Ready for launch

We need to go back to space and start dreaming again

We need to go back to space. We need to go back to the Moon now. We need to see people working and living in space for our mental health as a species. In the video We Stopped Dreaming (Episode 1), Neil deGrasse Tyson says that when we came back from the Moon we stopped dreaming. He is right, and we need to go back and start dreaming again.

We need to watch other people living and working on the Moon and the planets, and dream of future cosmic journeys for the mental health of the zeitgeist. Not everyone can be a space explorer, but we are all partners and stakeholders in the cosmic future of our species and its “manifest destiny” among the stars. This is a powerful meme that could result not only in much more support for space, but also in a more positive and proactive attitude on other pressing issues, at a moment of our history where we need positive thinking, confidence and optimism.

We need new initiatives able to ignite the imagination of people, especially young people, all over the planet. I have worked for many years in public space agencies, for example in ESA in the eighties and nineties. I used to say that, despite the scientific value of modern, cautious and pragmatic space missions, they have no emotional impact on the public. In order to support spending money in space, people need to see other people in space taking risks to do momentous things.

Aseptic orbital missions or unmanned planetary missions do not sufficiently stimulate young people to study science and pursue careers in technology and space, decreasing the available expertise in terms of both quantity and quality. I used to say that the emphasis on cost-effective pragmatic mission with only a scientific return and no PR value would kill both public and political support for space, and the facts have given me reason.

The last paragraphs are adapted from my paper on A Virtual World Space Agency, published by Futures (Futures 41 (2009) pp. 569-571) (link).

In the video Neil deGrasse Tyson says that a very small increase in the budget of NASA would permit going back to the Moon, and to Mars and the planets, and start dreaming again. But this appears difficult in today’s political and financial climate. Today, a private company has launched a spacecraft to the International Space Station that will attempt to dock there for the first time. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden addressed media representatives after the launch, and said among other things that outsourcing space transportation to the private sector will permit NASA to focus on bigger things, but I am afraid I don’t believe politicians.

The pioneer spirit has left NASA and the public sector in the U.S. and all the “Western” world, and while I hope it will come back someday, I don’t think it will be soon. Therefore I watched with interest and enthusiasm the historic launch of SpaceX‘s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft earlier this morning. I watched it online, using the video streaming technology developed by scientists and engineers who probably decided to studied science because they were space enthusiasts. This shows that exciting and momentous space project are needed to motivate new generations of scientists and engineers, who will realize the dreams of previous generations. I recorded the video below.