Much has been written about a type of relationships generally referred to as “D/s”, where “D” stands for “Dominance” and “s” for “submission”. This type also includes BDSM relationships, where the dominant part of the relationship or encounter takes pleasure from causing physical and / or other forms of pain (such as emotional) to the submissive part, and the submissive part, in turn, derives pleasure from surrendering to the dominant part and receiving what the dominant part wants to give to them.

In erotic and romantic literature, whether in the form of essays, diatribes, novels, poems or what have you, engaging in D/s relationships has been both derided and dismissed as a sign of a disturbed soul and, every bit as much, revered, even discreetly and sometimes not without a bit of demure shame in more mainstream writing, as a higher form of emotional and carnal immersion. The concepts of willing submission, consensual slavehood, dominance, discipline, willing acceptance of humiliation and bodily pain – or even need for humiliation and bodily pain – all have contributed to the creation of a mystique around D/s, which enjoys the image of an almost spiritual type of romance, as opposed to the “plain”, “vanilla” relationships, where the participants are equal to one another.

The hierarchical nature of D/s

Try writing “d/s” instead of “D/s” while communicating in written form with a dominant, and they will quickly correct you for your ignorance or disrespect for their chosen form of relationship. There is a logic behind it: The “d” in the words “dominant” and “dominance” is capitalised to show that the dominant in a D/s relationship is superior to the submissive, by merit of either the dominant’s decision to adopt the title, posture, attitude, language, and related regalia and paraphernalia, or the reverence and deference given to them by their submissives, and whatever respect and appreciation they may enjoy from other dominants. Similarly, pronouns are capitalised when one is addressing, or referring to, a dominant, and not capitalised in the case of a submissive. In more “extreme” settings, the submissive does not use a personal pronoun for themselves, but, following practices that seem to be derived from the military, refers to themselves as “this slave”, “this girl”, “this sub” and so forth, being deprived of personhood completely.

Now, it may be true that the linguistic convention of capitalising traces its roots in internet chatrooms, where it is claimed it was first used to make it easier to denote a user’s orientation, but we see a manifestation of hierarchy: The dominant is by definition the one who must be respected at all times, while the submissive is, again by definition, conditioned and expected to defer to their dominant and any other dominants they may encounter, whether within the context of a D/s-related gathering or not. The only contemporary non-D/s social setting I can think of where one is expected to show deference to complete strangers they meet merely by virtue of their title is the military. Clearly, in D/s relationships and D/s social circles, priority is given to the dominants, their views, their wishes, their desires, even their whims, merely because they have adopted that title. As for the submissive… Well, the submissive will have to wait.

In this sense, the D/s world does very little, if anything, to promote equality in the relationship. The submissive must be given permission to speak; the submissive needs to assume certain positions and postures that show their submission and availability (in ritualised settings and scenes); the submissive needs to address a dominant with the “proper” and “expected” respect, otherwise they may be punished. And so on. So, there really is nothing egalitarian about D/s, as it prioritises the dominant, giving them greater importance, over the submissive.

We must not overlook the importance of discipline in D/s: The submissive must adhere to a certain set of behavioural guidelines, otherwise punishment shall be meted out. It is often argued that the submissive may deliberately misbehave in a session, so that they shall receive a punishment they look forward to. While this is true, the concepts of discipline and punishment point to older days, where corporal punishment of children was acceptable, and slaves and servants were regularly beaten (see such references in Alexander Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin”, for instance) by their bosses, and this was – again – considered perfectly acceptable.

In other words, the principles around which D/s is built have nothing to do with love and everything to do with ownership, control, and exploitation. You can romanticise and sugar-coat it all you want, but the core remains the same:

  • The dominant owns the submissive;
  • The submissive must defer to the dominant;
  • The dominant’s image, worth, wishes, and desires are more important than those of the submissive;
  • The dominant is given primacy by virtue of their title, and it remains to be seen if they prove unworthy of the respect given to them;
  • The submissive is by definition and by virtue of their title of lower importance, and is often depersonalised altogether.

Thus, D/s does seem to create a class system, with two distinct classes of participants, whose roles are discrete and the underlings “know their place,” even though things can be fluid, i.e. a full-time submissive may eventually become a full-time dominant and vice versa; and there are people defined as “switches”, who move between the dominant and submissive roles according to their mood at the time. But still, despite the mobility between the two classes, D/s is still a class-based, hierarchical world.

D/s from a social and political perspective

D/s is often celebrated in certain socially and politically progressive circles as a form of sexual and romantic liberation, because it deviates from the norm that society accepts: in D/s circles, polyamorous relationships are not uncommon, and it is also quite common to see a female being dominant and having a male as a submissive. So, because non-monogamous and polyamorous relationships are not frowned upon within D/s circles (which pleases libertines), and because the role reversal of putting a male in a submissive role, contrary to societal norms, is considered “rebellious” and “radical”, we see D/s as an attraction or even a sub-movement within progressive movements like the movement for LGBTQ rights – do have a look at Pride parades, for instance.

An inherently hierarchical approach to romance and sex, informed by the – bolstered by millennia of patriarchy and primacy of the landowner over his slaves and serfs – idea that it is acceptable for a person to own other persons, is accepted by progressives, whereas one would expect them to frown upon it. This would initially seems strange, but the libertine element, with the fact that it embraces taboo forms of relationships (same-sex relationships, non-monogamous relationships), taboo sexual practices (such as anal sex, bondage, etc), along with the role reversal in female dominant / male submissive relationships and in practices and sessions where the male receives oral and anal penetration from a woman, have made it easy for D/s to be viewed as a perfectly acceptable form of relationship for a socially and politically progressive individual.

But this brings us to the adage that everything begins at home. How progressive can a lifestyle dominant be in their politics when they see their lover as an inferior person, who must be given permission to address them, and only using the “proper” pronouns and honorifics? Similarly, how progressive can someone be when they want to be treated as a superior by their romantic partner? How progressive can someone be when they view their partner as their property? How progressive can someone be when they take pleasure from humiliating their partner? I will get to that in a bit, but first…

Women are “meant” to be submissive

This is a myth that keeps coming up every now and then. It is based on the findings of a 1995 study, according to which “[p]reference for the dominant-initiator role was expressed in 71% of the messages by male heterosexuals, 11% of the messages by heterosexual females, and 12% of the messages by homosexual males” and “[p]reference for the submissive-recipient role was expressed in 29% of the messages by heterosexual males, 89% by heterosexual females, and 88% by homosexual males.”

What this really reflects is a manifestation of conditioning of the individual through centuries of indoctrination regarding gender roles. We are taught by our parents, our grandparents, our social surroundings, even by the toys we use as children, to accept certain, very discrete, roles based on the genitals we are born with: Girls are meant to be doting and docile, incapable of doing anything technical, and their place is at home, taking care of the kids and housework. It is merely a more subtle and palatable packaging of “barefoot and pregnant“-grade sexism. On the other hand, boys are taught that they are the hunters, the breadwinners, the dynamic, strong part of the equation, which deserves to be waited on hand and foot, by a submissive, eager-to-please, obedient, Stepford-like wife. So, in a nutshell, these findings are a manifestation of a way of thinking that is instilled in us by the conditioning we have received as children.

Still, such findings are used by misogynist groups to justify their claim that women are genetically inferior to men; I have even encountered an MRA (Men’s Rights “Activist”) troll in Second Life who used to go on about how women are genetically made to be “less rational” by men due to the “fact” that they have a “reptile brain” and, because of that, are more inclined to be submissive. There is, however, no real, scientific evidence of that. Instead, we have every reason to understand that the different responses to D/s-related roles across the genders are the result of our upbringing, with the stereotypes about the “acceptable” and “expectable” roles of each gender and / or sexual identity.

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Humiliation, depersonalisation, and dehumanisation

We need to be blunt here: The mere concept of putting someone in an inherently inferior position to someone else in a relationship contains the element of humiliation. All the sweet talk about how “precious” the slave, sub, pet (or however else the dominant calls the submissive) is to the dom(me) cannot hide it. One might claim that the roles and titles have more to do with who initiates a scene, but the requirement that a submissive (especially in a lifestyle D/s relationship) adheres to a protocol dictating their behaviour says otherwise.

Then we have the “this slave” or “this slave” linguistic convention, where the submissive is depersonalised; here, the submissive does not say, for example, “I would like to…”, but, instead, “this sub would like to…” or “this slave would like to…” Even if the submissive has a natural submissive streak, even if this submissive streak has been further reinforced by their upbringing, no one in their right mind would encourage someone to act as if they were not a person. The very moment someone loses their personhood is the very moment they lose their rights as a human being – and it goes downhill from here, because there are more extreme forms of depersonalisation, even dehumanisation, in D/s – try having a look at Simon Benson’s themes, for instance. None of these stories treat the submissive as a cherished, loved person. Instead, they glorify rape and every kind of physical, emotional, and mental abuse imaginable.

You not me

By definition, D/s places far greater emphasis on the needs and desires of the dominant, not those of the submissive, as it was clearly conceived by dominants for dominants. This is evident in the vast majority of essays written by D/s practitioners: They instruct the dominant on how to maintain the loyalty, respect, and devotion of their submissive(s); they instruct the submissive on how to be a good, obedient, dedicated, subordinate. Of course, there are treatises that explain to the dominant how to ensure that the submissive will not feel ashamed as they exit “subspace” (which is merely a pre-orgasmic state that can be evoked and prolonged with suitable play), but even those articles that seem to be written in order to promote the mental, emotional, and physical welfare of the submissive are actually written as an owner’s manual, advising the dominant on how to extract more time of good, loyal, enthusiastic service from the sub; even the articles that present themselves as “balanced” w.r.t. the importance of each participant’s wants, fears, needs, desires, worries, problems, emotional baggage, still manage to inject a few words here and there that make it evident that primacy is given to the dominant.

Is it impossible then for a healthy person to engage in D/s?

I am not going to adopt narratives like those of Steven Shainberg’s “Secretary” or the horrendously badly-filmed “Fifty Shades of Grey“, the adaptation of E.L. James’ already abysmal book. In both cases, the protagonists were screwed up. In “Secretary”, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character (the submissive) suffered from borderline personality disorder: She was the very sensitive youngest daughter of a dysfunctional family who sought relief from her anxieties and fears in self-harm. And in “Fifty Shades”, Christian Grey is a person who had been abused in his youth and employs abusive practices to derive sexual pleasure and the thrill of power and control. In fact, there are scenes where his behaviour justifies a restraining order – at least.

I have to be blunt: It is not healthy to want to rule over, and own, someone else, especially in a “total power exchange” or “lifestyle” setting. It is not healthy to want to own someone else. It is not healthy to want to punish someone for stupid stuff like not addressing you properly before other self-styled dominants, or for “topping from the bottom” (i.e. directing you as to how they want to be fucked, as they would in a balanced sex session). Yes, I am pretty sure that most lifestyle dominants should own up and start dealing with their desire to control others. That said, I can understand how someone would want to dabble in a little dominant kinky play every once in a while to unwind; letting go in sex helps someone regain their balance. But wanting to have somebody else assume, on a permanent basis, the role of your slave, your possession, your property? Sorry, that is simply medieval, and I am being undeservedly kind here.

What about the submissives, then? Well, like I said earlier about domination, willingly surrendering to your lover in order to unwind is perfectly understandable and acceptable. But seriously, the notion that, by relinquishing your freedom and your control over your life, you gain actual freedom is pure bullshit. Freedom is having power and control over your life – and yes, it comes with its own responsibilities. Of course, this notion is also used to explain the desire of sexually repressed people (mostly women) to submit: They were taught that having a libido, sexual desires, fantasies, and a sex life is a sin; so, by submitting to someone else, they feel they can tell themselves (and others) that what was done was against their will, so they cannot be held to account for their “sinful” acts. But do we liberate these repressed – and most certainly abused – people by making them the property of a dominant? I do not believe this addresses the problem, as it merely offers them an excuse. These people need to be brought to the point where they can finally feel strong and confident enough to say “I am my own person; I have my fantasies, my desires, my needs, and I need no excuses for what I am, what I want, and what I do, since I am not harming or hurting anyone.”

But weren’t you part of a D/s relationship yourself?

I knew this question would come, so I shall be upfront about it: Yes. I was part of a D/s relationship myself, even though the other party constantly denied that this was a relationship, probably because of my lower national status (I happen to be a “lazy, profligant, corrupt Greek who lives in a permanent siesta and mooches off the hard-working Germans and Britons and corrupts the paragon of honesty and decency known as the European Union” in RL), as well as a significantly lower financial and social status, as I was born into a working-class family and uneducated parents who would much rather I were born with the “right” set of genitals, and I had never married a banker or gone on a paid-by-others joyride on the Concorde. Also, I never had the chance to be particularly well-read, as I had been doing odd jobs to supplement my allowance and, later, support myself, since I was a teenager. And I had been dealing on my own with depression since I was fourteen, after a cousin favoured by my family tried to rape me. There you have it.

Regarding my current stance on D/s: I used to see myself as a submissive, because of my own emotional and other needs. I saw in it a way to rehabilitate myself sexually, as a way to get rid of any sense of guilt and, therefore, stop seeing sex as a sin after I was sexually assaulted. I readily admit that various aspects of D/s and BDSM intrigued me, and some still do, and I do incorporate some kinky stuff into my sexual encounters in RL every now and then. I will also admit, without hesitation, that I like adding a fetishistic touch to my SL and RL attire whenever I can get away with it. But this is where the line is now drawn.

As for the fact that I was a submissive, I felt the need to surrender myself to someone who would care for me, in order to feel safe, cherished and protected, not least because I grew up as a lonely, unwanted child whose presence was merely tolerated and whose constant attempts to attract attention through good grades at school went unnoticed. You see, I believed that I would be loved if I could prove that I was “good enough,” that I could “earn my keep,” with being doting, eager (or, rather, over-eager) to please, always there to lend a willing ear… And I saw the thinly-veiled contempt with which my efforts were viewed, and I received all this from someone whose writings on D/s still inform many SL fetishists. So, after realising that much of what was happening to me was not only because of the other person’s character, but also because of the highly hierarchical and, like it or not, patriarchal (even in femdom relationships), nature of D/s, a nature that appeals to characters with certain traits, I decided I had to speak. Enough with the pampering and the coddling to dom(me)s, and enough with submissive writers sucking up to dom(me)s in the echo chambers we know as fetish blogs and websites.

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Shortlink: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-ML

Valentina E.'s ZigZag Dress

Valentina E.’s ZigZag Dress; please click on the picture for a larger version (opens in a new tab / window).

Yes, I know: You can really hear the crickets in my blog, as the intervals between posts are now in the region of months. It’s true that I don’t blog anywhere near as often as I used to, as I have neither the time nor the willingness to give my SL blogging the effort I used to. I’m far too busy in RL and, truth be told, the things happening in RL make all the SL-related drama look like the bitching about First World Problems it really is.

I know this will offend a bunch of people, but when people are driven to suicide by the chronic unemployment to which they’ve been “sentenced” by the neoliberal psychopaths in charge, when people in our neighbourhoods become homeless overnight because the “bailout” programmes have made even renting a small apartment untenable, I really can’t be arsed to give much thought to the technicalities and intricacies of SL, Sansar, High Fidelity or whatever. Thus, until further notice, this blog shall remain a mere pastime for me, whenever I feel like blogging something.

Truth is, I don’t venture into SL that often anymore; I might log on twice a week or thereabouts, and I’ll spend up to thirty minutes in a sitting – no more than that. It’s not that I don’t like SL anymore, but I’ve put things into perspective and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t want SL to absorb the amounts of time and energy I used to allow it to absorb in the not-too-distant past, and I really can no longer justify the expenditure it used to represent for me. Even on Plurk and Twitter, one could say my presence has become the definition of boring, because I can’t really be bothered to discuss SL matters, and, quite frankly, I find it hard to relate to many of the things other people write about.

But really, I’m not complaining: Regardless of the fiscal and (geo)political circumstances in RL, I’m quite happy (at long last) with my life, and I’ll leave it at that, as the friends I have in SL already know the things I wanted to tell them – and I’m not too keen on allowing lower forms of online life to dissect my RL. Sorry if I sound blunt, but that’s the way it is.

Anyhow… Writing this post, which is my second fashion-related post in a row, feels a bit odd, as I’ve never actually thought of myself as a fashion blogger. I’ve become known for my often long, in-depth analyses of all matters SL, and I’ve never wanted to be a fashion blogger. But still, it’s all I can be bothered to write about these days. Does this make me lazy or something? Maybe, but I don’t care. After all, I’m just taking a break from my RL activities to write this post, I’m the one who makes the decisions regarding my blog, and who knows when I’ll find the inspiration, the willingness and the time to write my next one?

Valentina E. ZigZag Dress

Please click on the picture for a larger version (opens in a new tab / window).

So, after this lengthy prologue, I shall proceed to the main topic without further ado. Yesterday, Valentina E. announced their new “ZigZag” dress, which is available at the Shiny Shabby event, and comes in versions compatible with the Maitreya Lara and the Slink Physique and Hourglass mesh bodies, and two “standard sizing” sizes (small and medium).  Upon seeing this dress, I had to have it. I love risqué clothing, both in RL and SL, and garments that allow for a bit of déshabillé really push my buttons. So, I teleported to the venue and bought it, and also took a bunch of photos to show you all. Flickr album will come lateris here.

What I’m wearing and using…

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Shortlink: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-Mx

My new look for this springtime

My new look for this springtime; Please click on the picture for the full-size version (opens in a new tab / window).

OK, so I decided to update (once again) my look for this spring – and it’s been quite a bit since I last posted anything here. So, without further ado, here’s what I’m wearing:

And here‘s the album on Flickr!

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Shortlink: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-Mp

2015 was a year with many ups and downs, both in RL and SL, and there have been numerous ways in which RL affected my SL and vice versa – and not always in a favourable manner. At any rate, what matters is that I’m still around, and have managed to improve several important parts of my RL.

One of the things I describe myself as is an amateur builder; although I don’t have any proper 3D graphics skills, I do dabble in modifying all sorts of stuff I can get my hands on, provided it comes with the appropriate permissions. I might want to personalise something and make it fit in with a certain project or look I have in mind, or I might want to make it look more realistic, especially when it comes to scale; either way, I don’t usually leave modifiable things “stock”.

With Second Life prefab builds, scale is one of my pet peeves. As both I and Penny Patton have explained before (my post and Penny’s), the viewer’s default camera offsets give a skewed perspective and this leads to oversized, poorly-proportioned avatars, and we design our builds accordingly, i.e. small homes with ceilings 7 meters high, doors 5 meters tall and 2.5 meters wide, and don’t even get me started on things like staircases.

Now, many of us have bought prefab buildings at one point or another. Most of them, sadly, are made for SL’s typical gigantic avatars and waste too much virtual estate, plus their sense of place generally sucks, simply because of their proportions. A few are spot-on. Others are a mixed bag.

A case in point is the build I’m presenting today: Trompe Loeil’s Iona Conservatory. Released at January 2015’s Collabor88 event, it’s a gorgeous build, generally well-dimensioned, enhanced with materials (specular and normal maps), and I highly recommend it – it even comes at a very attractive price. It would make a gorgeous greenhouse, art studio, office, or whatever for your region.

Trompe Loeil's beautiful Iona Conservatory build. Image credit: Trompe Loeil

Trompe Loeil’s beautiful Iona Conservatory build. Please click on the picture for the full-size version (opens in a new tab / window). Image credit: Trompe Loeil

However, it has two of my pet peeves: The entrance’s stair steps are a bit on the high side, and the doors are exceedingly tall (the handles are near my chin, and my avatar, wearing high heels, is 179cm tall; not exactly what you’d call “short stuff”).

The Iona Conservatory as you see it when you rez it. As mentioned, its doors and stairsteps are a bit on the high side, but thats nothing that cant be fixed. Again, please click on the picture for the full-size version opens in ne w tab window).

The Iona Conservatory as you see it when you rez it. As mentioned, its doors and stairsteps are a bit on the high side, but thats nothing that cant be fixed. Again, please click on the picture for the full-size version (opens in new tab  / window).

Honestly, though, these are things that can be fixed. Being the die-hard tinkerer that I am, I set out to work on this build. First, I set out to resize the doors, as per the dimensions I gave in my scale-related post from 2014. The target height was 280cm (2.80 meters). Obviously, resizing the doors would leave a gaping hole between them and their surround. So, I needed to fill that space with something. Before resizing the doors, I noted down their width and height, as these would help me determine the “filler”‘s dimensions. Then, I set out to make (with prims, and then create the mesh with Mesh Studio) a new frame of sorts. After resizing the doors, I performed the necessary calculations for proper positioning the various bits, and then, after creating the mesh, I imported it back into SL. Each door has its own extra frame, and the LI for each side is 7. Let’s have a look at the door frames, shall we?

As said, my avatar with these shoes on) is 179cm tall. Now that the doors are 280cm tall, things are much more proportionate.

As said, my avatar (with these shoes on) is 179cm tall. Now that the doors are 280cm tall, things are much more proportionate. Again, please click on the picture for the full-size version (opens in new tab / window).

Originally, the doors were set to open outwards, robbing the little porch in front of them of some useful space. I opted to rescript them with Kool Door scripts.

And now the doors open inwards...

And now the doors open inwards… Again, please click on the picture for the full-size version (opens in new tab / window).

But the steps are still a bit high; these will be taken care of soon enough.

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The steps are still rather high, but I’ll take care of them soon enough. Again, please click on the picture for the full-size version (opens in new tab / window).

Now comes the interesting part. What do you do to texture this thing, especially when you don’t have the original textures? If you can’t get the creator of the product you bought to help you by providing sample textures or AO maps, you have two options: One is to take a bunch of snapshots and start working on them in GIMP or Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro or whatever; the other is to use a tool like the SL Cache Viewer to locate the textures you need in your viewer’s cache, open them in your favourite graphics app and make new textures that will fit in with your modifications. Whichever course you take, don’t even think of selling the modified textures. You must always understand that there’s a very thick line between modifying a product for your own use and enjoyment – you have every right to do that – and infringing on someone else’s work.

Now we come to a way in which prefab designers could make themselves a lot more helpful: Offering, either bundled with the build, or as an additional product (with its own price), the textures, UV and AO maps for that specific build, they could encourage people’s creativity and gain extra credit for customer service. And I do believe they’d be safe when it comes to their intellectual property, because mesh builds come with their own AO maps that are applied on the various textures, and trying to use the new, modified textures with different builds is completely useless.

At any rate, I sat down and created textures for the windows and irons of these new frames. Here’s the end result (for now):

Not meaning to brag, but I'm pretty pleased with how these extra bits turned out. Again, please click on the picture for the full-size version (opens in new tab / window).

Not meaning to brag, but I’m pretty pleased with how these extra bits turned out. Again, please click on the picture for the full-size version (opens in new tab / window).

So, that’s it for now! The stairsteps will be handled soon enough. I’ve got plans for this build, along with others. There’s this project I’ve got on my mind, and I’ve located some buildings and mesh creator kits that have caused a rush of ideas I’ve experienced only a few times before in my life.

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Shortlink: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-Md

From the recent movie "The Martian". Image credit: 20th Century Fox. Please click on the image for full-size version (opens in new tab / window).

From the recent movie “The Martian”. Image credit: 20th Century Fox. Please click on the image for full-size version (opens in new tab / window).

The discovery of flowing water on Mars, along with the theatrical release of the movie “The Martian“, caused a wave of renewed enthusiasm and hope for a manned mission to the red planet. But I think this discovery is actually more likely to put paid to any prospect of manned exploration of the planet.

On 28 September 2015, NASA confirmed what had been known among scientists for about forty years now, i.e. that liquid water flows on Mars. The surface of the red planet’s north pole contains ice made up of water by 70% and with a total volume of 1.6 cubic kilometers, with about the same volume being contained in the south pole. To give you a little perspective, Greenland’s ice cap contains 2.8 cubic kilometers of ice.

So no, that’s not really news, not by a long shot. Many researchers believe that the northern plains of Mars were covered by an ocean whose depth was some hundred meters, perhaps the same size as the arctic ocean. The findings of the various rovers sent by the US to Mars, and especially the abundance of deuterium, tend to support the hypothesis that, in its ancient years, Mars had water in abundance. Of course, the existence of liquid water on today’s Mars makes it more likely for some indigenous form(s) of life to exist on the planet. The probes that have explored the planet so far (and still explore it) have proven it is not exactly as hostile to life as we once thought.

All right, then. Now, the proven existence of water, the increased likelihood of the existence of life on Mars, and the increased interest, due to NASA’s internet-centred PR and the hype of “The Martian” could be considered by some as strong enough factors to bring the United States’ comatose manned space programme back to life, and possibly be the catalyst for the long- and oft-proposed manned mission to the red planet. Well… Not exactly, and I’ll explain why.

Vague promises, but, when money talks, bullshit walks

Already, in the summer of 2014, we had the National Research Council’s report “Pathways to Exploration – Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration“, which was a carefully considered, “balanced” report, neither outright stating that the United States shall be henceforth earthbound, nor announcing any ambitious, daring plans. After all, given that the United States, in step with the rest of the world, prefers to waste taxpayers’ money on bailing out irresponsible, profligant, outright criminal banksters instead of paving the road to a future, it makes far greater sense for the American manned spaceflight programme to remain in a vegetative state, setting vague targets, conveniently placed somewhere in the distant future, with an horizon of more than two decades. So, both Washington and NASA are happy: NASA’s bureaucracy survives, and Washington gets to sort-of maintain some kind of sense of national pride for the plebes; and, to top it all off, no government runs the risk to have to commit to something that will be done during its tenure.

The logo of the Constellation Programme, which has been killed off by US President Barack Obama.

The logo of the Constellation Programme, which has been killed off by US President Barack Obama (click on image for larger version – opens in new tab / window).

The Obama administration killed off the Constellation programme, which aimed for a return to the Moon by 2020, and the Space Shuttle. Since then, the US manned space programme is, as I said earlier, in a coma. NASA follows the “flexible path”, i.e. the development of technologies that might be useful for missions to a nearby asteroid or for missions whose destination lies in the vicinity of the Moon, but everything is written so that no American government will ever have to commit to any expenditure. This was confirmed on 8 October 2015, with the release of the report titled “NASA’s Journey to Mars – Pioneering Next Steps in Space Exploration“. All this “creative ambiguity” is because Washington is completely averse to the idea of spending the billions of dollars manned missions to the Moon, or to Mars, would require. Of course, they have already wasted a trillion dollars on the jalopy known as the F-35 Lightning II, and they keep on allowing the 1% to effectively not pay taxes, but these things are easier to sell to the voters, as jingoism and the idea that the rich deserve more than other human beings sound more “natural” to the plebes.

Of course, even Baldrick from Blackadder the Third can understand that, without a significant increase in NASA’s budget, the space agency is doomed to linger in our planet’s orbit, even when  (or, I should say, if) the Orion is finally built. The harsh, bitter truth is that a manned mission to Mars will cost more than what the entire International Space Station has cost so far; its realisation shall require years, if not decades, of hard, committed, continuous, dedicated work, while the risk of both failure and – yes – casualties is significant.

And this is where the public sentiment comes into play. How willing is the American (first and foremost) public to accept the idea that they could spend a few hundred billions of dollars on a project that might be riddled with problems and cost lives, and whose benefits are not easily understandable by the average taxpayer?  Yes, I mentioned that the US has already spent a trillion on a turd that can’t fly, can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t hold its own in a dogfight (the F-35) and whose software is riddled with bugs and horrible security holes, but hey, Faux News’ talking heads can easily tell the plebes it will eventually “kill bad guys”, and this is a benefit that everyone considers tangible. On the other hand, the scientific benefits and other from a manned space mission are not as “immediate”. Yes, I know the American and international public loves space, but in an anodyne, lazy way, i.e. with Facebook “likes” and following space exploration-related accounts on Twitter.

Let’s be blunt: A manned space programme is far from becoming reality, especially in our times that are saddled with geopolitical and financial instability. A manned spaceflight to Mars requires a very well-specified plan regarding the kind of rockets, spacecraft etc. will be needed. And it also requires an awful lot of money, to the tune of $400 billion, and I think this is a conservative estimate. Those who can read between the lines understand that NASA pretends it can send humans to Mars with its current budget. But with current funds, adjusting for inflation, the summer 2014 report concluded that, until 2040, NASA will get only $100 billion for Mars-related work. That’s peanuts.

So, what do we make of “The Martian”? Well, it was an OK movie, which certainly helped get the hopes of the Mars-loving community up. But, every two or three years we see the same movie in re-runs. The existence of water on Mars is announced, then we are reassured that manned missions to Mars are just around the corner, just wait and see – a rinse and repeat process for a crowd with a goldfish memory.

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