Random Rants, by Thomas Andrew Olson

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Confederate Flags in Space, Oh My!

Apparently, Keith Cowing got his knickers in a bunch over an attempt by someone on eBay to profit from "momentos" allegedly flown by a cosmonaut on a recent Soyuz/ISS mission.

Of course, such profiteering on the part of ISS participants is not allowed by a NASA-written code of conduct, but that wasn't the issue, here. The issue was the nature of the momentos themselves, namely, a number of small Confederate flags, and the fact that a small fraction of Earth's population finds that particular "symbol" offensive.

In the first place, the idea that NASA would have some sort of veto power over what their international partners fly on their own spacecraft to the ISS - particularly Russians, who have been bailing us out up there since Feb. 2, 2003, is a bit disingenuous, to say the least. But it also speaks to the anti-commercial, socialist mindset of the agency in all its doings, and it has to make one wonder how well they will actually keep any potential commitments to "privatize" ISS resupply via COTS or other programs. They may impose such severe conditions after-the-fact as to cause profit margins for the contractors to dry up.

My good friend and sci-fi author extraordinaire L. Neil Smith had this take:


....Keith Cowing's article reflecting the horror of the politically correct, over Confederate flags being brought aboard the International Space Station and then sold online with certificates of authenticity, neatly sums up everything that's wrong with the efforts of the United States in that particular field of endeavor.

....As long as this government sets standards that are essentially Marxist in spirit -- commerce in and from space is a no-no (unless it's being done by some gigantic corporation) -- this country's "space program" will continue to be as lame as it has always been.

....What we need desperately is something like the First Amendment, formally separating Science (especially medicine) and State that will get the Vogons out of the way and let the real innovators, explorers, and capitalists get on with their work.

....If that means Confederate Flags in space, propellor beanies with Space Cadet patches, or little pink Britney Spears doilies, so be it. Let the market decide, not the Mrs. Grundys of the world.



Space was hoped by many to become a place without borders or ideologies, where every conceivable social experiment could be tried, and the next evolutionary (or revolutionary) expansion of human civilization would take place. But for the moment, we seem content to carry our narrow-context politically-correct nonsense with us wherever we go. What's next? A soviet-style Political Officer on every ISS crew from now on, rummaging through the manifests for contraband? This is another nail in the coffin of the idea of ever somehow "commercializing" the ISS in order to justify the tens of billions of public funds spent to construct it. It's physical orbit was rough enough (it's in the wrong place to be accessed with the least amount of delta-vee), but its "political orbit" makes the place even less attractive.

Simple fact of life: People do things - and profit from them - that offend other people. They always have and they always will. Ask Hugh Hefner or Larry Flynt. I am not defending the existence of Confederate flags per se, either in space or anywhere else, but my personal opinion is irrelevant. I will always defend, however, the right to possess them, or any other thing that others may find offensive, on earth or in outer space, as something fundamental to American values and the First Amendment, values our forefathers fought to protect, from Saratoga to Omaha Beach.

Interestingly, Mr. Cowing published an update the next day, stating that after actually checking the facts, and discussing the issue with the eBay seller, who otherwise has a sterling reputation, it was determined that the flags, obtained via a third party, were of dubious authenticity, and hence were immediately withdrawn. Seems to me that if such vetting had been done beforehand, it would have obviated the need for the article.

Still, it took two paragraphs to explain that, when a simple "Never mind" probably would have sufficed.

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