We are at an interesting time in the history of human exploration of space. The governmental space budgets in the USA and Europe are stagnant and there are large uncertainties about next steps. At the same time other countries such as India, China and Brazil have an increasing interest. Space Applications, such as satellite communications and remote sensing of the earth, are now viable self sustaining industries. Private investors have been developing launch capabilities. Projects such as the Lunar Google X Prize, http://www.googlelunarxprize.org/ , garner passionate interest.
As a space astronomer however I am more concerned. The major space telescope project, the James Web Space Telescope JWST, is in danger of cancellation in the US Congress. This major astronomy facility promises to enable a new set of major discoveries, as major as the ones made using Hubble. Yet it may be cancelled, as was the Super Collider for Physics. There’s a letter to the White House science adviser from the astronomical community in support of JWST that is available for astronomers to sign online. The text of the letter is at: http://www.aura-astronomy.org/
At the same time, within popular culture there are still enthusiasts who have an optimistic long term view. This week Nigel Banks in England just filed his thesis abstract in the Leonardo Abstracts Data Base LABS: http://leonardolabs.pomona.edu/default.aspx
He argues that the cultural professionals will lead the space renaissance, as has been argued by the Leonardo Space Arts Working Group: http://www.olats.org/space/space.php and the International Federation of Astronautics ITACCUS committee for the cultural utilization of space: http://www.iafastro.net/?id=883
Here is Nigel Banks’ Abstract with a link to his thesis at: http://www.whybynige.com/thesis.doc
Title: The Commercialisation of Space Flight will lead to a New Renaissance
Degree: BA Hons Fine Art
University: Plymouth, UK
Supervisor: Eileen Rosamond
Keywords: Space Flight Commercialisation Overview Artists World Leaders New Renaissance
Abstract: We are at the dawn of a new age. After years of waiting the time is coming when we will be able to purchase a ticket and fly into space. This ability has been the domain of government astronauts since manned space flight started in April 1961. Now in early 2011 less than six hundred humans have travelled into space. Most of them have stayed in Low Earth Orbit. Twenty seven have left Earth’s gravity and travelled to the moon. Twelve have walked on the moon’s surface. Nine of them are alive today. It is a very exclusive club. This exclusivity is about to be lost as President Obama has signalled his intention that he wants the business of getting into Low Earth Orbit to be taken away from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and given to the commercial sector. This is the start of a process that will allow access to space for thousands of people over the next two to three hundred years. At the beginning this will be just a quick up and down into space and return. This will be followed by orbital flight, then by visits to commercial space stations. Eventually flights out to and around the moon will be commonplace and maybe one day there will be hotels on the moon. The passengers in these space ships will not be the hard core typical astronaut with a military, test pilot and engineering background. They will be our poets, authors, film makers, musicians, architects, artists, politicians and religious leaders. This new perspective of the Earth as seen from space, this ‘Overview’, could trigger a New Renaissance.