A Phoenix-based collective of hackers, engineers, scientists and artists have a potent message for the President. But this isn’t an ordinary message. Channeling the late Apollo Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, they have chosen to send it from Earth’s stratosphere–where the world can be seen against the stark backdrop of the cosmos.
“You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch,’” said Mitchell when remembering his time on the Moon. Calling themselves the Autonomous Space Agency Network (ASAN), the diverse group boasts a rocket scientist among them and are claiming their successful mission is the first protest in space. The Observer reached out to ASAN Director General Laika Valentina via email to find out how the unique project came together.
Why is there a tweet in space?
The Autonomous Space Agency Network flew a tweet to the edge of space to send a message of protest to Donald Trump, who is looking to gut NASA’s earth science program, which is invaluable to understanding climate change. President Trump loves to spout his opinion and policy decisions on Twitter, so we figured the best way to get our message to him was on his platform of choice. The Aphrodite 1 mission was planned as an act of solidarity with the upcoming March for Science.
How did it get there?
The tweet was attached to the Aphrodite launch vehicle, which was created by autonauts at a hackerspace in Phoenix, Arizona. The Aphrodite vehicle was attached to a weather balloon that was filled with helium gas.
How far up did the ‘protest’ get?
We lost our signal at around 90,000 feet. Simulations run before the mission estimated that the balloon would reach a maximum altitude of 97,000 feet, just below the Karman line. The tech on board the Aphrodite 1 mission was minimal but subsequent missions this fall will use radio telemetry rather than a simple GPS device, so we’ll have much more accurate data.
What exactly are you trying to say to Trump?
By refusing to acknowledge the reality of human-fueled climate change, he is putting the lives of all crew members on spaceship Earth at considerably greater risk. When the car’s on fire, that’s not the time to turn up the tunes, roll down the windows and go for a joyride.
Can you tell us a little about your space program?
ASAN is a world-wide network of community-based, DIY space exploration programs. We are overturning the corporate and military monopoly on space exploration by bridging the gap between scientific discovery and artistic expression. One of the fundamental beliefs of ASAN is that everybody is always already an astronaut, or “autonaut.” ASAN is the space program you already belong to. We’re here to show the world that space is not just for generals, autocrats and boy billionaires.
We are inspired by the work of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts. Everything we do is open source, copyleft. ASAN is a network of independent space agencies that is decentralized by design. We believe that we can’t say that we’ve truly entered the ‘space age’ until outer space is demilitarized, democratic and accessible to all autonauts.
What other missions are you guys planning?
Right now we are focusing our efforts on the Aphrodite Balloon Program, which is a new space exploration paradigm focused on love, pleasure, and sexual exploration. This fall we’ll be sending our first yonic payload to the edge of space.
How are you funding this?
As part of ASAN’s commitment to remaining free of corporate or military influence, missions will always be funded through donations. To fund Aphrodite 1, we hosted a punk show in Phoenix and made $10. The rest (about $500 all told) was funded through donations from local autonauts.
Robin Seemangal has been reporting from the newsroom at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for the last two years for Observer with bylines also in Popular Science and Wired. He does in-depth coverage of SpaceX launches as well as Elon Musk’s mission to send humans to Mars. Robin has appeared on BBC, Russia Today, NPR‘s Are We There Yet Podcast and radio stations around the world to discuss space exploration.