Publicity power in space race

For all of the technological marvel of SpaceX, the public’s awareness of the company helps it power ahead.

Elon Musk has nearly 60 million followers, thanks to both the wonder of his vertical-landing, reusable rockets, and the extensive catalogue of must-see fireballs shared on social media.

Contrast that to Jeff Bezos, who is richer and whose company, Blue Origin, predates SpaceX. Blue Origin achieved vertical-landing before SpaceX, too. Alas, Bezos commands a mere 2.5 million followers on Twitter.

And so, perhaps, he is learning how the current space race is a bit of a popular mobilization effort. Despite his considerable achievement and investment, Musk stands, in the public’s mind, as the primary space pioneer.

That could explain Bezos’ decision to take the battle to participate in the NASA contract to build a lunar lander public. 

Bezos has offered to waive up to $US2 billion in NASA contract fees to remain involved in the project.

Somewhat surprisingly, he did this by appealing to the public through an open letter on the Blue Origin site.

“Instead of investing in two competing lunar landers as originally intended, the Agency chose to confer a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar head start to SpaceX. That decision broke the mold of NASA’s successful commercial space programs by putting an end to meaningful competition for years to come.”

Full letter here.

The billionaire space question

In Silicon Valley having first mover advantage is all-important. Companies like Uber, Facebook, PayPal have succeeded in part by growing quickly enough to shape the terms of the industry and way of business.

As the world looks skyward to the billionaire’s race for space, there is a fear that these companies will use their first mover advantage to fundamentally shape what space looks like.

And of course, what this means for a US-China, or West-China struggle for technological primacy is another issue entirely.

“The question for Bezos, as for the public, will be whether we’re on the road to space colonies in orbit or a corporate colonisation of the stars.”

Full story here.

Ransomware gangs: today’s pirate fleets

“Cyber security experts, ex-military officials and some politicians are pushing for ransomware gangs to be treated not as hackers but like “pirates” of the past, in a rethink of how to best counter their growing threat to businesses, industries and society.”

“The shift recognises the way ransomware gangs are used by authoritarian nations to mount sustained attacks on Western businesses and sectors, a new dimension in the ongoing contest between strongmen and democracies.”

The full story here.

It’s an idea whose time has come.

I actually wrote about this idea right after the Sony hack on this little blog here in 2015.

Wuhan lab leak theory: all politics are content

Will we ever know what role, if any, the Wuhan lab had in the emergence of COVID-19? That’s hard to say. But in the absence of certainty, there’s great demand to gin up suspicion in the direction. There are information politics around this, I argue in a piece for Molly McKew’s Great Power newsletter.

To quote: President Joe Biden’s “willingness to wade into this topic in such a forthright way [by announcing the intelligence review] is surprising. But real caution is warranted. Biden wouldn’t be the first president to have their agenda co-opted or swayed by noise driven by social media, including in ways that ultimately undermined their stated policies.”

There is the vivid example of the online chatter around the Syrian Civil War in President Barack Obama’s time.

“Attention absorbed by the Mideast helped prevent the US from carrying out its long-promised Pivot to Asia in earnest, which then gave China more time and room to move in the region. I watched this play out in news cycle after news cycle from my vantage in Australian news.”

It’s also worth acknowledging that some of the loudest proponents of Wuhan lab leak theory are also oblivious doves on Russian meddling in the West. Chief among them: the GOP and associated rightwing commentators. This raises the question of how much pro-Kremlin propaganda blends in with this China-phobic content. That brings the unanswered question: why?

Read the full piece here.