreed that Apollo was a big turning a point. By going to space, and especially looking back at the earth, we gained new perspective and a new self-awareness. Our missions to Mars will have a similar effect. Peter is a large proponent of pushing frontiers and seems to like the phrase “we define the centre by exploring the edge”. Also a major endeavour like a Mars colony would be multi generational and not an escapist plan B. This forces us to think in larger scales of time and distance, which is exactly the kind of thinking we need for sustainability issues on Earth. Consumerism and the instant gratification culture has had a negative impact on our planet and ourselves. We now need to be very efficient in how we use our resources.
I brought up the point that some environmentalists might look at these launches in horror. My take is that first, the whole SpaceX exercise is about efficiency, such as the reusability of the rocket boosters. Second, technological advances that are made for space can be used here on Earth. Many scientists, such as James Lovelock, have said that much of the research on science at the ‘fringe’ is funded by the military. What if we locate some of our resources from our oversized war machine to our space programs? Then we might still get the benefits that usually come from military research, we would just be redirecting the Lockheed Martins etc of the world.
Peter agreed, saying it’s just like the swords to ploughs concept. He believes that – finally – in the last 50 years the concept of world peace has become plausible.
Peter wonders where we are in the bigger ‘cosmic calendar’. If you zoom out for a moment you will start to grasp the immensity of the universe and then how brief human existence has been. And then there is the history of spaceflight, which is less than 100 years. So where are we in this bigger arc?
It’s an excellent question, and really one of the core questions we are grappling with at the Emerging Future Institute. I tend to agree with James Lovelock that the evolutionary inflation we have experienced since the beginning of the Anthropocene, or industrial revolutions, has resulted in a lot of damaging side effects. So now we are being forced to become more imaginative. We are in a corner now, which might be a god thing.
I suggested that many wise sages have criticised humanity’s contradictions – that we can build 747s (and now space ships) but we cannot even find peace in our families. Peter says that issue comes up a lot. Where should we put our energy? And where should we put our resources. He thinks it’s not an either/or” but it should be an ‘yes and…’ combination . Of course it’s understandable that some will say ‘putting Tesla into space is such a waste, how many people could have been fed?’ However, at the time when Apollo was the largest budget ever, Americans spent more on cigarettes and cosmetics than taxpayer money spent on Apollo. So thats another perspective.
Furthermore the PR around NASA or even SpaceX was not clear enough, it still seems a bit elitist. It doesn’t touch people enough, but it could if presented more effectively. Star Man was a good step but it could have involved a sci fi writer and have been better framed with poetic context.
The question is how do we want to define ourselves: by our most audacious goals or by our failures? Some people question how many loaves of bread could be bought with that SpaceX money. In the interim people aren’t opening their homes for homeless or reducing their consumption. Do we want to be a space-faring species or just hold back until we have resolved all the other issues? It’s a “yes and” situation.
The way I personally look at it, is that we are on a planetary journey as well as an individual journey. I’ve been been inspired by Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Sometimes it requires us to travel far to find wisdom that might be close at hand. I am in South Korea at the moment. Monks would sit and meditate but also go on journeys – multi year – and then return with new found wisdom. So when I think about the planetary journey – it might not be just a bunch of billionaires trying to find a plan B. Perhaps this is what we need to do as a species.
Peter’s Space Age Museum is very interesting and very useful at this moment of human history. He says it is very much about that collective journey, from a post Space Age perspective. The museum started 30 years ago as a father-son hobby: Peter was fascinated by science fiction and his father loved antiques, as well as Flash Gordon. One day his father said let’s go and buy a space toy. They bought a $10 ray gun and that’s how the journey began. It all seemed important as they kept accumulating things from flying saucers to other Space Age artefacts. For family Christmas cards they often dressed up in space outfits, took photos and sent them out to family and friends. This eventually led them to getting asked to do exhibitions etc. They realised that no one else was doing this as other museums were more focused on just the technologies and not so much the culture. In fact it seemed there was no one that looked holistically at the culture in the way they saw it.
The largest item is a 50 foot rocket from the 1950s. They used to show movies in it.
I asked Peter whats the craziest item?
He said that there are lots of paintings and sculptures of UFO sighting. Then there is a 12 foot UFO made in 1970s by AL Thomas who had a spiritual vision that he should fly around and deliver food and bibles to the people. He was quite a well known local figure.
Peter took me a little off guard and jumped into his interest in Afro-futures. Black Panther has been getting a huge amount of attention back in New York. Society is really hungry for it.
I thought that was really fascinating. I am dying to see the film for multiple reasons. I recently went back to Africa partly because I had a strong intuitive feeling about its growing importance in terms of both the history (Southern Africa is increasingly being called the Cradle of Humankind) and the future of its civilisation. I went to Africa’s Stone Henge which some call Adam’s Calendar. I think Africa is the last continent to develop but this will go beyond just economics, I think African culture and civilisation has much to add to the globe and I am excited by the prospect.
Peter told me about some of his science fiction favourites and then I asked him what he thought about Space Odyssey 2001? He thinks its a real masterpiece. Its almost 50 years old but it still holds up, its so convincing. It just doesnt look dated. Its a nice mix of spiritual, the philosophical and the mysteries of the cosmos. – along with a bit of tech. And there is that slow haunting pace. But sometimes its a little slow. He tries to watch once per year also at the big screen in NYC.
I agree I think its quite meditative and visual. Perhaps were are not so used to that meditative pace in our modern society. I also thought it was interesting when he had to kill Hal, the ship’s AI. Apt when people nowadays are talking about AI taking over the world like Sky Net in Terminator.
Peter pointed out that the timeline of that move was intriguing – they portrayed the moon landing and Jupiter etc before the landings. Personally that blew my mind. The movie was made pre Apollo and the level of detail was mind blowing. I almost thought did these guys knew something. My inner conspiracy theorist thought that we might have already been to the moon before the movie was made! But perhaps he had all the details from speaking with the engineers working on the program. However, I heard an ex CIA agent say we already have a Mars colony with 10,000 people on it! There are military bases all over the world that the public doesnt know about, so could there be bases on other planets..?
I asked Peter about the iconic Foundation series? He said it made him think more deeply about Space Age Museum, in trying to create a resource for people in the future to see what we were doing at this time. The book is a little different from the other science fiction books – it was more political.
So where are we heading, I asked Peter
His predictions were:
I asked him. What about a forecast about space?? Michio Kaku says we are going to bypass Mars and go further to Alpha Centauri. He explained that those three predictions tie in to space. For example for long term inter-stellar travel, having a healthy relationship with bacteria is important. Anyway, Mars is going to happen soon especially with Elon Musk, The new space race is on Mars. It will be beneficial for us here with new tech. To go further out, though, we will need a bigger breakthrough. He hopes that such a breakthrough will eventually happen.
Then Peter brought up the issue of alien life (which I was going to ask him about anyway).Looking at the trend of information and the vernacular discourse on earth, there are enough trends to suggest that there is a thread of truth to the various alien encounters. ‘Within my lifetime, perhaps next decade, there could be an undeniable encounter or disclosure.’
I totally agree. I have lots of thoughts on that front.
[Afterwards he sent me this fascinating article about recent encounters by the military – https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/the-military-keeps-encountering-ufos-why-doesnt-the-pentagon-care/2018/03/09/242c125c-22ee-11e8-94da-ebf9d112159c_story.html?utm_term=.890f1b21c3a5
I am hoping that Peter and I will continue this discourse as we move toward becoming a multi-planetary species. You can read about the Space Age Museum here:
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