Today in cosmic history: Association of Autonomous Astronauts conference lifts off, 1999,

“The days of this society are numbered. Its reasons and its merits have been weighed in the balance and found wanting; its inhabitants are divided into two parties, one of which wants to build their own spaceships and leave this society behind.” (Association of Autonomous Astronauts)

June 19 marks 18 years since the Third Intergalactic Conference of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts.

The AAA was launched on April 23rd 1995, by a small group who gathered in the shadow of the Copper Horse statue in Windsor Great Park, to launch a weather balloon – inaugurating the world’s first independent and community-based space programme. A Five Year Plan was also established for creating, by the year 2000, a world-wide network of local, community-based AAA groups dedicated to building their own spaceships and escaping Earth, particularly as capitalism ratcheted up exploitation and destruction.

The Association became a worldwide network of community-based groups dedicated to reaching the stars through grassroots methods. The Association announced its five-year mission, (itself a TV sci-fi nod, referencing classic first series Star Trek): to “establish a planetary network to end the monopoly of corporations, governments and the military over travel in space”. AAA groups tended to focus on their own special obsessions or interests – science, training for space travel, or developing a space-going culture, including working on proposals and rehearsals for stellar music, clothes design, sport, alternative routes into space including dreaming and astral projection… and so much more… All in all a huge joyous romp, linking DJs, artists, musicians, troublemakers, artists and anarchists among others in a vast cosmic web of ideas, provocation, creative ferment and wishful thinking… The spirit common to the wildly varying AAA chapters could be said to be the liberation of the human spirit from both the bounds of earth and the social constraints that hold billions in bondage…

AAA actions included both serious conferences, protests against the militarisation of space, and art projects, media pranks… and a lot of dancing.  AAA chapters operated independently of one another, and travelled in often tangential directions, crossing each others path, sometimes, by accident.

AAA were variously described as  “a loose bunch of Marxists, futurists, and revolutionaries on the dole”, going on to explicate their mission as “reclaim[ing] the idea of space travel for the common man”, or as  “space artists” that “combine[d] freely space, cyberspace, raves, esoteric things, techno-music, etc.”, calling attention to “how they recycle … key images (the MIR Space Station, the astronauts on the Moon, etc.) … mixed with science-fiction (and specially Star Trek) buzz-words or images” and then subjected these “sacred icons” to “iconoclastic treatments”.

In response to the increasing global interest in the organisation, the AAA decided to host its first Intergalactic Conference in Vienna in April of 1997.

“The affair was arranged by net culture organization Public NetBase in conjunction with the Vienna AAA faction, and the dozens of conference attendees spoke to the AAA’s increasingly global reach. There were delegates of all ages from the UK, Austria, and France, perhaps the youngest coming from the local Kinder Museum, which had designed a spaceship for the occasion. The pyramidal ship, named Achtung! Wir Kommen! (Watch Out! Here we Come!), was placed in the middle of the conference hall and was well received by the AAA members, who admired its psychedelic design which, according to a report from the conference, stood “in stark contrast to the interior of NASA spaceships, which are dull as fuck.”

The presence of youth at the event was encouraged by the AAA members, all of whom anticipated the effects that early exposure of AAA ideas to young astronauts might have in the future. After a day of music and games, the conference concluded with a number of speakers, ranging from AAA delegates from around the world to professors from Austrian universities, touching on topics from the history of the AAA to the politics and physics of space travel.

The night ended in typical AAA fashion with a “Rave in Space,” which according to reports was “just the right mixture of confusion and hedonism” and lasted until sunrise. The astronauts spent the majority of the following day recovering from their “hectic training schedule” and playing three-sided football, a reinvention of conventional football as a metaphor for class struggle which involves three teams instead of two.

“Due to the success of the first Intergalactic Conference, it was promptly decided that a second was in order and in 1998 delegates from the world over descended on Bologna, Italy for the occasion. Many of the astronauts stayed at a villa in the hills outside of Bologna, the alleged filming location for Pasolini’s infamous 120 Days of Sodom. While all of the nights ended with a drunken spectacle at the villa, if any of the astronauts’ reports are to be believed, they never found the opportunity to reenact some of the movie’s more memorable scenes while staying there.

The second Intergalactic Conference also saw a massive increase in attendance, attesting to the expanding influence of the AAA. Over 1,000 astronauts turned out to a former warehouse turned cyber bar called The Link in Bologna, Italy, a venue chosen not simply for its choice aesthetics, but also because it featured a crucial component for attempting to achieve flight: an enormous dance floor. The focus of this conference was consolidation, the fourth phase of the AAA’s five year plan. The result of the conference was an examination and acknowledgement of previous victories and a vigorous plan for the push into Y2K and the final phase of the AAA’s five year program.”

IN June 1999, London hosted the AAA’s Third Intergalactic Conference, under the banner Space: 1999 (another geek reference: to the fabulous TV sci-fi series which folk of a certain age grew up on… Not that they’d been dying for 4 years to get to use that or owt). The ‘Festival of independent and community-based space exploration’ ran from June 18th – 27th, in London, Earth.

Space: 1999 aimed to explore “the new possibilities that open up when we form autonomous communities in outer space… [it] will form part of the AAA’s FINAL PUSH, and will bring together Autonomous Astronauts from around the world to present various activities, including media invasions, recruitment drives and propaganda efforts. This ten day festival will also expose local communities in London to the possibilities of independent space exploration. Moving in several directions at once, the AAA has declared: ‘Only those who attempt the impossible will achieve the absurd’. “

The conference was designed as the linchpin of the ten-day festival, though the Launchpad was in fact the AAA action the day before the conference: the London chapter participated in eruption of revolt and dancing that was the J18 Carnival Against Capitalism protest/riot in the City, timed to coincide with that year’s G8 summit. A contingent of AAA members dressed in space suits delivered a petition against the militarisation of space to the headquarters of military-industrial aerospace/defence contractor Lockheed.

Space 1999’s Info Centre at 123A Mare Street, Hackney, was open daily throughout the festival.

The program for the Conference ran as follows:

Saturday 19th: Noon – 6pm:
• John Eden (Raido AAA) Conference Introduction
• Professor Chris Welch (Lecturer in Astronautics, Kingston University) “The history of the British Interplanetary Society”
• Paul Macauley (author of Pasquale’s Angel and contributor to Interzone) “How the future should have been”
• Mark Sinker (writer specialising in aesthetics, sex and the immediate future and currently working on ‘The Electric Storm’, a cultural history of music and technology between 1876 and 1982) “Home is where the heat is – when spacemen fall to earth”
• Neil Gordon Orr (Disconaut AAA) “Everybody gets to go to the moon – next steps into space”
• Zigi Sinnette (Missiles for Peaceful Purposes, member of UK Rocketry Association) “Build your own rocket”
• Barry Bryant (Aotearoa AAA) “Towards an everythingisation of stuff: Pasifikan strategies for radical emigration”
• Riccardo Balli (AAA Bologna) and Gerard Z (Grub Street 23) “333” Dorothy Matrix (Future Excavations Inc.) “Hostile Environments”
• Jason Skeet (Inner City AAA) “See you in space” Plus AAA propaganda films and stalls. Venue: University of Westminster, Marylebone Road,

A short report of the conference, appeared in the Space 1999 Daily Report the next day:

“Westminster University yesterday hosted the most exciting event of its academic year, the Third Intergalactic Conference of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts. The conference joined together AAA and non-AAA spealers, and though the eight talks were demanding and the conference itself lasted the whole afternoon, we can say that the degree of attention from the public was impressive. The proof of this was the debate at the final symposium, when interesting and engaging questions were asked (certainly, as an Italian autonomous astronaut, I am used to silly comments about the AAA project.)

The conference began at 11 am, with autonomous astronauts preparing the registration table, including a brief Who’s Who of conference speakers and a collection of AAA propaganda, plus the new Space 1999 daily report. At the beginning of the conference there were about 40 people in the room.

John Eden introduced and managed the whole event. The first talk was by Professor Chris Welch, who traced the history of the British Interplanetary Society since its foundation in 1933. Science fiction writers as well as young physicists were involved and, after having been considered nothing more than a bizarre organisation for over twenty years, they were revalue as visionaries at the beginning of the space race in the Sixties. After him, Paul MacAuley proposed his alternative historification of the conquest of the Solar System. Mark Sinker talked about the negative impression he had whilst meeting government-sponsored astronauts, and Neil Disconaut discussed the rise of free market space groups.

After a 20 minute pause, Barry Bryant (Aotearoa AAA) reflected on the necessity for radical emigration from Earth which, according to him, is necessary to save the planet from mankind’s thirst for resources. Then he explained his group’s researches on building spaceships with Readily Available Materials (RAM technology). Ricardo Balli (AAA Bologna) sketched the lines of their literary project, which includes a 333 day extension to the AAA five year plan. Dorothy Matrix outlined a psychogeographical experiment concerning the resistance of office mentalities in hostile environments, which took place at the juncture of three highways in the north of England. The last intervention was Inner City AAA’s, which consisted of a review of space colonisation projects, and a parallel critique of the technological utopianism operating in them. Inner City AAA stressed the necessity of looking as the social implications of these rationalistic utopias, in order to become aware of their totalitarian implications.

To briefly conclude, we can say that we really enjoyed the conference, and the only thing we regret about it is that no women was scheduled amongst the speakers.” [No shit? – typist’s note]

The subsequent festival included a rollercoaster of events, among which were (not an exhaustive list):

  • AAA films, presentations, installations and performances, (including Lola Chanel, of AAA Vienna’s “Women in Space”, Nomad AAA “This is my confession”, Disconaut AAA “Means of Flight – an alphabet for autonomous astronauts”, Laura Liverani “Mondo Astronauta – portraits of the AAA”;
    Films and video showings, DJs
  • Three-sided Football, AAA Krazy Golf & Picnic in Hyde Park,
  • a Space pub Quiz and debate of the Millennium: Star Trek v. Babylon 5?; an AAA Bologna Psychic Attack against NASA at Blackwall Steps;
  • Solstice outdoor training for autonomous astronauts, featuring star navigation, low level gravity practice, dreamtime workshop, and astral projection exercise, on Hampstead Heath.
  • The Foundation for Art in Zero-Gravity Envirnonments launch event, featuring Stuart Buchanan (Nomad AAA), Project One (resident theatre company for space) and the General Consul of the Nomad Territories.
  • Inner City AAA Grub Street Launch Site tour and psychogeographical experiment.
  • An AAA pop night featuring The Adventures of Parsley (5 piece pop combo playing cult 60s and 70s TV themes in moonbase alpha spacesuits), guest vocalist Norbert J.Hetherington, plus The Family Way. AAA videos. Wig ‘n’ Casino gay Northern Soul after midnight.
  • Raido AAA Astral Training: Try to visualise yourself in space, or at Raido AAA’s launch site in the minutes before you go to sleep. Report any results, or related dreams to aaa
  • A Space Fete, organised by Oceania AAA. The first/last annual AAA garden party. Events include drinking, eating, dancing, and space-themed competitions. Bring your own drinks and food.
  • A Protest Against The 1986 Space Act and Spaceship Licensing Laws. outside the British National Space Centre,
  • Intergalactic Triolectic Football Cup (Three-sided Football) in Kennington Park.

    Finally, the festival ended as all the intergalactic conferences had, with an All-night Rave in Space.

The AAA’s five-year mission’s completion was marked at the 2000 Fortean Times conference… The fate of the Association had been sealed from its birth, and the date for its formal disbanding was set for 4/23/00. True to its word, on this day a notice was sent by Raido AAA announcing that the Association was dissolving itself, following its five year plan to its logical conclusion.

“The initial idea was we’ll do a five year program and then just do something else… We didn’t want to make a career of this, we just wanted to light the fuse and then get on with something else. Then we won’t become a corporation, we won’t be reviving the ideas we had when we were 20 or something… The AAA was never meant to become an institution, but was meant to exist as the spark which would provide the impetus for a prolonged social movement aimed at making space available to everyone.”

Though some chapters have continued activities to the present day. Among those was Riccardo Balli, who instituted a 333 day extension to the five-year plan with the Bologna faction.

“At AAA Bologna, we weren’t happy after the Five Year Plan about the level in space technology achieved from AAA groups and felt it necessary to launch an extension of the original program in order to present the software of the AAA Bologna spaceship,” (Balli)

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If the AAA mostly disbanded, the dream remains as potent as ever. If we needed to escape the mouldering decay of capitalism by leaving Earth 20 years ago – now, the need is more urgent than ever. Look around you. Only in the cosmos can we transcend the insane borders and living death of work, racism, shit housing, war, religion that binds our feet to the ground.

The alternative is the nightmare vision of an expanding capitalist solar system:

“Where the winners of the human race
Float weightless up in Space,
While the Poor and the Heavy are marooned…”
(apologies to Jon Langford!)

No! Over our weightless bodies!

See you in Space!

Read some of the historic record of the London AAA conference

Watch some footage

Some of this post was simply stolen from here

Thanks to John Eden

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An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

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