Commercializing space, and other stories
Welcome to Ramin’s Space, the newsletter from WIRED space writer Ramin Skibba. You can read more about the newsletter here. If you like it, please consider subscribing and sharing this post. Just wanted to say thank you to my new subscribers, too.
With jaunts to the edge of space by Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and SpaceX, this year we saw the commercial human spaceflight industry finally take off. But to whom are they opening up access to space? This is my first year-in-review piece for WIRED, and I hope you enjoy reading it. It happened to come out on my birthday today too!
At last, after decades of setbacks, delays and budget increases, the James Webb Space Telescope — Hubble’s successor — made it to the launchpad and successfully lifted off into space! Those past challenges will be behind us as the powerful space probe ventures out to its vantage point on the cosmos. For an overview of the impressive telescope and what scientists can accomplish with it, check out my latest story for WIRED.
Sadly the aging International Space Station, produced and maintained through collaboration between the US, Europe, Russia, Canada and Japan, won’t last forever. Now NASA’s preparing for the next big thing by investing in Blue Origin and other companies to develop plans for totally new stations, but what would a commercial space station actually look like?
Led by Kamala Harris, the Biden administration’s first council meeting highlighted the US’s priorities in space, including a call for a moratorium on anti-satellite weapons tests, like the one recently conducted by Russia, which created dangerous debris in orbit. (The US, China and India have blown up their own satellites too.) I lay out my takeaways from this event in this story.
It’s the end of an era: I’ve finally published the last piece I wrote as a freelance writer. It’s a feature story for Nautilus magazine, focusing on a San Diego-based Puerto Rican archaeologist. She’s trying to save the cultural heritage and Native Taíno history embedded in the island’s coastal sand before they’re washed away by the ravages of climate change. Hurricanes, storm surges, sea level rise, and accelerating erosion all put key sites and artifacts at risk.
In other writing…
2021 revealed the depths of global vaccine inequity
In previous pandemics, rich countries grabbed vaccine supplies while leaving poorer countries behind. COVID-19 was no different. Even today, we’re giving boosters to healthy and young people, while billions of vulnerable people around the world still haven’t had access to a single shot. Many of my fellow WIRED journalists wrote excellent year-in-review pieces, and I recommend this one by Grace Browne, one of my colleagues in the UK.
Autonomous weapons are here, but the world isn’t ready for them
It’s frustrating that there’s still no international agreement (let alone a ban or moratorium) on autonomous weapons AKA killer robots. If there’s anything we’ve learned from the devastating civilian impacts of drone warfare and other air strikes, we don’t need fewer humans but more humanity in the decision-making process. Here’s another great year-in-review piece, by Will Knight.
Why there’s no such thing as pristine nature
Some kind of “untouched” nature doesn’t really exist, since humans have been shaping the natural world and affecting numerous species for millennia, writes Julia Rosen in Knowable magazine. That key fact should inform conservation efforts, including respecting indigenous communities’ ecological knowledge and traditions.
A natural history view of our future
As we navigate our world of pandemics and climate changes, what predictions do ecologists and biologists have for what’s to come? According to one scientist, we’ll likely have mass extinctions while a small number of organisms flourish in new habitats, and we’ll see tropical pests establish themselves in Southern United States. A sobering book review essay by Peter Brannen in the New York Times.
Is sucking carbon out of the air our climate solution
Thanks to the climate crisis, and the lack of substantial action to reverse it, it seems we’re left with little choice but to invest heavily in technologies that pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as part of our response. But does that just mean an acceptance of “business as usual” and support for the fossil fuel industry, which brought us all into this dire climate mess? Clive Thompson explores these complex issues in a feature story for Mother Jones.
What I’m reading: Native Son, by Richard Wright. It feels both controversial and relevant eight decades after it was published.
Looking back: Four years ago this month, I wrote in The Atlantic my first coverage of debates involving the hypothetical Planet Nine.
More about me: I’m the space writer at WIRED magazine, and I’m based in San Diego. I used to be a freelance writer and journalist, and before that, an astrophysicist. You can find me at my website, raminskibba.net, and on Twitter @raminskibba. I’m also former president of the San Diego Science Writers Association (SANDSWA) and on the board of the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), though the opinions I express are mine alone. If someone has forwarded this email to you, you’re welcome to subscribe too.