By Ben Guarino
14 April 2017
(The Washington Post) – On Wednesday, 12 April 2017, 56 years to the day after Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space, a Phoenix-based collective called the Autonomous Space Agency Network launched a weather balloon to about 90,000 feet. The balloon, Aphrodite 1, weighed a little over a pound and was inflated with 120 cubic feet of helium. Aphrodite 1's payload consisted of a GPS sensor, a camera and a message for President Trump. It was a printout of a tweet that read, “@realDonaldTrump: Look at that, you son of a bitch.”
“To our knowledge, the Aphrodite 1 launch was the first political protest in near space,” a member of the group wrote to The Washington Post in an email. (Members of the Autonomous Space Agency Network, or ASAN, are anonymous as “a way to discourage the use of the group for the ego or vanity of individual members,” the person said.)
The tweet was quoting Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the sixth person to walk on the moon. He famously said of viewing Earth from space: “You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, 'Look at that, you son of a bitch.’ ” This quote has been cited as an example of the overview effect, a perspective shift toward global unity and conservation reported by astronauts struck by the planet's fragility.
“Everyone at ASAN is a pretty big fan of Dr. Mitchell, who was one of the more … colorful characters to have ever set foot on another celestial body,” the ASAN member said. “We sought to send a message of protest to President Trump against his proposed budget cuts for NASA’s Earth science program, which is invaluable to understanding climate change and making informed, data-driven policy decisions.” […]
The launch was planned to coordinate not only with Yuri's Night but in solidarity with the upcoming March for Science, the ASAN member said. The group lamented White House budget cuts to four of NASA's Earth science missions: CLARREO, the solar wind monitoring system DSCOVR, the ocean and atmosphere monitoring program PACE, and the orbiting carbon observatory OCO-3. [more]