Text by Göksu Kunak

19.06.2018

Space Travels: Colonies on Mars, Zero Gravity; Poetry and Speculative Fiction

While I’m having my morning coffee and killing time with my dog partner on the couch, caressing each other, checking time-consuming posts and dating sites—having some start up ideas for queer dating sites and getting lazy after the enthusiastic moment— and thinking about my precarious life, some people are working hard to reach far away destinations(!). Deep-space Rocket Intertank has already been loaded for shipment, and NASA has tested the Atomic Clock for Deep Space Navigation (check the webpage of NASA Space Travels section). Virgin Galactic is not the name of a spacecraft from your favorite sci-fi movie: it’s a spaceflight company!

Virgin Galactic’s purpose is to “grow and evolve” by exploring the unknown. According to Virgin, the need to push boundaries and the desire to explore space is an ultimate expression of the modern life. Apparently, Virgin Galactic “recognizes that the answers to many of the challenges we face in sustaining life on our beautiful but fragile planet, lie in making better use of space.” We fucked it up here. It’s not the weapons being constantly renegotiated, it’s not the fossil fuel subsidies agreements of the nation states; it’s, you know, the planet itself that is fragile. We should leave to sustain the fragile planet. Let’s leave instead of changing our attitudes. The ones who cannot make it to there? Well, is it my problem?

I imagine a space with lots of plastic bags hovering in between the meteors—various tones of pink, blue, a strong white of the stars and planets, and the cold white, green and blue of the plastic in harmony. (Interestingly, a couple of days after I wrote these lines I read the poem Promotional Material by Eileen Myles and saw that the poet has the same concern as well:

…The
planet is
old. & there’s
no way to get
rid of this
plastic. & we’re
shooting the
shit into space.
I used to
want to
go into space. For
what? To
see all this
garbage floating
by…)

The first spaceship by Virgin Galactic is VSS Unity, and the pronoun chosen for it is her. I wonder why they thought that the spaceship is a female? She is beautiful; her thin silver skin sparkles. All the male pilots, who were dreaming of becoming astronauts since the age of 9, are driving her successfully. Open her door, enter; push her buttons and let her take off!

In the video showing the first flight test of the VSS Unity, the camera focuses on a man. For a moment, I think this person is the curator Chris Dercon! No way?! But no, he’s the owner of the Virgin Galactic, Sir Richard Branson. Google it; they look alike.

Apparently, the Zero Gravity Company gives you the feeling of weightlessness with a Boeing 727 by diving into the sky. Space hotels are about to welcome their guests.

“Earthrise" 1968. Credits: Bill Anders. Courtesy of NASA / Public Domain
“Earthrise" 1968. Credits: Bill Anders. Courtesy of NASA / Public Domain

“From space, we are able to look with a new perspective both outward and back. From space, the borders that are fought over on Earth are arbitrary lines. From space, it is clear that there is much more that unites than divides us.” Virgin Galactic declares such travel to be a democratic experience, however, the tickets are extremely expensive. The weightlessness journey that takes place in our atmosphere costs $5000. The others will cost tens of thousands of dollars. I wonder what would have happened if they had spent this money on building better spaces for the refugees. Well, maybe they could have even taken them to Mars to build a colony?!

The only democratic thing that I know so far in this world is crying.

The private market mesmerizes me. I sometimes think that the self-confidence they have and the belief in their actions exceeds my Muslim grandmother’s belief in Allah. How dare they dream of taking the Red Planet in control? You’ve already gendered the poor planets; why bring your shitty idea(l)s to those vast golden lands?

Space X, another commercial spaceflight company promises to fly people to Mars in 10 years to generate a self-sustainable colony. Well, don’t feel happy; you have to be rich to live on Mars. The tickets will be approximately $500.000, “roughly the cost of a middle-class house in California.” The CEO Elon Musk thinks that “enough people would choose to sell all their stuff and move to Mars.” Well, if I sell everything I own, I can’t even buy the trip to the zero gravity.

The codename of the project is BFR. Funny enough, after starting to write these lines, and google more about Musk, two different posts about the CEO have popped up on my Facebook feed. Scary but true: algorithms.

To be honest, I didn’t know about the possibility of such travels until CA Conrad mentioned it at the writing workshop at KW Berlin. The poet has such a relationship with the sky, the planets, and desires to travel to space.

GK: What is your dream space-travel destination?

CA Conrad: Something Inside. It is always about poetry with me. A puddle can reflect the entire sky, and I enjoy being in the sky. Would enjoy going beyond the sky.

GK: Why exactly do you want to go there?

CA Conrad: Because I do not believe in God or Heaven. I believe our ancestors did come from the sky as many religions suggest, but maybe not for the reasons we have hoped. I have met numerous people who have been abducted and none of their stories are joyous.

GK: Are you afraid and if yes how do you deal with that fear?

CA Conrad: I’ve had so much fear on Earth as a queer person. Fear of the police after my boyfriend was murdered, fear of reprisals, persecution. In the United States, there are currently dozens of new anti-LGBTQ laws for our new elections. All of this fear has prepared me for the courage to go anywhere else, as it can't possibly be worse.

GK: Which crystals do you plan to bring with you?

CA Conrad: Only clear quartz, which is an absorbent crystal, collecting feelings, experiences, until they become libraries of a time.

GK: Have you ever written a poem about this desire?

CA Conrad: All of them in a way. I will share my newest one which begins with flight.

I’m reading Maggie Nelson’s Bluets and inevitably blue makes me think of the sky. The color of the Earth. The astronaut Bill Anders took a photo of the Earth in 1968, during the Apollo 8 mission, the first voyage to the Moon. Earthrise is the first color photo of the Earth taken from space.

Skies… Such a pity that you cannot travel to the space because of the pressure problem in your ear. I know how important that journey would have been for you, I know your obsession with the stars, the Milky Way. You believe that this travel will be an answer to your spiritual questions. However, think about it: there are people who cannot even travel in the world because they don’t have the necessary papers. The passport they have cannot even take them 10 km away from the camp.

Halil Altındere, Space Refugee, solo exhibition at n.b.k. Berlin, 2016, Photo: CHROMA Courtesy the artist and Pilot Gallery, Istanbul

The exhibition Space Refugee (15 September-16 November 2016) at Neuer Berliner Kunstverein Berlin by Halil Altındere was a speculative fiction story. Reminiscent of Marie Antoinette’s renowned declaration, “Let them eat cake,” Altındere mockingly proposed a new settlement for refugees on Mars. The video Space Refugee (2016), The Architectural Design for Mars Refugee Colony (2016) by the Istanbul-based architecture office Autoban, and the 360-degree video viewed through VR goggles, Journey to Mars (2016), contemplated possibilities of sending the refugees to Mars, to start a new colony.

The fight between the U.S. astronauts and the Russian cosmonauts is a well-known fairy tale. However, until Altındere’s show, I had no idea about the Syrian cosmonaut Muhammed Ahmed Faris, the protagonist of the Space Refugee. As a part of the Soviet space programme Interkosmos, Faris flew to the Mir station on Soyuz TM-3 in 1987. Some years ago, he illegally escaped to Turkey and is now sharing his knowledge at the space education center Ali Kuşçu Space House in Istanbul.

Halil Altındere, Space Refugee, solo exhibition at n.b.k. Berlin, 2016, Photo: CHROMA Courtesy the artist and Pilot Gallery, Istanbul

I think the artist missed one important point in this speculative fiction: Time.

Time is a political element; it’s a gun. Whether be it modernity or post-whatever-world, time is the 6th element—remember CA Conrad’s answer about collecting “the feelings and experiences, the libraries of a time”? For instance, I was one of the future mothers of the nation of Turks. When I was sitting on the ceramic or the concrete as a teenager, even women that I didn’t know used to come to me and warn that I might get cold and lose my ability to give birth in the future. I, as the educated Turk, had to reproduce and make sure that the future of the Republic is safe. I no longer count as the future, as I give up being a heterosexual woman. As a queer person, I don’t have any value in that future. Lee Edelman points out the importance of neglecting the future as queers, as future building and the linear understanding of time as past, present, and future is crucial for the narration of normativity. José Esteban Muñoz, however, asks a critical question: What about Afrofuturism? I agree with Edelman, but I also believe in the power of writing a new future to undo and perplex the normative violent past(s). And similar to Muñoz, instead of the 20 year-plans of Germany, I would like to learn what the grandma in the refugee camp plans to do when she’s out.

I wonder how it would be if Altındere has focused more on the creation of time on Mars as well as the dwellings because he had the power to rewrite a whole new world for the sake of the refugees.

After the countdown to Mars, how will the refugees or the new privileged colonies create a new time zone? What is a present in space? “After all, regarding the forced vagrancy and the days spent in limbo with a blurry future, aren't refugees already on some kind of Mars?”

“I’m very interested in, of course, going to Mars… but first I’d really love to understand the creatures here better…let’s see, the language of the birds…” Laurie Anderson

I’m not done with the world, yet. I need to let go of the items I’m carrying from my past. I tend to think twice when I travel to another place. When the machine I’m in bringing me to another destination begins to move, a hole in me jumps; I feel a moment of breathlessness. Then I see the white carpet. I am mesmerized by its beauty; the sips of prosecco make me high, protruding to the sky with the velocity of a plastic machine.

I’m scared of the space. And when I see the photo Earthrise, I feel trapped. From time to time, like in the Truman Show, I feel as if there is something beyond this world and I need to be somewhere else. However, the other possibility is an infinity: space. Infinity is another trap for my soul.

Have you seen the images of Jupiter taken by the Juno Spacecraft? It’s like…Van Gogh.

CAConrad is the author of 9 books of poetry and essays. While Standing in Line for Death (Wave Books), received the 2018 Lambda Award. A recipient of a Pew Fellowship in the Arts, they also received The Believer Magazine Book Award and The Gil Ott Book Award. They teach regularly at Sandberg Art Institute in Amsterdam, and their books, essays, films, interviews, rituals and other publications can be found online at http://bit.ly/88CAConrad

  1. Virgin Galactic Official Website. https://www.virgingalactic.com, Accessed 28 March 2018.
  2. Torie Bosch. “Why Elon Musk Wants to Bring People to Mars—and Go There Himself.” Futurism, 15 March 2012, http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2012/03/15/elon_musk_wants_spacex_to_help_establish_a_colony_on_mars_.html. Accessed, 28 March 2018.
  3. nbcmach. “Want to Go to Space? Here Are Your Options.” Slate, 29 July 2017, https://futurism.com/want-go-space-options/. Accessed 28 March 2018.
  4. Göksu Kunak. “Space Refugee: Halil Altındere at Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin.” Ibraaz Official Website, 29 November 2016. https://www.ibraaz.org/reviews/115, Accessed 13 April 2018
  5. “Laurie Anderson Advice to the Young.” Louisiana Channel. http://channel.louisiana.dk/video/laurie-anderson-advice-young, Accessed 16 March 2018.
    Header image: “A Whole New Jupiter” Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Betsy Asher Hall/Gervasio Robles

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