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  • You use Space everyday
  • Without the Space Economy modern day life isn’t possible
  • Space is the Fifth Industrial Revolution

So says Samson Williams, Anthropologist-in-Residence at the Space Channel, and I believe him on all three counts. He also counters the common misperception from which people suffer as they say they know nothing of space.

“If you have a mobile phone, a smart phone or a car, then you are bouncing data off satellites in space. If you have ordered anything off the World Wide Web (my italics) then you are using Space with every order. You are already connected to the Space Economy.”

Samson is very concerned to advance to the disrupted space understanding and economy. It’s not about rockets and astronauts. Rockets, as he points out reasonably and frequently during our interview, are the means to access to space, just as trains or planes allow us to move across the globe. By the same reasoning, astronauts are not the space explorers traditionally celebrated by earth dwellers, but the uber drivers of the next industrial revolution.

Let that sink in for a moment. Astronauts, long championed as heroes and certainly deserving of such praise in the last century, are going to be the pilots delivering space explorers into the next space world.

What will make the difference in the next phase of space exploration, the fifth industrial revolution, is that people not robots will be sent into space.

“Currently here in America (when Samson is now based) NASA and SpaceX are planning a moon landing in 2024 while SpaceX and VirginGalatic, BlueOrgins, Boeing and other startups are launching the space tourism industry. The Space Economy is so much more than simply sending rockets and satellites to space, it’s what business is done, once we get there.

“Space is not a void, it’s not empty. And one of the most useful data points from space right now concerns climate change and global warming – data for weather reports.”

Samson has just authored a book with George Pullen called Blockchain & The Space Economy.

“The Space economy is valued at around $400 billion as of this year.”

Samson gives a comparison using AI which is constantly used as a barometer of world change.

“The ecosystem of AI is valued about $120 billion – and everyone points to AI changing the world, but space is actually where it is happening. Indeed by 2030 the space economy will be measured in the trillions.”

Bank of America issued a report that over the next decade $50 billion will be invested into space. In the UK Richard Branson is raising $100 million for Virgin Galactic to launch his micro satellites or small SATs; technology has reduced the size of satellites to the dimensions of a basketball.

So where does blockchain fit in? According to Samson, blockchain will act as the plumbing for space.

“It’s like wifi – no one cares how it works, just if they can have the password to use it. Same as blockchain. It will be so prevalent that no one will mention it directly. When people say they have a digital currency it will obviously be on a blockchain.”

“Now combine blockchain and the space economy together. Blockchain works as a distributed ledger of timestamps validated across a network of nodes. So replace nodes with satellites and you have your space plumbing.”

Samson points out that the Americans are going back to the moon in 2024, and quotes Elon Musk’s vision of 50 million people living on Mars in 2050.

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“I don’t think 50 million will be living on Mars by 2050, but definitely can see 10,000.”

Blockchain is important because of its unique encryption quality which will be important for securing the space economy.

“This is a current issue over names. I said earlier that the next generation of people who go to settle in space will not be the pilots or astronauts and will not be war space fighters. They will be the space explorers and settlers. We will need people who can fix things, repair ventilation systems, grow things and make things.”

Here it is worth diverting to outline the recent history of the International Space Station. ISS, as a predictor to future expansion. Established in 1998, it is a multi-treaty experiment including Canada, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States, and eleven Member States of the European Space Agency (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom).

While NASA prohibited for profit activities, even on behalf of the astronauts when offspace, the Russians took a more relaxed view of commercial trips and in 2001 a US businessman Dennis Tito visited the station paying a fee of $20 million. Last year NASA said it would open up tourist travel with SpaceX and Boeing providing the taxi arrangements, estimated to cost in the region of $60 million. So far the impact of COVID has yet to be determined on these plans, although Tom Cruise announced in May that he is planning on filming the first ever film in space with director Greg Liman.

Trips to the ISS may be readily attainable but going to further planets is a one-way ticket.

“We celebrate these first space explorers. Despite all the tonnes of research carried out on these destinations we don’t really know what to expect and how people will operate on those conditions. But we do know that professions such as AC engineers are going to be amongst the most important roles because no one can afford an air leak.

“Right now we are a one planet species but the moon is only a launching pad, we will continue to reach out and colonise other planets and this is where blockchain and cryptocurrencies will become even more important.

“There will be no cash in space.”

But as Samson mentioned nothing is free in space, not even or especially even the air. Everything will be digital and people will pay using their “tappers”. Tappers are IoT devices (think fitbit, smartwatch, phone) that people will wear 24x7, on their non-dominant wrist, to monitor their vitals, locations and provide them means of accessing controls, systems, etc on board. Why they’re called “tappers” is because when you’re wearing a space suit you will tap at your smart, IoT device; when not using voice control.

As to the question of nations in space, this is a tricky one. Samson reckons that while there will be some international competition there will also be increased cooperation. Recently cooperation projects such as the UAE, Japan and the US launched satellites to probe the weather on Mars, while China and Russia are in talks to build a moon base on the dark side of the moon.

Finally, I ask about launching his book as an NFT, or non fungible token. Samson reasonably points out that NFTs have been around for a long time, citing basketball cards as some of the original examples. Going digital is just a natural extension of using blockchain a means of securing the unique nature of each digital asset.

“I’ve also planted surprise Easter Eggs across the books with private keys with a hidden treasure, that will be fun if anyone can figure it out. Think, “Ready Player One” the book not the movie.”

NFTs have many uses both in terms of validating uniqueness but also in tracking provenance going forward, which will be even more important in space. 

“Blockchain will be crucial as a technology to tokenise the future of assets and value in space. There is no cash in space and moreover nothing is free, you’ll have to pay for each breath. In our view people will switch from Fiat to PTEs or the Periodic Table of Elements.

“Everything that is mined in space will have a digital value – we will need air to breath, water to drink, iron to build. You may have a million dollars back on earth, but here in space I own a cup of coffee. Which is worth more?

“We will have a space economy where the tokens will be asset backed by PTEs, such as an air token. Once you hold an air token, then you can get access to that commodity.”

As an anthropologist, Samson sees the fifth industrial revolution happening as we place people not robots in space. In my mind’s eye it’s akin to the great explorers in the 15th century who set sail to open up trade routes and who stumbled across new worlds, the explorers who trekked to the frozen poles of the world, the climbers who peaked the highest mountains and after them, the poor huddled passengers traveling to new worlds on ships of uncertain seaworthiness and knowing they would never return to the old sod. So much bravery and hope and excitement and in the midst, so much sadness.