Science, Now + Beyond

Humans launched a fake star into the sky because we just have to colonize everything

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s… a fake star?

As Cicero once wrote over two thousand years ago, “ad altiora nati sumus.” We were born for higher things – apparently, he was right.

A private space exploration startup called Rocket Lab just launched a star into space. Now, I know what you’re all thinking, how could they launch a star into space? Well, first of all, it wasn’t a real star, and second, they could, because nobody technically owns outer space. You don’t have to be NASA if you happen to have a super lab in your garage and have the tech to launch something into the sky, you very well may do so.

Rocket Lab built a geodesic sphere of 3.2 ft., covered it in reflective panels (65 of them, really reflective) and dubbed it the Humanity Star. The sphere weighs 17.6 lbs and it’s currently orbiting around the Earth, where it will stay for approximately nine months. After that, the star’s orbit will start to decay and it will be pulled back into our gravity, but don’t worry, there is no danger of a fake star falling on to our heads because our atmosphere will burn it upon re-entry. There shouldn’t be any traces left – in space or on Earth.

The last thing we need is more pollution.

The star is visible to the naked eye, most visible at dawn and dusk when spinning rapidly, it will reflect the sun’s light. If you see an anomalous, exceptionally bright something just above the horizon, it isn’t aliens or a flying superhero, it’s the Humanity Star. I know, I’m disappointed too, personally, I would’ve preferred to go with the superhero, but what can you do.

Rocket Lab stated that the star’s purpose is to “briefly catch people’s attention” so that we’ll look up beyond the fake star, all the way to the beauty of the night sky. Peter Beck, the company’s CEO, wants us to look “past our terrestrial life, to consider our position as one species on a small planet in a vast universe.” His message continues with hope for love and collaboration between people: “Humanity is finite, and we won’t be here forever. Yet in the face of this almost inconceivable insignificance, humanity is capable of great and kind things when we recognize we are one species, responsible for the care of each other, and our planet, together.”

This all sounds very sweet, but the Humanity Star has received many criticisms. What are the implications and consequences of a fake star? For instance, it has been called a “huge disco ball” by angry astronomers who may have some trouble observing the sky, you know, with a sphere that reflects everything.

On a more philosophical level, the Humanity Star symbolizes just the next appropriation of the natural world. For all the talk of humanity as a family, this is still the act of conquering a shared space. The sky is the last frontier we have, the last piece of nature we haven’t colonized yet, and here we go, launching a ball of carbon fiber to claim it. The star is another form of wall graffiti but in space.

Theoretically, we can all reach for the stars (pun intended).

However, a variety of international agreements, treaties, and conventions called “Space Law”, enforced by the United Nations Office For Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) states that “a number of fundamental principles guide the conduct of space activities, including the notion of space as the province of all humankind, the freedom of exploration and use of outer space by all states without discrimination, and the principle of non-appropriation of outer space.”

This statement is a little bit contradictory, and this is probably one loophole Rocket Lab could use to their advantage. Space belongs to all humankind as a “province” (so imperialistic) but not to the individuals, only to the states and nations. But the Humanity Star is said to belong to all humankind, so they are technically not appropriating anything for themselves. Still, Rocket Lab aren’t NASA or government-funded, so they made sure to keep the entire operation quiet until the launch.

It might be pretty and exciting to look at, but the Humanity Star is emblematic of man’s fatal pride – hubris. We are playing at being gods, reconfiguring the universe the way we like it. Shaping creation in our own image.