The Foundation Society
This page relates to the fictional “Foundation Society” in the UK Space Design Competition. It is a convenience but is important for defining the fictional history of the setting. The background of the Society is an aspirational alternate history.
The Foundation Society is a super-national organisation which funds development and arbitrates disputes above the Karman line (the formal boundary of space). Representing all governments on Earth and regional administrations on Mars and Venus at an assembly level but with a professional cabinet, the Foundation Society is committed to the fair and just allocation of exploration and environmental funds for maximum impact. The Foundation Society operates with significant autonomy from its assembly to ensure impartiality in its decision making.
The Foundation Society was formed as the “Foundational Group” in 1973, following the publication of multiple papers linking increased atmospheric carbon to economic downturn. These results were associated with reduced agricultural output and the increased cost of producing basic steels, advanced alloys, and semiconductors relative to expectations. Despite the ongoing tensions of the Cold War, fortunate timing with several unfortunate natural disasters permitted talks about the changing climate to proceed in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.
Senior scientists, engineers, and economists at the conference from the thirty largest economies acknowledged and agreed on the potential climate and resultant economic effects of greenhouse gas emission and surface-albedo effects. Recent public setbacks in the Soviet space and PRC’s nuclear programmes, embarrassment of the United States and United Kingdom in an espionage scandal, and violence in French Somalia (now Djibouti) set an ideal stage for an international good news story. An international body was founded under the Foundational Group name, whose members included the representatives of the Belgrade conference and invitees from the top 100 carbon emitters.
A science-led effort, achievable short, medium, and long-term policies were recommended to national governments. These included the banning of atmospheric and underwater nuclear tests and the promotion and international subsidy of low-enrichment civil nuclear reactors both locally and in rapidly industrialising nations. The need to ensure compliance with policies led to early cooperation on satellite development and space-launch technologies, with private companies moving into spaceflight in the late 1970s.
In the following decades, continual investment into cheap, green electrical and thermal power led to reduced consumption, and so production of crude oil, raising its price. Lower oil availability and higher prices kept the use of plastics to non-disposable items, and research focussed on advanced materials rather than cheap production. Everyday items continued to use biodegradable, plant-derived materials, which were made cheaper by reforestation and forest-management initiatives.
In 1985, the structure of the “Foundation Society” (with the “-al” having been lost to history and “group” having been deemed too exclusive a term) was altered given its growing size, to have a professional, scientific cabinet, and a scientifically-informed political assembly. With atmospheric carbon levels stabilising, the Foundation Society met to discuss the outstanding issue of mining and processing emissions. They could find no way to reduce emissions without reducing mining or demand, which was already at an economical minimum thanks to cheap power from nuclear and nascent solar making recycling cost-effective. With significant technical expertise in spaceflight and chemical handling, and a large budget from international contributions, the cabinet decided to fund an experimental lunar-mining mission, to be chosen by competitive tender.
The development of crewed mission proposals were prestige projects for involved nations and commercial companies, and enabled a step-change in thinking about spaceflight. The initial missions were a partial success, with raw aluminium being successfully synthesised on Tycho crater by the selected joint venture designed by Dougledyne Astrosystems and Flechtel Constructors, if at greater cost than initially estimated.
This success kick-started the commercial rush to utilise lunar resources, as emissions legislation for on-Earth mining was drawn up. The Foundation Society, as a pre-existing, internationally recognised entity now in the space sector was grandfathered into the role of administrator and arbitrator for off-Earth operations. Given the cost of large-scale space activities, the Foundation Society now invests in projects for the general scientific, artistic, and economic good which would otherwise struggle to raise capital.
The Foundation Society manages large off-Earth settlements and enterprises that provide critical resources, now both to Earth and citizens who make their home beyond it. The Foundation Society is prepared to bear the cost of discovery and innovation to bring economic, cultural, and scientific growth to Humanity. Its representatives now include all nations on Earth and the autonomous local governments of its own and independent settlements in space.