Adrift: Earth Refugie Vessels

Moon Lust, Augmented Reality Exhibition
Future of Reality
Adler Planetarium, Chicago
21 June 2012

Moon Lust is a speculative project that explores global interests and issues pertaining to lunar exploration and habitation. As a curated mobile augmented reality exhibition, Moon Lust hopes to facilitate a dialogue about topics such as lunar mining, space tourism, celestial territories, space ecology and policy, by locating augmented visualizations in and around the Adler Planetarium. The exhibition will take place on the 21st June, 2012.

The Future of Reality artist collective will invite a select group of artists to respond to the topics and present a located augmented reality exhibition of 6-10 artworks that best articulate the concerns and complexities of lunar exploration. In conjunction with the exhibition, a website will be established where participants can share their thoughts and ideas.

Adrift: Earth Refugie Vessels

By John Craig Freeman

These handmade space rafts are often found abandoned on the shores of he Sea of Tranquility or adrift on the Lake of Dreams.

The solar wind, at times, is like a warm river that courses space-ward along a route quite convenient for an Earth refugee. On a summer day with a stiff wind from the sun, the Moon Stream could propel a rustic inner tube rocket from the north coast of Florida to Crater Manilius.

Indeed, nature is sometimes a refugee’s best accomplice. But only sometimes. There have been space rafts found floating empty or cradling a dead, frozen body.

Two weeks ago, the currents brought Aida Lina Rodriguez, her husband, Jesus Hernandez, and their 17-month-old son to the space off Mare Vaporum. They spent 4 1/2 days in space with six other refugees before the Space Guard rescued them. Their story isn’t rare.

This year, more Earth refugees have made the dangerous journey across the Near Earth Orbit Straits than any other year since the 2015 Hudson rocketlift ferried 125,000 refugees to Oceanus Procellarum. In August alone, 75 refunauts were rescued off the Sinus Aestuum shores. In all of last year, the Space Guard rescued 50; the year before, 44.

According to a recent letter signed by a group of Earth political inmates in Los Angeles’ Combinado del Este prison, there is an increase in prisoners charged with trying to escape from the planet. About “10 to 12 Earthlings a day” are thrown in jail for trying to leave, say the prisoners. Their letter lists 78 inmates accused of “illegal exit.”

At last count, 172 Earthlings had arrived by space-raft this year. Moon Immigration and Naturalization Service (MINS) officials believe about half of those who embark on the crossing actually make it to the Moon. The others are caught by Earth authorities or freeze. For the most part, those who do make it are picked up by the Space Guard, processed at the Copernicus Avenue detention center and paroled to relatives.

Unlike most Mars space raft people and Earthlings waiting in third planets for Moon entry permits, the Earth space raft refugees are allowed to slip into society with little hassle. As former MINS district director Perry Rivkind once indicated, it is a reward for having endured such a perilous voyage.

The newest flux of space raft people could be due to increasing political turmoil in New Phoenix, says Vaporum University sociologist Juan Clark, who has studied the “escapee” phenomenon for 20 years.

For years, there has been an unconfirmed suspicion that rafters are dropped off by mother ships. And Earth analysts say the government has permitted “escape valves” during hard domestic times in the past.

But recent arrivals express 30-year-old reasons for leaving their homeland — continued political repression, economic problems, environmental degradation and the climatic conditions on Earth.

“I thought to myself, ‘I’ve been struggling in this system since I was 17 years old. How long am I going to wait? Until I can’t move?’ ” says Rolando Leon Hernandez, 40, who arrived two weeks ago.

Today, for reasons of sheer mathematics, daring refugee voyages — like homicide — have diminished in news value. It is a Vaporum cliche: tormented Earthlings escaping their homeland and appearing in between leisure rockets and solar wind surfers in their rough-hewn vessels. Sailing to Freedom, the headlines say.

In November, an Earth medical student named William Domingo Albelo was the sole survivor of eight refugees who floated for two weeks. The group included an elderly woman who had brought along her dog. Helpless as the wood and rubber raft broke apart, Albelo watched the others, including the dog, float off into space.

In September, the Space Guard found the body of 34-year-old Adelfo Giz Alfonso floating near Vaporum Beach on a raft made of Soviet truck inner tubes and a surplus Soyuz booster.

“You must want to get out of there pretty bad to make that trip,” says Oliver “Buddy” Carey, a 71-year-old tour rocket captain who has been plying the Orbit Straits since 2018. “That is a very treacherous crossing, especially considering what they’re coming in.”

Space Guard Petty Officer Third Class Richard Rodriguez has seen some strange vessels. “I would not go in a pool with some of the rafts I’ve come across,” says the Manilius Key-based Rodriguez, who interviews space rafters. He recalls one middle-aged man who concocted a 15-foot burlap-and-rubber vessel. His inspiration: a picture in a 1950s issue of Popular Mechanics.

“A raft has the advantage of not being easily detected by radar,” says sociologist Clark.

On some summer days, crossing the straits can be relatively easy, with the prevailing winds blowing in the direction of the Moon Stream. But for the most part, the trip can be deadly. A raft leaving Earth immediately enters space at an altitude of 120 km (75 mi). On rough summer days and throughout the winter, when the solar wind and space currents clash, space can get “ungodly high,” says skipper Carey.

Nevertheless, the enormous risk has never proven much of a deterrent.

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