The following contribution, prepared by dr. Marco Bernasconi - the Scientific Director of Technologies of the Frontier - is an excellent introduction to a social and ideological analysis, targeted to identify the most advanced demands of the modern global society, and thus to identify, more easily, the people which could help us since the beginning, in our political and social wide range action. The resulting cross-section of the society is, obviously, only a starting sketch: we aim to analize, also, the motivations and the premises (this time in order to criticize them and, if possible, to invite their supporter to take into account a different view angle) of the ones which are opposite to the space enterprise and support, with more or less awareness, the old paradigma of the closed world. Anyone who recognizes himself in the positions sketched in some of the 3 levels, or share the analysis proposed by Marco, or likes to propose a different analysis of the Astronautics situation, is kindly invited to write us: redazione@tdf.it, or, to directly contact Marco: marco.bernasconi@tdf.it


Three Levels for Astronautics

by Dr. Marco C. Bernasconi


It has been observed that speaking of Astronautics -- and the situation is even worse when the vague term of "space" is used -- ambiguities and misunderstandings arise because of the differently comprehensive meanings attributed to this term. A couple of years ago, Wendell Mendell used "high" and "low" to differentiate between the programmatic intents of "expansionist" enthusiasts and "economic" members of the establishment. Following examples in other fields of analysis, and to avoid as much as possible resentments that may arise in association with such qualitative adjectives, we propose here three levels of understanding and support for astronautical projects.

Below we sketch the position that are held by persons residing within each level, by outlining their general stance, i.e. the opinion that typically they about the Astronautics in general, the achievements they praise, and the kind of critiques they would at the current state of space flight.

Level 1:

General stance: Space activities are primarily a "scientific" (i.e. research and technology) enterprise. Exploration can be done rationally with unmanned vehicles. Lightsats are a way to diversify and multiply research instruments in these saner times after the cold war. International collaboration is a valid product of space activities, a world space agency makes sense and will soon be realized.

Achievements: Spaceborne systems have revolutionized out understanding of the Universe, of the Solar System, and consequently also of our planet, Earth. The cultural, but also practical value, of these scientific data has enriched humanity much beyond the actual costs of the different programs. International research networks have been created, contributing to a global goodwill. Technologies pushed for in-space use have led to new and/ or better products for everyday uses as well; technological developments have helped improving national economy. The space program is a motivating factor for young persons to apply themselves to the study of mathematics, physics and technical disciplines, with positive effects on national competitiveness.

Critiques: Space research expenditures are still very small and could be increased easily, allowing faster progress, particularly in exploring the solar system, and even more exciting mission, augmenting the inspirational impact of these activities. Technology development is important and needed to increase the output of sensors flown in space.

 

Level 2:

General stance: Space flight offers an interesting range of scientific and utilitarian activities, supports the acquisition of economically important competencies and techniques, and can serve as a "national culture" rallying theme to inspire and motivate people. In this context, manned space flight also has a role to play, especially as a visible proof of peaceful international co-operation; exploration will be done mainly with unmanned vehicles, much less expensive. (i.e. research and technology) enterprise. International partnerships are a necessity because of the high costs of most advanced activities. Services provided by spaceborne systems (communication, navigation, meteorology, remote sensing, in both their civilian and military incorporations) have also become fundamental for the world's economy and peace; they further represent attractive markets for high-tech companies. The same holds for launch systems and transport services, that also are technologically stimulating. Lightsats are valid elements for the faster and more robust realization of economically important space services and research missions.

Achievements: Spaceborne systems have collected a significant amount of scientific and environment data of great cultural and practical value. The still increasing international collaborations have bettered the efficiency of the research in this sector. Space programs have yielded interesting spin-offs, economic stimulation, new management methods, and improved scholastic qualifications. Space communications have bound the world together and contribute to the defense of democracy. Earth observation systems have clarified the existing menaces for our biosphere and will greatly help controlling and managing its resources in the coming years. Spaceborne navigation systems are economically significant and help reduce the number of victims of accidents in remote areas.

Critiques: Space research expenditures are reasonably small and could be increased easily: more frequent science missions would be a good thing; commercial industrial developments deserve greater support in the technology development phase. Manned flight capabilities must be maintained and expanded, to support a national participation in the next great adventure: a global mission to Mars, with the indirect participation of all people thanks to virtual reality technology. For this to become possible, however, the development of new and cheaper transportation systems is mandatory.

 

Level 3:

General stance: In generic terms, Astronautics is the next major evolutionary step for humans and for Earth's life and, given the present world's situation, it is an imperative course for survival. It was never intended to be or remain a scientific enterprise or a technology breeding ground, but rather to extend the human reach beyond this planet, into the extraterrestrial domain, in a cultural, physical, and economic manner. Space flight opens a range of environments to and for scientific and technological research; it offers an arena for utilitarian activities whose products can enrich and empower all human beings. Exploitation must follow to exploration, and large-scale human presence will be unavoidably necessary. The lightsat's philosophy is a collection of management methods for increasing the efficiency of space development, primarily in the science and applications fields; some space enterprises, however, clearly exceed the scale of complexity for which this philosophy is directly applicable. Collaborations, including international consortia, may be welcome aids for the realization of an enterprise, should never be a precondition -- nor a major outcome. The services presently provided by spaceborne systems (communication, navigation, meteorology, remote sensing, in both their civilian and military incorporations) with their important role for the world-wide society only illustrate the true potential of the astronautical enterprise; similarly, the associated industrial significance is the embryonic stage of space-based economies to come.

Achievements: Spaceborne systems have collected significant amounts of scientific and environment data of great cultural and practical value. In addition to their intrinsic payoff, space programs have yielded interesting spin-offs and provided economic stimulation. Space communications and other applications have bound the world together and have the potential for protecting and increase all people's life and freedom. Earth observation systems can play a significant role in clarifying menaces for our biosphere and in managing its resources in the coming years. The technologies are in hand for reasonable levels of economic use of the near-Earth resources. The highest achievement to date remain the Apollo Program, fusing human pioneering and inspiration, exploration and scientific research, responsible management and technology development.

Critiques: Expenditures for astronautical activities have continuously declined for more than thirty years: many opportunities for economic and social uses have been left aside. The national resolve to implement a truly astronautical program is all that is needed to gather the fruits of such an enterprise, given that the needed investments are more modest than the expenses for Apollo at its peak.

 

RVW/260-998/TAE/mcb

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