Astrotopia: The Dangerous Religion of the Corporate Space Race (Paperback)

Astrotopia: The Dangerous Religion of the Corporate Space Race By Mary-Jane Rubenstein Cover Image

Astrotopia: The Dangerous Religion of the Corporate Space Race (Paperback)


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A revealing look at the parallel mythologies behind the colonization of Earth and space—and a bold vision for a more equitable, responsible future both on and beyond our planet.
As environmental, political, and public health crises multiply on Earth, we are also at the dawn of a new space race in which governments team up with celebrity billionaires to exploit the cosmos for human gain. The best-known of these pioneers are selling different visions of the future: while Elon Musk and SpaceX seek to establish a human presence on Mars, Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin work toward moving millions of earthlings into rotating near-Earth habitats. Despite these distinctions, these two billionaires share a core utopian project: the salvation of humanity through the exploitation of space.
In Astrotopia, philosopher of science and religion Mary-Jane Rubenstein pulls back the curtain on the not-so-new myths these space barons are peddling, like growth without limit, energy without guilt, and salvation in a brand-new world. As Rubenstein reveals, we have already seen the destructive effects of this frontier zealotry in the centuries-long history of European colonialism. Much like the imperial project on Earth, this renewed effort to conquer space is presented as a religious calling: in the face of a coming apocalypse, some very wealthy messiahs are offering an other-worldly escape to a chosen few. But Rubenstein does more than expose the values of capitalist technoscience as the product of bad mythologies. She offers a vision of exploring space without reproducing the atrocities of earthly colonialism, encouraging us to find and even make stories that put cosmic caretaking over profiteering.
 Mary-Jane Rubenstein is dean of the social sciences and professor of religion and science in society at Wesleyan University. She is the author of Pantheologies: Gods, Worlds, Monsters; Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse; and Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe, and coeditor of Entangled Worlds: Religion, Science, and New Materialisms.
Product Details ISBN: 9780226833385
ISBN-10: 0226833380
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: February 28th, 2024
Pages: 224
Language: English
"A gung-ho approach to speed would violate the considerations of space ecology promoted by Rubenstein in Astrotopia: The Dangerous Religion of the Corporate Space Race. Rubenstein, while expertly dismantling some overblown claims of companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, proposes a gentler mode of space exploration that refuses to rehearse the violent history of colonialism on earth. In a way her vision recalls Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock’s Prime Directive: to avoid interference with other life forms. The original Star Trek series began in 1966, only months after the death of Sergei Korolev. Perhaps it still has something to teach us."
— Steven Poole

"The vision is to mine the lunar surface for rocket fuel that can then propel us all the way to Mars—and beyond, as humanity takes its self-appointed place in the stars. Rubenstein told me that vision makes her want to throw up. . . . Rubenstein argues that today’s corporate space race—helmed by Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and others who propose to 'save' humanity from a dying planet—is actually rehashing old Christian themes that go all the way back to the fifteenth century, when European Christians colonized the Americas. Remember how Donald Trump described the Artemis mission and eventual settlement of the moon and Mars? He called it 'America’s manifest destiny in the stars.' But as Rubenstein points out, not everyone thinks it’s the moon’s destiny to be strip-mined, or Mars’s destiny to be settled by human colonists. In fact, some believe these celestial bodies should have fundamental rights of their own."
— Sigal Samuel

"That techno-utopian agenda, which too frequently anchors public discussion of extraterrestrial exploration, was critiqued last year in Astrotopia: The Dangerous Religion of the Corporate Space Race, by Mary-Jane Rubenstein, professor of religion and science at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. She notes the quasi-religious fervor of ‘astrosavior’ Musk and his devotees: the planet is doomed, cries its richest man, who promises salvation elsewhere for the faithful. His is not the only voice that matters. What about the Navajo Nation, who regard other worlds as sacred? We should not be sacrificing a space Greta to social media trolls to argue the toss; we need governments brave enough to make new rules in space that respect and benefit us all.”
— Financial Times

"Rubenstein succeeds in highlighting both the debate over whether future space exploration and exploitation should be led by government or entrepreneurial entities and the manner in which neoliberal, private-sector emphases have come to dominate the thinking of a particular segment of the pro-space community. Her criticisms of this phenomenon—part of a growing body of literature in environmental studies, Afrofuturism, and anticolonialism investigations—are on point.”
— Roger D. Launius

“In the cold war, space exploration’s wonders served a race between political systems. Today, argues religion and science scholar Rubenstein, they are subject to commercial rivalry, notably between billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, who are littering space and advocating it as a refuge from Earth’s destruction. She argues that we must eschew such myopic, colonialist ‘astrotopia,’ and listen instead to a sort of ‘pantheistic mysticism’—valuing and learning from the cosmic environment—scorned by past imperialists.”
— Andrew Robinson

"If you find this state of affairs depressing—if your fascination with the Moon, Mars and other wonders of our solar system is increasingly tempered by concerns that a small but powerful group of people seems hell-bent on mucking them up—then you should run, not walk, to your nearest bookseller for a copy of Astrotopia. . . . It offers a concise but stinging critique of the current 'New Space' era, giving succour to space fans everywhere who are, in Rubenstein’s words, 'sick over the decimation of this planet and horrified that this planet isn’t enough for the decimators.' . . . When I review a book, I like to mark important passages and pithy phrases with sticky notes. By the time I finished Astrotopia, my copy had more paper flags than a Jubilee street party. I hope this review illustrates why this was so, and why Rubenstein’s arguments deserve the widest possible hearing among people who dream of exploring space without exploiting it."
— Margaret Harris

“A version of spaceflight's story that isn't told often enough.”
— Meghan Bartels, News Reporter

"Rubenstein is not only brilliant at putting together and analyzing ideas; she’s also a lively (and quite accessible) writer."
— Christian Century

"Rubenstein is not against utopianism, but she argues that Silicon Valley techno-utopianism is fraudulent, using the rhetoric of science and reason to disguise the fact that its promises are actually unscientific and unrealistic. Instead, she advocates that we get our ideas for a beautiful human future from a diverse array of other sources, from feminist science fiction to indigenous thinkers. Rubenstein offers us a starting point for thinking about how we might forge a path for our species that is egalitarian and humane."
— Current Affairs

"Rubenstein takes apart the mindset that wants to establish outposts on the moon, mine water and metals, and colonise Mars. . . . Should we study and explore space? Yes, but not if science means heedless exploitation, argues the book. Ethical exploration would avoid damage and violence and prioritise knowledge over profit. It would keep earth’s own needs first, like using technology to better track weather and disaster, or deploying billionaire surpluses on this planet before remaking others. Otherwise, what we do to the earth, we will do outside earth."
— Times of India

"I’m not a pantheist but the argument does carry some weight: our rationalistic relationship with the modern world has denied us of any real, meaningful connection with Mother Nature. We’re instead too focused on our divine destiny in the stars. But if we ruin the Moon or Mars or any other planet, then what is really the point of it all in the first place? . . . In the conclusion of Astrotopia, Rubenstein asserts the need for a pantheist revolution against the Western view of God as a single entity. Instead we should embrace God as being within everything. It’s a fundamental rewriting of our position in the cosmos, and a repositioning of the cosmos around us. A more spiritual approach to spacefaring might just allow us to avoid our earthly mistakes, and explore space ethically. And if we learn any lessons from our time here on Earth, it should not be ‘how space belongs to us, but how we belong to it.’ As Carl Sagan said, we are, each of us, made of star-stuff."
— James Tatam

"Astrotopia makes a powerful argument that we are approaching space exploration with the same old imperial Christian mythology, making space merely a thing to be exploited."
— Hilary Lamb

"Rubenstein's work is always delightfully readable and engagingly enlightening, but Astrotopia feels more immediate, because the message is both timely and urgent. A book of cultural criticism as well as consciousness raising, Astrotopia is meant to reach beyond the philosophers of religion and space historians to the interested layperson who needs to know how the world’s wealthiest people are 'rehashing' themes of Christian conquest to justify their manifest destiny in space. . . . Astrotopia is downright fun when it’s centered on the two focus-pulling, spotlight-stealing, grand-gesturing, dueling ringmasters themselves—Musk and Bezos—mostly because Rubenstein’s tone as she recounts the litanies of their outsized ideas is that of an exasperated Greek chorus."
— Catherine L. Newell

"Few books of late have given me such pause as Rubenstein’s thoughtful Astrotopia. Like many, I had considered space travel an untrammeled good (despite its origins in the destructive political rivalries of the Cold War and recent reliance on individual, stupidly-rich capitalists to move its development forward). Like many, I would love a Star Trek universe where humans peaceably coexist and thrive on hundreds of new worlds, the sins of the past behind us as we progress together in the noble spirit of exploration ever onward into bright futures. But what Rubenstein makes so clear is that today that kind of future utopia seems wholly unlikely. Without a severe imaginative reset, we may be doomed to repeat our imperialist and colonialist sins of the past, this time with the planet at stake."
— Jeremy Brett

"Astrotopia presents an examination of the current state of space exploration juxtaposed with the history of previous periods of exploration—and exploitation—here on Earth. Rubenstein . . . brings a particularly interesting perspective to the subject in examining not only the histories themselves but the motivations concurrent with them. . . . What’s more, she caps her examination with the presentation of an alternative of how the future of space exploration might unfold if undertaken with appropriate reflection upon the past, and a reexamination of the motivations and methods for its continuance."
— Johannes E. Riutta

"A new book, Astrotopia, lays out in the most fascinating terms the ways in which things are very much going wrong up there beyond the wild blue yonder. . . . In the end, it’s not the Tesla in orbit that bothers. It’s this: 'When asked why he wants to "save" humanity by sending us to Mars rather than addressing injustice, poverty and climate change on Earth, Musk will often laugh and say, "F— Earth." Earth is done; Earth is history; Earth is so last eon.' . . . Sure, we can and should go joy-riding in our planetary neighborhood. But we still have a chance to save the most hospitable planet we know, Rubenstein writes. Let’s give it the old college try before saying F-it.”
— Larry Wilson

"Why are American taxpayers giving billions in contracts to Elon Musk to send astronauts back to the Moon, and dangling a second contract for a lunar lander to Jeff Bezos, two of the world’s richest tech billionaires? For the answer to these questions, I strongly suggest you read Astrotopia: The Dangerous Religion of the Corporate Space Race. . . . In highly entertaining prose, Rubenstein unpacks the absurdity of Musk and Bezos’s space ambitions while exploring the larger issue of how our national priorities for space continue to be guided by destructive myths instead of sustainable, peaceful ones."
— Micah L. Sifry

"Astrotopia is superb and will fascinate anyone curious about the current space fervor."
— Booklist

"Rubenstein lends fresh energy to a familiar debate about the value of space programs, dreams of mining the solar system, and colonizing the moon and Mars."
— Kirkus Reviews

"A singular perspective on space technology, with unexpected comparisons to colonialism that will make readers think twice about the future of humanity on other planets."
— Jennifer Moore

"In Astrotopia, the philosopher Rubenstein argues that the twenty-first-century private space race being carried out by Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and others has become a ‘mythological project’ analogous to the type of ‘imperial Christianity’ that was used by Europeans to colonize more than half the planet. Discussing the era of private competition in space, known as NewSpace, she argues that we need to act now to prevent it from being rapaciously exploited by capitalists. Yet perhaps the most provocative portion of the book looks toward the past: Rubenstein convincingly demonstrates that NASA and US politicians used Christian imperialist language to justify the Apollo missions. In other words, it’s no coincidence that the Apollo 8 crew read from the book of Genesis while orbiting the Moon on Christmas Eve 1968."
— Physics Today

"In her book Astrotopia: The Dangerous Religion of the Corporate Space Race, religion professor Mary-Jane Rubenstein describes the pull of the cosmos as 'mythic.' And she’s right: there is something truly spiritual about our cosmos—it has a God-like ability to make you feel small. As Rubenstein beautifully writes, 'Innumerable suns warming scadzillions of planets, with oceans and dust storms and cloud microbes and who knows what else, all in constant motion through infinite space and time, and here you are, making a cheese sandwich, nowhere in particular.'"
— New Voices

"This book critically analyzes the motivations of commercial space entities from the perspective of a professor of religion, science, and technology. The early commercial space flight endeavors described in the book are appropriately compared to the exploits of early colonialists who ventured into ‘unexplored’ lands in pursuit of resources and settlement opportunities. Rubenstein also provides convincing examples of how many of the ongoing commercial space activities are not fully evaluated for various ethical issues related to space operations, including the issues raised by the prospects of, e.g., space tourism, outer space settlement, and exploitation of planetary resources. The author unapologetically describes how the commercial space flight missions currently sensationalized in the news are reminiscent of the avaricious and contentious European colonization of territories outside continental Europe. She points out, moreover, that the benefits of these high-profile space flight activities are not inclusive to all and that policy makers have not fully considered the ownership of outer space territories and natural resources extracted from other planets. Ample references support the chapters. Highly recommended."
— Choice

“A timely book that makes an important and well-argued point: that the new space race, indeed much like the old one, is driven largely by a combination of an instinct for capitalist exploitation and colonization coupled to a quasi-religious impulse drawing on some of the worst of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Astrotopia ought to stimulate some much-needed debate.”
— Philip Ball, author of "The Modern Myths: Adventures in the Machinery of the Popular Imagination"

“One of the most philosophically sophisticated, mythically impactful, contemporarily relevant, and wickedly funny books I have read in a very long time. ‘Influential’ is a grotesque understatement. ‘Game-changing’ is more like it.”
— Jeffrey J. Kripal, author of "The Flip: Epiphanies of Mind and the Future of Knowledge"

“The NewSpace era is marked by growing excitement and worry. The most significant issue moving forward is how to prevent destructive practices from crystallizing as the space endeavor grows. The first thing to do is to dispel the myth from the reality, and this book is one attempt to do that. For this field to advance, we need more critical perspectives that are forward-looking and suggest a pathway toward alternative hopeful and inclusive space futures.”
— Timiebi Aganaba, School for the Future of Innovation in Society, College of Global Futures, Arizona State University

“This book is a must-read for anyone who believes that the space race is a romantic enterprise defining humanity’s destiny. Alas, as Rubenstein argues with wit and urgency, the space race is a reinvention of the worst colonialism has to offer, a mythologized narrative of exploitation and hubris poised to turn outer space into ‘another theater of greed and war.’”
— Marcelo Gleiser, Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy, Dartmouth College, 2019 Templeton Prize Laureate

Astrotopia is an adventurous ride into outer space. Rubenstein masterfully places our desire to travel the cosmic seas within a historical and religious context, which is illuminating. Sublimely entertaining, Rubenstein brings levity to such a complex subject matter. To understand the future of the space industry, Astrotopia is a must-read.”
— Ingrid LaFleur, founder and director, The Afrofuture Strategies Institute

Astrotopia is a timely and lively read that helps us see the old myths behind NewSpace. Rubenstein exposes the religious and imperialistic roots of our outer-space plans, challenging us to rethink our motivations and justifications for our dreams of leaving Earth. Anyone who has ever asked why we are so intent on going to Mars and elsewhere, and especially those of us who consider ourselves space enthusiasts, should read this and ask whether we’re really satisfied with the futures being drawn up for us by astro-oligarchs or whether there may be other, and better, options.”
— David Grinspoon, coauthor of "Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto"

"Rubenstein, professor of religion and science at Wesleyan University, offers a different account of cosmocentric space-meaning in her 2022 book Astrotopia: The Dangerous Religion of the Corporate Space Race. Her critique begins with theology: the drive to conquer space, or even imagine it as a frontier, is driven by Western colonialist-imperialist-religious doctrine."
— The New Atlantis

"Astrotopia keenly analyses current trends in space exploration in a way that feels fresh and original. . . . This is an excellent book that makes so much sense of the recent history of space exploration, while leaving a strong sense of hope for the future."
— BBC Sky at Night Magazine