Opinion on the future of space travel
It is very likely that the majority of the readers already have read or heard about the successful SpaceX mission in cooperation with NASA to the International Space Station (ISS). Therefore, here’s only a very short summary:
- The Space Shuttle retired in 2011
- SpaceX was founded in 2002
- It was the first time, that NASA asked the private sector to design vehicles for transportation to the ISS
- Before the mission, NASA already had partnered with the private sector, but not to the same extent
- The success of the mission is a huge win for SpaceX
- On board were two astronauts: Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley
Information and images from: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/05/31/tech/crew-dragon-docks-with-space-station-scn/index.html
Optimistic, but Cautious
It is without a doubt a enorm success for both NASA and SpaceX, and thanks to modern technology, space travel could be made less expensive (e.g. reusable launch system). This in turn means, that it may occur more regularly in the near future and decisions made today and then will decide about the future of humanity’s era in space.
In consideration of the past, and how the private sector is currently managed (i.e. maximization of profit), it is also worth reflecting on the role the private sector should play in space travel. If not carefully overseen and regulated, it may end in a few oligopolies or even one monopoly due to the high costs. Because, as with railway systems, real competition can’t really exist in the first place. Even if it did, then it would be dangerous to let the market decide (e.g. cheaper materials may increase the profit margine, but it also puts the astronauts or space tourists at risk).
Therefore, international cooperation should at one point extend to space travel to not only allow more funds from flowing in, but also expertise and control. Moreover, it gives nations which work together on the project a clear oversight and thus decreases the threat of a violation of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. However, to ensure that the prinicples are followed, a third-party body is required to keep track of each decision made by the international organisation responsible for the transnational cooperation. Transparency is very important as well, because the citizens of each country very likely want to know what is done and why decision X was made.
Exchange Beyond Politics and Economy
Since the cooperation between nations is very intensive and goes beyond political exchange and economic trade, there should also be a channel for cultural and societal exchange. After all, not only the astronauts work together, but also the scientists, companies, and many other branches and people from each nation.
The internet can hereby be utilized as the perfect service to provide the platform for international exchange. Through this measurement, it also allows people who live in a village to talk to people from another country who live in a village as well.
This kind of intense cooperation and mutual learning strengthens the project and reduces prejudices as well.
Why it is Important
I may have rambled a bit in the third part, but I consider it important due to the fundament the current space travel is build on. Conflicts between nations, or mutual dislike, are also often a result of a lack of conversations between each group. Prejudices are used to justify it and treated like real facts, which in turn may make long-term cooperation difficult to manage (e.g. change in leadership could end in a radical different course due to a persisent hostile sentiment within a country).
Consequently, the decisions which are made today will determine the success or failure of future undertakings. Whether we allow private companies to fully engage in the new economy of space or strictly regulate it and oversee it with transparency; a decision between international cooperation or prioritizing the power of one’s own nation. It goes on and on, and since it will affect all of us in the future – as well as the generations which follow afterwards -, it is of immense importance to have an open discussion about space travel and everything that is connected to it.
The variety of issues is much bigger than one may think, because of the sheer complexity such system is built upon. However, in order to fully explore the complexity, a discussion has to be opened on the issue.
A fundament has to be chosen, and future generations have to live with the decisions we make today.