Peake Nationalism

Timothy Peake boarded the International Space Station a few hours ago becoming the United Kingdom's first official astronaut. It has become headline news, dominating the day's news cycle.

But whilst Peake left our pale blue dot with only the humble honorific "Mister", he has subsequently been awarded the dubious appellation of "British Astronaut".

Now, I'm no open-borders pan-nationalist and nor do I in any wish to detract or denigrate Peake's accomplishments — indeed, it is only out of a genuine respect of "our Tim's" achievements that I pen this in the first place — but are we still clinging to the idea that an extraordinary effort by a co-member of our species requires a nationalistic qualifier?

How much do we really have in common with our "fellow countrymen"? This is, after all, the International Space Station, to which Peake was elevated from Kazakhstan on the back of a Russian rocket, in order that he may peacefully collaborate with an American, a Ukrainian, etc.

I encountered the rebuttal that support of this nature is inspirational and incentive to others, but is it really motivating to know that — if you toil to achieve greatness in this life — then your accomplishments will be cheaply co-opted by mediocrities who only share the same colour passport as you? In this sense, isn't national pride really a form of national insecurity?

A "Briton" in space: if space travel can teach us anything, it's that broadcasting the specific patch of ground you were born in is an outdated, tribalistic contrivance and should be assigned to the dustbin of history.

Comments (5)


"Timothy Peake, astronaut to the International Space Station. (sponsoring nation: UK)".
Is that a better phrasing?

Dec. 16, 2015, 4:46 a.m. #
Erik Johansson

This mirrors my thinking when we got a "swedish" astronaut in 2006, but since then there has been lots of good promotion for space. Everyone likes being able to say I've met an astronaut. This is also a big reason why merit can never be the only selection criteria for these kinds of programs.


Dec. 16, 2015, 8:14 a.m. #

There is one spot where a little reminder of nationality is actually useful: we've grown a culture in which Britons believe that they can't do space-related things (or even science, engineering, maths in general, sadly). The emphasis that this is "one of us" who went through the same school system, had the same opportunities and ended up there does have some merit.

History is littered with examples of nationalistic fervour to claim superiority ending badly, but there are also places where it has inspired and been a definite force for good.

The question is one of balance. It's not an easy question.

Dec. 17, 2015, 1:44 a.m. #

Besides, the first British astronaut was Helen Sharman.

Dec. 18, 2015, 3:34 p.m. #

I think that patriotism (as opposed to nationalism) is virtuous and would file this in that category. And I expect the place of one's upbringing will continue to be meaningful to others as a matter of interest and an aid in the process of coming to know another (and in spite of the temptation to stereotype).

So one day "Terran" may replace "Briton" but currently that isn't sufficiently distinct.

No doubt defending tribalistic contrivances is outdated and should be assigned to the dustbin of history. :-)

Dec. 23, 2015, 9:44 p.m. #