INS Interviews   

The Association of Autonomous Astronauts
The Association of Autonomous Astronauts have developed 'the world's first independent community-based space exploration programme'. Tom McCarthy, General Secretary of the INS, met Jason Skeet of the Inner City AAA and Neil Gordon-Orr of the Disconauts AAA at a location in South London.
TMcC: First of all, could you tell me about your five year plan? What phase are you in right now?
JS: The five year plan was launched on April 23rd 1995, along with the official launch of the AAA. The idea is to have a meticulous, well thought out approach to how we're going to destroy the state, corporate and military monopoly of space exploration. The initial goal was to create, by the year 2000, a worldwide network of local, community-based AAA groups. We encourage people to get involved either by joining a local group or by starting their own group. But what we also decided to do was break this five year plan down into distinct phases. The first phase was the initial launch. The second was the declaration of information war against all government and corporate space agencies. The third was the Dreamtime, which was about discussing the possibilities that'll open up to us when we form autonomous communities in outer space: there's no point going into space if you're only going to replicate life on earth. The fourth phase was our consolidation, an opportunity for astronauts to look at what they'd achieved before moving into the final phase, our final push into the year 2000.
TMcC: I understand you launched some kind of craft at Winsor Castle...
JS: We assembled at the copper horse, a bronze statue of George the Third, who was into balloon experiments. In a way, he ushered in the modern age of space exploration. We had lots of champagne, and balloons, and hydrogen n no, helium n to blow them up with. We did, of course, check with Heathrow Airport, who are nearby, and they said it was okay for us to release the balloons. The AAA does not want to go into space recklessly n unlike government space agencies like NASA.
TMcC: Haven't they just sent something past earth that not only slowed us down but also risked showering us with plutonium?
NGO: The Cassini probe, which is on its way to Jupiter, I think..
JS: Saturn. Nuclear powered engines have long been used by NASA, which shows their whole attitude: they think it's okay to take those kind of risks, and to go into space in order to conquer and control and regulate.
TMcC: So how would you characterise your own entry into space?
NGO: As community-based and galaxy friendly.
TMcC: This notion of community in space: can you explain this? What d.s it actually involve?
JS: There's lots of different ways we could talk about that. The Disconauts, for example, have been doing a lot of research into dance music and its relation to space exploration. There's obvious connections there in terms of the communities that are formed when people go out dancing and enjoying themselves. The whole idea of community and collectivity is fundamental to the AAA. There's no centre, no official representative. There's a diversity of experience and ideas, moving in several directions at once: that's very much what a community is about.
TMcC: You've talked about using zero gravity environments for games, for art and for sex..
NGO: In terms of how we conceive of approaches to life in space. We're not just into talking in a Utopian way about coming up with some kind of blueprint for how we'll live when we get there; we're also interested in experiments which we can actually conduct on the ground. Our three-sided football, for instance, explores the possibilities that will be available in space, in zero-gravity. So you can have an up and a down as well as the two ends of the football pitch. Or there is no up or down, left or right.
TMcC: Let's talk about technology. In your first annual report you write about 'liberating technology', and you draw parallels between the space program and the internet, in that they're both state and corporate funded, and the way they work reflects this, but they can be diverted for other purposes.
JS: Yeah, the potential is there. I think the whole issue around techology is: Who gets access to it? And then: How is it used? The internet's a good example for both issues. Clearly there are ways in which the internet can be used for communicating and creating some kind of sense of community that couldn't be done using other technology. The situation in Yugoslavia recently was a good example of how electronic communication was used to get information out of the country, and also to support people in the country.
NGO: But also an example of how space technology is currently being used to inform the military machine. In that conflict satellite technology was used to target missiles, with devastating consequenses. So we don't believe that techology can liberate, certainly not in itself. We see it as providing us with tools that could be used in liberatory ways or not. But we don't get too hung up on just the technological side. You could argue that people in primitive societies had more of a conception of space than a lot of people involved in the space race today, in terms of an awareness of the cosmos and cycles of planets. It's about how people conceive themselves in space.
TMcC: Perhaps we could talk about the body now. William Burroughs says that going into space with a suit and helmet on is like taking a fish out of the sea but keeping it inside a fishbowl. There's no point in doing it. You use in your literature the term 'evolt', which I find very interesting. Could you explain what you mean by this?
JS: It's a combination of evolution and revolution. We're not the first to tie evolution in with space exploration. If you look at the situation today in terms of the kind of people who are talking about going into space, there are people who are on a right wing, libertarian tip who are also throwing up that meme, and certainly we would not wish to be connected in any way with that kind of thing.
TMcC: But do you think it's desirable that the human body should evolve more than it has now?
JS: The point about evolution is about how we use it. When do we ever get to say: 'Look, this is how we want to evolve'? We are thinking about where we want to be going.
NGO: There are different views about this within the AAA. From my point of view I'm quite skeptical about that. I see it as a kind of hi-tech gnosticism. There's always been ideas about moving towards the light, away from the earth, the body, the female. A lot of space discourse reflects those ideas, how through extremes of speed and technology the largely white male can leave behind all those.
TMcC: But then you have, for example, Deleuze, the Body Without Organs n which is a bit of a misnomer, because it's a body with a proliferation of all types of organs. How about that as a template? Do you find that less esoteric and right wing?
JS: We try not to separate the theoretical from the practical. We wouldn't want to make these speculations simply for the sake of making them. It's about how we take our ideas forward in terms of making things happen. People are already doing things to their bodies here on earth. You've got a whole interest in piercing, people manipulating their bodies in all kinds of ways n not just externally but internally too, by taking drugs or whatever. And biotechnology is throwing open the whole notion of what constitutes our bodies.
TMcC: Let's talk about the building of actual ships. This is something that interests the International Necronautical Society very much as well. I understand that a New Zealand chapter of the AAA have actually made ships suitable for space travel from old school bussses or something.
JS: Yeah, Readily Available Materials: RAM technology.
NGO: We haven't got any vehicles yet that have left earth's gravitational pull. But there's a lot of activity going on, not just around the AAA. Children do that kind of thing all the time, making spaceships out of lego. We're interested in taking that further. We start by thinking: 'To do the kind of things we want to do in space, what kind of vehicle would we need?'
TMcC: So you think of the functions and work out from there?
NGO: That's of more interest to us, yes.
TMcC: And the priorities are n what? Space for the imagination? For communities to interact?
JS: Well, like we said earlier, we don't have any blueprint. There's various different strategies that have been discussed, including using existing spaceships and trying to adapt them for our own purposes. The anology is with dance music in many respects: people use samples, a sample will be used and then somebody else will take it and use it, then somebody else, using and redeveloping each breakbeat. That's how I see us developing spaceships: sampling from various sources. Each ship will be continually evolving, being adapted, reworked, going off in lots of different directions all the time, just like the AAA.
NGO: In the short term, the quickest route is probably the appropriation of existing technology. That can happen in various ways. There could be mutinies by astronauts in the current space programme. There have been some very limited examples of that n for instance, one astronaut on the Space Shuttle took his saxophone into space in defiance of regulations. There have been proposals in the AAA about squatting the MIR space station.
JS: Some people say they have actually been doing that.
TMcC: How did they describe it?
JS: Well, in a kind of. I mean. We shouldn't really discuss this openly.
TMcC: Finally, aliens. Do you have any position with relation to?
JS: My own position's always been: the only way to find out is to build your own spaceship and get up there. If there is extra-terrestrial intelligence, they may well be waiting for us to develop beyond the need for government and state and corporate space agencies.
TMcC: It's definitely something worth thinking about. If four hundred years ago the Europeans had worked out what they were going to do when they got to the Americas if there happened to be someone else there first. Maybe there should be a bill of rights for aliens, to avoid a second era of slavery.
JS: Well, NASA have discussed the need to convert aliens to Christianity. For our part, we've talked about the need to make a good first impression if we meet aliens. There's been an ongoing discussion about what type of clothes we need to wear. There's a hardcore element that calls itself the 'sharps', and they think we have to dress smart.
TMcC: Armani suits.
JS: Well, no: they're actually skinheads. They want to dress in a skinhead style and continue the kind of moonstomping concept. On the other extreme.
TMcC: There's the fake fur on rockets debate.
JS: I would position the Disconaut fake fur discourse more in a middle tendency. The more extreme tendency opposed to the sharps are the shaggies, who think that this whole issue isn't important, and will just wear whatever they get up in.
NGO: But if you look at existing space suits, they're not exactly sexy, let's face it. There's a lot of room there for more glamorous reinvention, non-functionality, sequins.
TMcC: Thank you. It's been great meeting you.