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Residents of 'Space Island' Tell Elon Musk to Stay Away

Biak Island elder says supporting Indonesian spaceport would mean 'sponsoring' genocide
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 10, 2021 10:20 AM CST

(Newser) – Residents of a small island in Indonesia aren't too pleased to learn that their government has offered up their land to SpaceX boss Elon Musk. Indonesia President Joko Widodo has been encouraging Musk to build a rocket launch site in his country for months, per AFP. Biak's location, one degree below the equator, means SpaceX's low-orbit satellites would require less fuel to reach orbit, per the Guardian. There are also nearby deposits of nickel and copper, which are used to make rockets (and to make batteries used in the electric cars from Musk's Tesla). Indonesia initially announced plans to build the country's first spaceport on Biak, with help from international partners, in 2019. Russia also plans to build a rocket launch site on Biak by 2024, per the Guardian. A rep for the Indonesian government says this transformation of Biak into "Space Island," apparently coming after consultation with the Papua provincial government, will "bring positive economic impacts" to the islanders.

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But that's not how some locals see it. "This spaceport will cost us our traditional hunting grounds, damaging the nature our way of life depends on," says tribal chief Manfun Sroyer. The environmental impact and military presence are other concerns. Yet Sroyer says there's little option to protest. "In 2002, Russians wanted our land for satellite launches. We protested and many were arrested and interrogated," he says. Now "if we protest, we'll be arrested immediately." There are ongoing tensions, as a secessionist movement has been operating in Papua for decades. Civilians were even massacred on Biak after raising the movement's flag in 1998. As a South African, Musk should "understand apartheid, the killing of Black people," a survivor of the violence says. "If you bring your business here, you are directly sponsoring Indonesia's genocide against Papuans." (Read more SpaceX stories.)

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