The 48th IAF Congress: a great event, almost ignored by the media

by Adriano Autino (Technologies of Frontier)

The 48th Congress of the International Astronautic Federation, hold in Turin from 6 to 10 october, was an event without precedents, at least in Italy, but deemed worthy of very scarce attention by the media, which arrive to this appointement absolutely unprepared, both from the scientific point of vew (except the scientifc journalists, known only by the fans of the genre) and from a cultural or, more generally, a communication point of view. And of such unpreparation we were aware since the first day, when RAI 1 (the first national channel) interviewed the Repubblic President, Mr. Scalfaro on the crisis of the Governement... without noticing that the President was in Turin, at Lingotto, to open the Astronautical Congress!

Those who only inform themselves through the newspapers, and live in Turin, knew about the Congress the previous week, by the local pages of “LA STAMPA” or by a passable bill-postering around the town. Those who don’t live in Turin didn’t know anything before, and I have reasons to believe that the most part (those who don’t scrutinize the scientific pages of the newspapers, or don’t look for the fantome TV emission “LEONARDO” on RAI3) they don’t know anything neither today. But to the Congress partecipated thousands of members and observers, almost thousand papers were presented, and the open events had an extraordinary public partecipation (mostly from Turin). It means that the theme of the Space Frontier is of big interest, and it excites a big wish to discuss, overall on the great addresses of the human development; and this feeling filters everywhere, notwithstanding the cultural silliness of the professional communicators and a certain communication insufficiency of the organizing subjects. The only organization that seems to be equipped with a “philosophy” of communication is the NASA, returning from a deep motivational crisis, mostly due to the disappearing of the sovietic competitor in the race to the space (as it was called). The hard work begun to build a communicative plant, able to re-attract the attention of the media (and the financing of the USA Congress), and still more the concret success of the robot little car walking on Mars, made figure the NASA in a, although prudent, world leadership position, technological surely, if not political tout-court.

Neverteless, if one wants to see it, the solution is so simple. In the many plenary events -- we can’t unfortunately to witness about all the symposia (hundreds) hold during the Congress week -- one can observe in general terms that, when the relations presented purely scientific aspects, the clime was of big interest and attention, but after some questions or remarks by experts, the chairman could dismiss the session. But if somebody waited, the last day, to the plenary session named “Perpectives on the World Civil Space Program: a futuristic view of the space program and its future”, he must have notified the completeley different athmosfere, of big partecipation, that took place, so that the chairman, at 18:00, was obliged to cut the discussion and send everyone to home. Sure, Thierry Gaudin, of Prospective 2100, had the merit to hold a clear report and also to scan an understandable english (unlike many americans, not so much careful to the non english mother-tongue interlocutors).

The report of Gaudin touched many social aspects, communicating an attention for the concrete humanity, living, numerically and conflictually consistent, the destiny of which, and its present and future development are very interesting, overall because this destiny is always and more in suspense among evolution and revolution (and, we add, involution too, if in the word had to pass and win the concept of the “sustainable” stasis of the development). Tracing with simplicity the need of the elaboration of a World Space Civil Program, Gaudin finally indicates a precise task, that was present in the air of the Congress: to give a political-philosophical direction to the human enterprise in the space, that also means to finally build a new weltanschauung, a vision of the world a little bit larger than the one we manufactured with the discover of the America, by this time 500 years ago. Answering to the objection of an english congress member, cared about the possible creation of a kind of super-agency, Gaudin spoke about the program as a work-document, made by researchers, without any claim to orientate the action of the space agencies, but it appeares suddenly clear that, if such a document will really see the light, and more if it could be proposed to a discussion larger than the yearly IAF Congress, it will constitue, by itself, a fact of historical significance.

The present epoch saw the fall of many competitive myths, those supported, often as a secondary effect, the human development. One of the reports remembered that the military space commitment is continuously declining, and this will cause a decline of the technologies in the next 20 years, if new civil and commercial commitments will not raise, even if, as stated Dan Goldin of NASA, for the very first time in the history, in 1996 the US commercial space turnover exceeded the governement turnover. But this exciting overtaking is mainly due to the communication satellites business. Personally I don’t considere such an heavy misfortune, if the militar authorities, that are leaving the scene, would be substituted by a kind of civil authority, modern, multiheaded and democratic. I neither think that, as the critics of the World Space Program fear, such civil authority would be against the philosophy of the “smaller, faster and cheeper” that is taking place in the space agencies.

We are at an epochal turning-point: all the presupposed are given because the space option become a strong option, able to sustain and orient the human development in the next century. How to realize such a miracle, of which the Humanity has an extreme need, if not practically involving the whole Humanity, at all the levels? The starting point can be a program, sure, on which everybody should be called to take position. The logical next step should be the one to create sites of discussion that allow a larger and more involving contest. Seeing the high number of papers presented to the Congress, I strongly doubt that a suitable preparatory discussion had been made. So why not to think about a less stressing frequency (for instance each two years) that really allow the preparation and the discussion, I don’t want to say of a thesis document, but at least of some philosophicl-cultural orientation text? To arrive to a congress prepared to discuss on texts presented with enough advance, at least to all the intersted people, is really another approach, even for the goal fo the communication with the “not applied to the job”.

A. Autino

The Team of Technologies of Frontier invites all those who want to take position, to do it, sending us articles and comments: we will issue them on-line!

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