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Public support picking up for space industry development, says Global Space Congress expert

Posted 1 February 2017 · Add Comment

Public interest worldwide in the global space industry is undergoing a resurgence thanks to social media, plans for human space travel, asteroid mining and competitively-friendly banter between new sector actors, according to a leading advocate of advancing humanity through the peaceful use of space.

Speaking as a panelist at the Global Space Congress in Abu Dhabi, Minoo Rathnasabapathy, executive director of the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC), which supports the UN’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, said though public interest in the sector has rebounded, still more needs to be done to ensure general public buy-in.

“While there are many successful outreach programmes in place to inform the general public on the benefits of space, there is a need for constant support from the public. More can always be done to highlight the return of investment of space missions, and how these missions directly affect and improve the quality of life on Earth,” said Rathnasabapathy, who NGO’s focus is on pragmatic space policy advice to policy makers based on the interests of international students and young professionals interested in space.

The SGAC executive director was taking part in a Congress panel devoted to ‘What The Future Of Space Means For Humanity’ where she believes the inspiration and motivation the industry delivers took centre stage.

“One of the most important human aspects of the space industry is the inspiration and motivation we get through projecting ourselves through astronauts and explorers,” said Minoo. “The space industry challenges us to reach beyond the ordinary, and strive to push scientific and technical boundaries. Although non-quantifiable, it comes back to the need to grasp the public’s attention and ensure they feel invested in space exploration in addition to understanding the value of down-stream applications that help tackle issues such as climate change and water shortage.”

“While the term ‘space exploration’ encapsulated both human and robotic missions, we need to acknowledge that these missions serve different purposes yet complement each other. Although robotic exploration is more cost-effective, it plays a critical role in aiding human exploration by providing valuable information and context. Robotic programs however rely heavily on public support generated primarily by destination-driven human exploration to succeed.” 

Orbit-breaking technological advances though, says the SGAC leader, will continue to characterise the industry’s development.

“Machine learning is going to be a key element in space exploration as sensor technology rapidly advances. In addition, miniaturisation that equates to lower mission costs will see the use of robots in space exploration increase.” 

Rathnasabapathy said though initial public perception of the industry has been for highly-qualified, First World elite, much work behind the scenes is pointing to more cross-national co-operation to avoid a scramble for space and ensure a peaceful outcome for all.

“For several decades, human exploration has been perceived as being exclusively for established space players,” she explained. “More recently, a lot of work is being done to ensure that these endeavours are for peaceful purposes that require concrete regulations and policies as emerging space nations and private actors look to make their mark in the industry. Space exploration is a good example of international co-operation, and plans such as an International Lunar Base highlight the benefits that it can be expected to deliver.”

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