How depressing is space privatization? KFC is sending a chicken sandwich to space

Privatization of space exploration has had the unintended consequence of opening it up to frivolous PR stunts


(Credit: KFC)

pace: the final frontier of capitalism. Obama’s pro-space privatization policies ushered in a new commercial space race, epitomized by the bloom in government-contracted private spaceflight companies like SpaceX and Orbital ATK. Unlike NASA, private enterprise’s sole goal in space is to profit, and hence space is increasingly becoming just another realm for capitalists to market their ambitions.
And yet, the announcement this week that a chicken sandwich would be going to the edge of space still came as a bit of a surprise to those of us who follow space news. The New York Times reported that a private high-altitude balloon company, World View Enterprises, had partnered with Kentucky Fried Chicken to send one of the fast-food company’s chicken sandwiches to space — or rather, just the edge of space, as the company’s balloons don’t quite hit the 62-mile altitude that marks the border with space.
It’s not that KFC’s chicken sandwich stunt is offensive — space is not a sacred place, even if sci-fi franchises like Star Trek treat it that way. It is more that KFC’s stunt comes at the dead end of years of political and policy shifts toward the way that we conceive of space. In particular, it epitomizes the way that profit-minded capitalists, rather than exploration-minded scientists, are the ones pulling the strings when it comes to space travel. Big Science (or Big Defense) doesn’t rule space anymore; Big Business does.
he chicken stunt comes at a political moment in which private interest in space is at a historic high. There are multiple reasons for this beyond the aforementioned government privatization; our historically high income inequality means that there are plenty of rich people with ungodly sums to burn, and private space tourism interests many of them. That is why World View Enterprises exists; the chief executive told the Times reporter that the company intended to provide a “market for tourism rides that might not go as high as Blue Origin’s or Virgin Galactic’s but that would last much longer while offering a similar view of Earth.” Research meteorologists are interested in World View Enterprises’ balloons for forecasting, though of course, their needs are ancillary — like all private enterprise, World View’s fundamental goal is profit, not knowledge.
Yet space seems to have become a place of interest for capitalism not really because there’s money there — there’s not, beyond government science and tourism, and the latter is still largely speculative capital. Rather, corporations like Yum! Brands, parent company of KFC, seem far more interested more in the idea of space, and how they might use it for their marketing.
Read More at Salon.

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