Meet Our New Visiting Researchers and See What They Say About Being a 'Spacefaring Civilization'
As we start a new year we are excited to welcome several excellent new members to our team (you can find out more about them on Our Team page). In this blog post we have asked them to outline what the phase 'Spacefaring Civilization' means to them. We look forward to sharing with you the work undertaken by these new team members in the coming months and years, if you would like to support that work, please consider becoming a Patreon.
I am Alessandra and I work as a Research Fellow in International Development at the Open University. My interest in space is recent and in evolution, but I have increasingly come to interrogate myself about the role and aim of space research and explorations from my specifically situated position on earth. I am a woman, coming from the south of Europe and with an interest in how institutions that should guarantee justice often fail subjects at the margins. All of this influences the way in which I instinctively meet grand narratives of space exploration – as the final frontier of all humanity – with a degree of scepticism. I cannot help wondering what types of exclusions are implicit in this universal promise, and how we can let this implicit bias emerge, before addressing it.
If you are asking yourself where do issues of equity and justice arise in space research and exploration, the answer is: EVERYWHERE! Just a couple of examples. Like many, last October I cheered on NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch in their all women spacewalk as a step towards more inclusive space missions. However, I was simultaneously disappointed at the fact that such an event had been delayed because of the lack of available spacesuits of the right size. Now you can take part in a space mission if more than one team member wears a medium size and that seems to be something to celebrate. With active steps being taken to ‘democratise’ spaceflight, keeping an eye on what/who can benefit from the technology seems more and more important.
A second example has to do with space infrastructure. Looking back at our planet and at what sort of research and innovation enables space activities, it is imperative to ask questions about inclusivity and justice. A recent special issue of the Journal of Southern African Studies edited by Walker, Chinigo’ and Dubow (2019) has put the spotlight on how large areas of South Africa’s Karoo have been designated as Astronomy Advantage Areas (AAAs) and used for the construction of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope. In this case – the writers alert us – the advantage of using traditionally farming land for science infrastructure has been predicated upon the promise of modernisation that science brings about Vs the reality of communities that remain politically and economically marginal. This discourse is all too familiar to development scholars for its colonial reverberations and it similarly (and regrettably) underpins some of the discourses against indigenous people in the case of the protests against the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea, Hawaii.
With these premises, what does a ‘spacefaring civilization’ mean to me? With ‘civilization’ emphasizing the ‘togetherness’ of humanity, the phrase brings to the fore all the tensions and contradictions inscribed in the promise of space as a resource for all humanity. But it can do so in a productive way. As inhabitants of Earth with the ability to travel into space, we can actualise the exciting potential of doing science differently to create a better society – but will only do so if equity and justice are configured as critical to thinking about outer space.
 Walker, C., Chinigò, D. and Dubow, S. (eds). 2019. Karoo Futures: Astronomy in Place and Space. Special issue, Journal of Southern African Studies 45(4), https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/cjss20/45/4?nav=tocList.
 I am grateful to the activists and scholars that have brought this issue to the international stage. Keolu Fox and Chanda Prescod-Weinstein have clearly articulated the colonial connection in this article: https://www.thenation.com/article/mauna-kea-tmt-colonial-science/.
For me, a ‘spacefaring civilization’ means the access to outer space for all countries and that all individuals can take full advantage coming from space applications. It is about humanity as a whole. It means allowing all nations to benefit from space activities such as telecommunications, Earth observation and navigation. It is about promoting the socio-economic development of each Continent through the use of space applications for a better world and a more equal society. I think it is crucial to take into account the technological development of space capacities and the new challenges they represent for our society and our life on Earth. It is also thinking about the future of humanity in outer space.
Being a ‘spacefaring civilization’ means to me understanding what there is beyond Earth orbit, and continuing to explore, and to make use of the space environment with respect and sustainability. It represents our capacity to use wisely and profitably what space applications can offer us.
Being a ‘spacefaring civilization’ does not just mean going to space because the truth is that not every human being will go into space or settle on the Moon or Mars. Hence, it also means to find a way to enhance the life on Earth and to allow us to have a better life on our planet.
Spacefaring civilisation – we are not there yet and it’s not about technologies
- having vehicles capable of traveling beyond the earth's atmosphere (Merriam Webster)
- the activity of travelling in space (Cambridge Dictionary)
- engaging in space travel (Collins)
The definition of spacefaring is strictly connected with the activity of traveling in space, activity to which we might include building, launching and/or operating spacecrafts in orbit.
Today, calling spacefaring any entity able to build, launch and/or operate its spacecrafts means considering certain private actors as spacefaring as entire nations. If even a single private actor can be considered a spacefarer, then, what would an entire civilization have to look like in order to be considered as such?
The term surely recalls human spaceflight in the most science fiction-esque way: starships, lasers, and unrealistically big rotating space infrastructures. If we ought to follow our imagination, should we boil down the definition of spacefaring civilization to just something related to human spaceflight? And if yes, when can we start calling ourselves “spacefaring”, and from when? Are six human beings out of +7.5 billion a number big enough of humans out there, or should we wait until we can terraform another celestial body and/or have “millions living and working in space”?
Maybe, then, measuring the level of our current civilization’s “spacefaringness” shouldn’t be benchmarked to the human spaceflight capabilities that a handful of nations managed to achieve so far. With its complexities and (too) enthusiastic aficionados, the space sector is represented by EVAs as much as by the – more frequents – fights for NASA appropriation bills in the U.S. Congress, by the emerging nations developing national strategies to exploit remote sensing data as much as by the young spinoff start-up introducing a GNSS application for hydroponics. All these things are to be considered, with human spaceflight being just a part of the picture, and not the sole yardstick to measure a spacefaring civilization.
So, what does “being spacefaring” mean, for a civilization? To me, it means being aware of - and considering normal - all space activities, no matter the level of space capabilities reached by said civilisation. This also means that, for such definition, we are not spacefaring yet: while, on paper, space activities make sense militarily, scientifically, economically, and even socially, today these activities are not as acknowledged as we – the international space community – would like to. Instead, space, the space sector and its community are often perceived as exotic, unreachable by many.
We should start getting out of our sector’s comfort zone – the usual conference rooms – and be open and preach to the non-converted about how space is useful to us now, how it was in the past, and how it might be so in the future – making sure that this is understood and actively internalized, and ideally doing so not by just focusing on human spaceflight as inspirational drive.
We’ll be moving our first steps as a spacefaring civilization when a wide majority of the world population will see space activities as mundane and useful as ever, keeping up with them as one would be doing with national politics, foreign affairs, Instagram influencers or the latest scam diet. There’s clearly work to be done.
My name is Alessandra Vernile and I am a young space professional.
I do not have the traditional space background. I graduated in International Relations and further specialised in Geopolitics, Economics and Intelligence and in Space Policy. My young career in the space sector dates back to September 2015, when I moved to Paris to start my internship at the European Space Agency (ESA). I spent six months in the Relations with Member States Office, learning a lot about the European Space Policy. Such experience convinced me that what I really wanted to do, was to work in the space sector! I understood that my passion was becoming my full time job once I was selected as the recipient of the ASI/SIO fellowship, that allowed to spend a year as Resident Fellow at the European Space Policy Institute (ESPI) in Vienna.
This experience taught me a lot both in terms of professional and personal development. I learned a lot about New Space, sustainable development and the impact that space has in our everyday life. Today, since December 2017, I am Project Officer at Eurisy, an NGO based in Paris whose mission is to bridge space and society, raising awareness on the benefits deriving from the use of satellite applications.
Space always had a certain appealing for me! It is not just a source of inspiration, but also an example of a multi-disciplinary field. As a political scientist space is exciting! I love to talk about what space can do for us and make other people aware and interested. But, in my everyday job, I notice that not everyone has the same impression about space. Most of the time, space is seen as something far from our understanding and too sci-fi.
But this is not true! Space today is part of our everyday life. If we think about the benefits that space technology brings to us, it is clear that there is the need to change perspectives and talk more about space. There is the urge of giving society the right tools to put space in a different perspective, raising awareness on the legal and political issues related to the space sector.
Having the chance of being part of the Centre for a Spacefaring Civilization is a great opportunity for me, both as a young space professional and as a space enthusiast. I will continue, through my volunteer involvement, to pave the way to transform our society into a spacefaring one for us and our future generations.
My name is Mert and I am an ERDF funded PhD Researcher at Northumbria University. My research is based on the project of ‘The Space Law Games’, a collaborative endeavour by Industry and Academia to create an answer for the lack legal capability and protection when a collision event occurs in Space. This project aims to identify the key issues in order to avoid a collision event and to provide a legal toolkit in case an incident does occur. The Space Law Games will combine the military war-gaming and mooting methodologies to achieve this. My research focuses on aspects of liability in space operations, primarily on-orbit servicing, while considering the effects of auxiliary events and effects such as space debris.
I never thought I would be involved in space; originally, I was training to become a barrister and happened to be offered an optional space law module in my final year. I developed through a legal background, as much as space has always captivated me, I did not know the two could merge. I realised through studying the topic that I have real passion, which I decided to pursue. It was a big change but one that I have never regretted.
Which links to what ‘Spacefaring Civilization’ means to me. The unknown of space has always intrigued me, as well as the potential of one day, science fiction becoming reality. I always used to think that I was born into an era where involvement in space was not possible, but ‘Spacefaring Civilization’ is an answer to that. While we may not be operating the spaceships and landing on extra-terrestrial bodies, we are gradually contributing to the future by articulating discussion, thought and progress. Which I like to think of as paving the way, all crucial parts of any civilization.
More importantly, it is a way of promoting discussions needed to raise awareness for the civilised utilisation of space. To become a ‘Spacefaring Civilization’ it is imperative to appreciate the uses it provides for humanity and how we can protect it, in order to ensure that our civilization may one day become spacefaring. Humanity landing on the moon was only scratching the surface of the possibilities in this alien environment. To fully utilise it, in a sustainable manner we need to learn from our mistakes on the Earth. This is what ‘Spacefaring Civilization’ means to me.
The application of space since the Outer Space Treaty has created venture and use for all of humanity in kind. The application however has suffered from a lack of evolving International Law and legal governance. With a comparison to Environmental Law, Space is in a state of limbo with the next steps set out before us all.
The application of exploration was a fundamental right in with the ‘how’s, what’s, when and why’s’ were not considered. What a spacefaring civilization means to me is an equal and unilateral approach for all. A strong collaboration between State and commercial partners that agree upon a legal regime and governance structure. Unlike a ‘Space Force’ a mutually agreed exploration for the benefit of all mankind should be enshrined into the core foundations of such a partnership. The formulation of customary international law, developed international law and state practice from the likes of Maritime and Environmental Law should be adopted to control such a ‘fragile’ space environment.
If one looks to the future of space all states would be equal and warfare is not a consideration. As with COSPAR the protection of space and its resources should be considered alongside the utilisation of space. Mining, space tourism, colonisation and other ventures should consider the environmental impact as to a cost benefit analyse. The development of an international agreed upon body to oversee aspects of space, the utilisation and the mediation process should be established to promote co-operation and equality of the law and governance issues.
It must be emphasised that space is unique and yet similarities between the likes of the High Seas and other areas to which no State holds jurisdiction follows. Lessons learned through the industrial revolutions, environmental degradation and scientific certainty should be followed as a norm of international law to better establish a ground-breaking [atmosphere punching] agreement to better humanity and look after the resource before the need to clean up.
The future for space should remain bright and not hampered by egotistical tyrants who seek domination. The allowance of space sciences without the hazard of forward contamination and non-consensual State should be a norm. The progressive approach of law, science and technology should be equal in any form of the future of space and a space faring civilization and/or space experiences.
To me, a spacefaring civilization means opportunities for growth, innovation and inspiration. An alternative, space-based civilization that offers humanity to re-configure our understanding of our existence as well as that of our planet. Why does this matter now? We are in the midst of a climate crisis. The opportunity to be a spacefaring civilization offers us the unique opportunity to reflect on how we can develop solutions which can curb the detrimental impact that humans have had on planet Earth.
The commitment to becoming a spacefaring civilization also offers us the chance to counter the rising global nationalist sentiment that has plagued the world. Space, according to the Outer Space Treaty is a global commons. No nation state, or individual has the right to own a celestial body or place weapons of mass destruction on the Moon or in outer space. Therefore, the opportunity to create a civilization in space designed to assess how human life can be enhanced could bring together nations for the purpose of scientific exploration. The opportunity to thrive in space without the baggage of nationalism, tribalism and binary terrestrial identities, and gender norms is also a worthy sociological, anthropological and philosophical cause. Insights generated from a spacefaring civilization would be key to helping humans to assess how we can shift our behaviours to save our planet. More importantly, a spacefaring civilization is the essential mechanism for the advancement of space science. So far, our innovative abilities have been capped by our limited access to planetary and lunar resources. To transcend beyond the Moon is the real final frontier for humankind.
2019 marked a significant, albeit overdue step towards progress in maximising gender equity in space. The first ever all women spacewalk took place, which will no doubt inspire a whole generation of women to carve out new identities for themselves within a spacefaring civilization context. More significantly, a spacefaring civilization could well possibly illustrate why dangerous, racist, sentiments about people of colour should be eradicated. The opportunity to co-exist in a radically challenging, resource constricted environment could re-shape outdated Darwinian conceptions about people of colour. An alternative civilization can be a mechanism to successfully challenge pre-existing class, religious, gender based terrestrial systems which marginalise people of colour. Thereby, a spacefaring civilization could indeed be built on feminist ideals in order to achieve this goal.
Human resilience has long been defined by our ability to adapt in order to survive. I am particularly interested in learning how human beings will strive to survive beyond the moon. The opportunity to re-set our understanding about survival and adaptability is exciting and necessary to resolve existential dilemmas, faced by so many of us. Therefore, a spacefaring civilization could be the key to emancipate human beings from long held male dominated ideals about competition to survive, clashes of civilizations. In this regard, a spacefaring civilization should be the concern of humankind for it is a unique opportunity to extend our priory and posteriori understanding of ourselves.
The opinions expressed in these blogs posts are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Centre for a Spacefaring Civilization or anyone else.
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