February 2017 Opinion

Growing space agency dilemma

Illustration showing the proliferation of space debris around the Earth - a rapidly worsening problem.
Illustration showing the proliferation of space debris around the Earth - a rapidly worsening problem.
Joseph N. Pelton Executive Board member of the International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety (IAASS)

ROOM is an open forum for comment and opinion - and actively encourages contributions. To promote debate, discussion and inspiration we regularly publish commentaries and opinions by space leaders and those involved directly or indirectly in aerospace and space exploration. Here, Dr Joseph Pelton urges space agencies to break away from their traditional comfort zones and take a lead in helping defend our planet from cosmic hazards.

Around the world space agencies have tight budgets. National legislatures are pressed for a wide range of vital services. More recently, private space commerce, known as ‘new space’ seem to offer lower cost services. NASA, ESA, CNES, DLR, JAXA, CNSA and ISRO - among other space agencies – face questions that include:

  • What is your longer term vision, and key goals?
  • Shouldn’t you let private space commerce take over near Earth space activities and just concentrate on the really hard stuff like deep space probes?
  • Why should the public pay for expensive space programmes when there are so many public unmet needs? or
  • Should we just concentrate on national defence when it comes to space?

In short, many see space as a frill - a luxury.

Over the years space officials have tried to make the case that space research gave birth to new technologies and services that aid education, health care, transportation, energy, chemistry, materials and more.

Space agencies argue they have stimulated vital new space services like communications and defence satellites, remote sensing, space navigation and weather forecasting. But in terms of public support, such arguments have mostly been a large yawn. It has only been the big, dramatic and visionary space challenges that created huge global television audiences and worldwide media attention. These accomplishments excite national pride.

Read more about why the work that's being done by space agencies that makes them a vital part of space exploration in this ROOM Opinion article, available now to our subscribers.

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