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“It’s al­ways a good thing to in­spire peo­ple” Mas­si­m­il­iano Vasile

Business Spotlight - - VIEWPOINT - MAS­SI­M­IL­IANO VASILE is pro­fes­sor of space sys­tems en­gi­neer­ing at the Strath­clyde Univer­sity Space In­sti­tute, Glas­gow (www.strath.ac.uk)

There’s a philo­soph­i­cal ar­gu­ment not just for space ex­plo­ration but for ev­ery sin­gle thing we do that has no ob­vi­ous eco­nomic re­turn. You can­not mea­sure ev­ery­thing that hu­mans do in terms of eco­nom­ics. What’s the money value, for ex­am­ple, of clas­si­fy­ing in­sects or study­ing his­tory? It’s how hu­man be­ings im­prove them­selves. We ex­plore space to un­der­stand more about the ori­gins of life on earth, for ex­am­ple through the study of as­ter­oids and comets. In­creas­ing hu­man un­der­stand­ing of how the uni­verse works changes our mind­set, our cul­ture; it changes our un­der­stand­ing of our world in our life­time.

The cost of space ex­plo­ration ap­pears to be ex­pen­sive, but com­pared to other ac­tiv­i­ties, it is not. To hear that a mis­sion costs €400 mil­lion sounds pro­hib­i­tive. But it is noth­ing com­pared to what we spend on watch­ing live Cham­pi­ons League foot­ball on TV! We spend bil­lions and bil­lions each year on arms deals and weapons to sup­port wars around the world. So let’s look at the re­turn on in­vest­ment not in terms of money, but in terms of what we learn from it. You see im­me­di­ately that space ex­plo­ration rep­re­sents good value.

There are big­ger pri­or­i­ties than the sci­ence-fic­tion as­pects of col­o­niz­ing Mars or go­ing to other gal­ax­ies. For ex­am­ple, if you know more about the sun, you can per­haps mit­i­gate the ef­fect of so­lar storms, which can be very dis­rup­tive for a lot of elec­tron­ics on earth. Many of the es­sen­tial ser­vices for life to­day, from telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, to nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems, to weather fore­casts, are af­fected by the ac­tiv­ity of the sun.

Of course we should spend time and money sav­ing our planet. But spend­ing on re­new­able en­er­gies al­ready dwarfs spend­ing on space ex­plo­ration. Space tech­nol­ogy leads to progress in many other fields. Power gen­er­a­tion and stor­age sys­tems in space need to be very light, ef­fi­cient and long-last­ing. Many tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments for space are very use­ful on earth, and vice versa. To stop space ex­plo­ration would mean miss­ing a piece of the over­all ad­vance­ment of sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy. We have lots of ex­am­ples from space pro­grammes of in­creas­ing our knowl­edge — and of peo­ple de­cid­ing to re­search sci­en­tific side sub­jects. It’s al­ways a good thing to in­spire peo­ple.

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