TAK­ING FLIGHT: THE CARIBBEAN AND SPACE EX­PLO­RATION

The Star (St. Lucia) - Business Week - - VENEZUELA - BY ED KENNEDY, STAR BUSI­NESS­WEEK COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Since the be­gin­ning the stars have al­ways been a source of in­spi­ra­tion and am­bi­tion to us. The past cen­tury saw hu­mans be­gin to claim a place among them, with the moon­walk of the Apollo crew on July 20 1969 not only an achieve­ment in his­tory, but a dec­la­ra­tion of in­tent for the fu­ture.

Now in 2018 there is a new era and new mo­men­tum for hu­mans to once again ven­ture boldly into space. It’s of­ten lit­tle-known the role the Caribbean has played in the work of space sci­ence. So, just as it has be­fore, what role could the re­gion play now in this new era?

LOOK­ING BACK AT LIFT OFF

Along­side the achieve­ment of the Apollo 11 moon land­ing, the fact it came al­most 66 years af­ter the Wright Brothers first achieved hu­man flight on a cold North Carolina beach in 1903 is tes­ta­ment to the speed of hu­man progress, but also to the re­al­ity of geopol­i­tics. This helps ex­plain why we are where we are to­day in space re­search, and also why we have not pro­gressed fur­ther.

Fol­low­ing World War II the race be­gan be­tween the USA and the

USSR to be­come the un­ques­tioned leader in space tech­nol­ogy, and be the first to land on the moon. This com­pe­ti­tion drove progress be­tween the two na­tions and their al­lies. Even though the USSR ul­ti­mately never landed on the moon, the post-Cold War world has seen Rus­sian tech power launches of the Atlas V in the US, and as­tro­nauts de­liv­ered to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion (ISS) with a Soyuz fleet of rock­ets.

Post-Apollo 11, the USSR soon scrapped its moon land­ing plans and, with no other hu­man land­ings hav­ing been at­tempted be­yond the moon since, there’s been a strong per­cep­tion in the minds of many that space progress has stalled.

While this is a mis­con­cep­tion - the per­pet­ual or­bit of the ISS launched in 1998 alone shows the tremen­dous progress that has been made since the Apollo mis­sions fin­ished their launches in De­cem­ber 1972 - it is also a re­al­ity that pop­u­lar sup­port for space pro­grammes among tax­pay­ers will al­ways be linked to de­liv­er­ing ‘wow’ re­sults.

The land­ing of the first Mars rover on the Red Planet in 1997, and the 2012 an­nounce­ment that the Voy­ager 1 satel­lite had ex­ited our so­lar sys­tem and trav­elled into in­ter­stel­lar space the first known hu­man-made ob­ject to do so - have served as block­buster pieces of news that can in­stantly in­spire and en­gage all peo­ple.

The more grad­ual and in­ci­den­tal progress, such as the 2017 dis­cov­ery of mi­cro bac­te­ria on the side of the ISS that could be alien in ori­gin, while cer­tainly valu­able to space re­search over­all, less read­ily cap­tures hearts and minds.

THE CARIBBEAN CON­TRI­BU­TION

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moon­walk fairly won ac­claim for their Amer­i­can na­tion. Just the same, the moon land­ing was one that saw many na­tions con­trib­ute. Be­yond the splash­downs of John Glenn and Michael Car­pen­ter off Grand Turk, the US and Canada’s High Al­ti­tude Re­search Project (HARP) in Bar­ba­dos - that as­pired to shoot satel­lites into space via a mod­ern-day, can­non-like struc­ture - was an­other flir­ta­tion of the re­gion with a di­rect link to outer space.

In more time re­cent times, no­table lu­mi­nar­ies of space sci­ence, like Trinida­dian space­craft en­gi­neer Camille Wardrop - just three years old when the moon land­ing oc­curred - show on an in­di­vid­ual level the con­tri­bu­tion the peo­ple of the Caribbean can make in this field.

This along­side the growth of pri­vate space com­pa­nies like Elon Musk’s Spacex that is boldly aim­ing for a Mars land­ing by 2022, and a hu­man mission just a few years af­ter that, and Ama­zon ty­coon Jeff Be­zos’ Blue Ori­gin ven­ture, that seeks to re­de­fine space tourism, just as Ama­zon has done eCom­merce.

These new ven­tures don’t re­place or over­look the pi­o­neer­ing work done of pub­lic agen­cies. Though re­cent tur­bu­lence has seen Cara­cas right­fully fo­cus on Venezuela’s do­mes­tic prob­lems here on Earth over op­por­tu­ni­ties in space, since its es­tab­lish­ment in 2005, the Bo­li­var­ian Agency for Space Ac­tiv­i­ties has been a lead­ing in­sti­tute for space re­search in Latin Amer­ica.

In­stead, at core, Spacex and its com­peti­tors show new op­por­tu­nity. With the growth of pri­vate com­pa­nies like

Vir­gin Ga­lac­tic - and their de­ci­sion to launch fu­ture space tourism flights from Italy - Caribbean na­tions could look upon this chap­ter of space ex­plo­ration as an op­por­tu­nity to build com­mer­cial links that

of­fer mu­tual ben­e­fit to pri­vate busi­ness, and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties keen to grow jobs in this emerg­ing sec­tor.

SUN­SHINE AND SPACEFLIGHTS

Along­side other emerg­ing tech that could find a ‘nat­u­ral home’ in the Caribbean - like green en­ergy cars that could utilise the sun­shine of Aruba for test­ing, or new blockchain ini­tia­tives that have the po­ten­tial to find a size­able lo­cal au­di­ence in the fi­nan­cial and tourism in­dus­tries - there is none­the­less the re­al­ity that build­ing a new Caribbean space hub would ideally have at its foun­da­tion a stronger Caribbean tech hub than ex­ists right now.

There have been fan­tas­tic in­roads made in this area, over many years and in more re­cent times, so this re­al­ity is no de­ri­sion on the present in­dus­try or the fu­ture possibilities lo­cally, just a recog­ni­tion that there re­mains a dis­tance be­tween the mile­stones passed and the one that lies ahead to re­ally in­cen­tivise more space re­search and com­merce.

Yet, con­tri­bu­tion to a new era of space tech does not nec­es­sar­ily de­mand lo­cal launches or the in-per­son pres­ence it once did. While the ‘Big Six’ of space agen­cies in the world - USA, Ja­pan, In­dia, Europe, Rus­sia, and the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China - have launched rock­ets, other na­tions have been lead­ing con­trib­u­tors to the col­lec­tive ef­fort of hu­man be­ings (be­yond na­tional ri­val­ries) to progress space tech.

If there is a core take­away from the rise of pri­vate space busi­ness in re­cent years, it’s that the old way of think­ing - that cer­tain na­tions and cer­tain agen­cies can lead here - is now void.

Just as our am­bi­tions for space have grown, so too has our world be­come smaller, thanks to mod­ern com­mu­ni­ca­tions and glob­al­i­sa­tion. This sig­nals prom­ise for the Caribbean.

GO­ING UP AND UN­DER

It’s not only look­ing up­wards to the skies that could see this new era of space pro­grammes bring ben­e­fits to the re­gion.

There is the pos­si­bil­ity for ad­vances in space tech to bring real re­sults here on the ground, and be­neath the sea.

While hu­mans have been tak­ing to the seas for thou­sands of years, in 2018 over 80 per cent of our ocean re­mains un­ex­plored. For our re­gion, not only its nat­u­ral fea­tures but its his­tory of sea-voy­ag­ing mean many of the world’s es­ti­mated three mil­lion ship­wrecks lie within Caribbean wa­ters.

Be­fore his death in 2004, former NASA astro­naut turned diver Gordon

Cooper made maps of Caribbean wa­ters while he was in space, record­ing anom­alies that he held to be ship­wrecks. The map has al­ready borne fruit, with a ship­wreck discovered off the Ba­hamas in June of this year.

In the stars, sands and seas, there is ev­ery rea­son for the Caribbean to look for­ward to this new era of space ex­plo­ration.

Bar­ba­dos—Project HARP Space Gun. De­signed by Cana­dian bal­lis­tics en­gi­neer Ger­ald Bull (as­sas­si­nated in 1990 in Bel­gium while work­ing on a space gun for the Iraqi gov­ern­ment). At its apex, the gun was able to fire an ob­ject a stag­ger­ing 112 miles into the sky, setting the 1963 world record for gun-launched al­ti­tude at 93 KM

Lo­cated roughly ten min­utes from Grant­ley Adams In­ter­na­tional Air­port, the longer can­non is still eas­ily vis­i­ble to vis­i­tors

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