About the Future Role of the International Academy of Astronautics
A Personal Opinion
by Dr Marco C Bernasconi, Member, Section 4
Scientific Director, Technologies of the Frontier
On 30 September 1999, I sent the following note to the Academy's Secretary General, Dr Jean-Michel Contant, in preparation for the Academy Day, to be held at Amsterdam on October 3. On that day, I was invited to present my thoughts to the assembled Academicians. To save time, I cut from the oral presentation some passages that below I've included between brackets.
Choosing the best course for the future action of our enterprise is difficult, if for no other reason that such a choice becomes perforce political and therefore often appears to be incompatible with the status of a scientific organization. Happily, our [beloved] Academy is dedicated to "Astronautics" and the sheer scope and implications of this aspiration [ought to] ease part of the process. "Astronautics" possibly may be defined as the sciences, the arts, and the acts of entering, traveling through, and operating within extraterrestrial space. If the words may be similar to those used to describe other socio-technological complexes (as the often referred-to example of aeronautics), the implied scope of the astronautical endeavour is absolutely new. Helping the general understanding of this fact may also be one of the target activities of the Academy, by the way.
[Thus,] It has often been pointed out [(in major, as well as in many minor, philosophical discussions)] that Astronautics places humanity at a development cusp[, at an historical singularity,] enabling a qualitatively different future after it. Myself, I've referred to this fact as to the ethical meaning [and significance] of Astronautics. It is for this reason that such "non-scientific" concepts must flow in the discussion of the course of action for a truly astronautical entity: because Astronautics makes it possible (in no way guarantees it!) a civilized future realizing the human aspirations of mutual respect, tolerance, renouncement to violence and coercion, personal and material growth.
[Thus,] We have argued in favor of the development of space in terms of [intangibles,] medium-term economic benefits, and (in a few cases) as an ethical imperative. But largely we have done so from rather defensive and passive positions: "Space is opportune/ necessary because... It is really not that expensive... [It would be greatly beneficial if we returned to the Moon/ flew to Mars/ ...]" The outcome has been more than modest: after fifty years with flights of actual hardware beyond the terrestrial atmosphere, the deep-seated aspiration of humanity to fly in space, the dreams of the astronautical leaders remain just that: aspirations and dreams [that continue to recede into the future]. We have to change pace, again: the research about the ethical imperative has been useful, but will not sway society on the path to the planets.
Have we been too much on the defensive when discussing the future of Astronautics? Have we only [criticized, condemned, and] complained about society's lack of understanding for our plans? It's an easy trap to fall into, after all. [The solution is simple:] I suggest that we stop defending space development... and start advocating Astronautics. [What's the difference?]
Defending space development means we react against other people's proposals [or programs. Defending space development] it means we just oppose ecozist ideas, and lets others set the agenda. I suggest that we stop thinking, and acting, like defenders[. We ought to] and that we think like, act like... and *become* True Astronauts.
[Rather, let us take the initiative; actively determine and define the issues. Let us provide and promote astronautical contributions for addressing social and economic issues. Let us act: define the problem, *but* also create and put forth solutions. Astronautical solutions. Let us advocate and advance, promote and propose, and even initiate and support.]
I suggest that we stop waiting for the business-as-usual crowd to put forth its solutions and throw some surplus at space exploration. Let us seize the initiative and set the agenda: Create a space based, astronautical alternative, demonstrating new leadership in the marketplace of ideas. Against the background of current problems, let us offer astronautical solutions, outline the benefits that this solution will produce, while asking others how to make our positive proposals even better.
Let's stop defending Astronautics... and start advocating -- and even doing -- Astronautics.
In the beginnings, the [Academy's ] Orbital and [the] Lunar International Laboratories were appeals for a multinational structure to reach beyond the state of the art -- and beyond the political divisions of that day. Today, they are well within the current technological envelopes. Are today's Orbital and Lunar Laboratories then only slaves of the funding cycles, relegated into non-existence by the fickleness of the political powers?
Maybe the Academy will celebrate its 50th anniversary at its own Lunar Laboratories -- and then maybe not. But if we are choosing the best course for the future action of our enterprise, then I submit that the best contribution we can make -- in additional to the conventional learned activities, which we have to continue -- is to develop increasingly concrete projects that end as hard realities in the space beyond Earth.
The reason for my appeal was my belief that astronautical organizations like the Academy -- "a small group of highly qualified individuals," to quote its own President, Dr Michael Yarymovych -- can today aspire to achieve much more than simply advise the powers-that-be.
Although Dr Yarymovych's vision and mine have numerous points of contact, my message still seems to arrive too early to be properly perceived. Strong forces within IAA wish to make it even more into a scientific organization, even in presence of other clear warnings that the community is just pushing itself into irrelevance, by not considering a wider role.
The system has structured itself into a vicious circle. It searches for relevance and recognition: by inspiring itself with the tradition of scientific academies, it lowers its material goals and improves its quality as a science body. At the same time, it offers itself as advisor to "governments," supranational organizations, and "United Nations." Of course, these makes it into an utterly dependent servant of the terrocrats, with relevance and recognition completely under their sufferance and whims.
Only by standing outside the circle can a person recognize its futile fatality. Otherwise descriptions will continue to be passed over as analyses of the situation. For instance, after a comment by an industrialist about the "harder and harder competition," I observed to a friend that an interesting project would be to find out why competition grows increasingly tougher. His reply provided an excellent discussion of the facts within the global mobile communications market, but did not really explain the reason for them. We are therefore left searching for an answer.
Who determines the requirements that force the competition? The market? The users? The customers? But see, the market is only a collectivistic hallucination, and the true users (i.e. the individual human beings) do not really care whether a service is provided by a full-fledged system, an evolving infrastructure, or even a make-do simulator to open the door to future systems -- as long as they obtain what they need at a fair price. But in the largest number of cases, the "service providers" do not even interface with real users: their "customers" are just more artificial creatures, without will or intent. Who then steers this machine? The bankers, with their non-existant money but the power to destroy by refusing to create more of it?
The same question applies to the lack of space development: we know that neither lack of money, technology, nor human risk are valid reasons that impede Astronautics. What then? Looking for these answers would indeed make for an interesting project!
Marco C. Bernasconi