Daniel Smith is over the moon. As in, he’s kind of done hearing about it and the hype surrounding Saturday’s 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing.
Smith isn’t a conspiracy theorist bent of proving that man never actually set foot on Earth’s closest celestial neighbor. Rather, he’s one of the organizers behind this weekend’s Salish Sea Anti-Space Symposium in Seattle, an event aimed at resisting the fervor of space conquest.
The free, all ages event starts tonight at Pipsqueak, a gallery and community space in Seattle’s Central District, and runs through Sunday, featuring a variety of speakers, musical performances and art.
As Americans get caught up in the celebration of what happened on July 20, 1969, Smith and friends want July 20, 2019, to serve as a wakeup call about how the real challenges of our own planet are being ignored in the race to settle the moon and beyond.
Smith and SSASS take particular aim at the priorities of space racers such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, the Amazon and Tesla billionaires who are targeting off-earth pursuits with their companies Blue Origin and SpaceX respectively.
“This privatization of space is happening at the same time that we actually need to fund public research and action on climate change,” Smith told GeekWire on Thursday. “That’s the biggest issue for me, that’s what really set me off on this. We’re actually funding Bezos’s Blue Origin because we’ve cut the corporate tax rates so deeply we’re just funding this play thing in outer space.”
As for Musk’s February 2018 stunt in which he blasted a Tesla Roadster into orbit, Smith called it the fantasy of a 10-year-old — but with funding.
“They can actually do this, versus thinking about what actually is helpful to us,” he said.
A graphic designer in Seattle, Smith is particularly aware of the city’s place on the front lines of wealth inequality. He references the very immediate needs of those experiencing homelessness at the same time corporations like Amazon are fighting efforts such as the head tax. On a national front, he blasts the Trump administration and the militarizing of space through the so-called Space Force.
The symposium’s Salish Sea reference is about a local connection to the land and thinking about who was here first. Smith grew up on the Tulalip reservation and his mom is Tulalip.
“I’ve seen firsthand what the receiving end of manifest destiny looks like,” Smith said. “I think we can translate that now to leaving the planet. It’s manifest destiny extending to the moon and beyond. It is this extension of domination that doesn’t feel right.”
Smith scoffed at Bezos’ reveal in May of Blue Origin’s lunar lander and his descriptions of rotating space colonies in which every day would feel like the best day on Maui, with no rain or earthquakes.
If he had the chance to speak directly to Bezos himself, Smith said he would guide the richest person on Earth toward thinking about putting the planet first.
“Fine, be the second richest man on Earth, because you’re helping fund the projects that will actually address the crisis that we’re in right now,” Smith said of Bezos. “Make observation satellites that are helping to determine what our future could be, fund research as a No. 1 priority versus trying to imagine a new life or manufacturing off the planet. I think there’s an immediate need for those resources.”
As for his own resources, Smith said he’s just a guy using friends and what he has at his disposal to put on the symposium. There’s no sponsor behind the event, which while weighty and important, is designed to be playful and open to all.
People are encouraged to bring their own anti-space posters, including those done by kids, for a show happening Friday night that also includes a zine release. The main event on Saturday features short talks and presentations from 1 to 6 p.m. and then a block party until 9 p.m. There’s also a loose plan to do a “highly opinionated tour” of Seattle’s Museum of Flight and its “space knickknacks” on Sunday.
Smith said everybody involved loves science fiction and is pro sci-fi, but as Americans we’ve been inculcated through celebrations like the Apollo 11 anniversary and patriotism that it’s a given that we’re going to go the moon and to Mars and eventually further out. It’s an “unquestioned idea about the future of the USA and mankind.”
“There’s nothing wrong with fantasy,” Smith said. “I think fantasy and imagination is going to be key to solving some of our problems. It’s just at this point it’s really a matter of priority and where are those resources best spent. Once we junk up the moon, where does that leave fantasy? If the moon becomes a manufacturing ghetto, that’s really sad.”
Asked whether his beliefs on space exploration, the climate crisis and spending priorities ever get in the way of just daydreaming and looking up at the stars, Smith said he absolutely loves to see the stars from Seattle — although it’s not always easy in the city, through light pollution.
“I love it,” he said of stargazing. “And I want to keep it a mystery in a lot of ways.”