According to the announcement for a series of workshops by the Schader Foundation in Darmstadt, debates about space travel are mostly about technologies and finance. Political, philosophical and social dimensions, on the other hand, are widely misunderstood. With a total of three discussion rounds, the foundation, whose declared purpose is to promote the social sciences, wants to counteract this imbalance. The kick-off event on Monday initially drew a sobering conclusion.
Preserve the spirit of cooperation?
The new space age – the universe between overexploitation and undervaluation, is the title of the workshop series, the first of which was dedicated to the relationship between cooperation and competition in the development of space. In particular, the International Space Station ISS represents an “outstanding example of international cooperation in space,” write the organizers and ask: “Can the special spirit of cooperation in space be preserved in view of the worsening world situation?”
None of the thirty or so participants answered the question with a clear “yes” or “no”. But skepticism prevailed. There was talk of an impending anarchy in space, and in particular space close to Earth was compared to the “Wild West”. Examples of this are satellite launches that took place without official approval, or the provision of private communications satellites for Ukraine by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX. The Crimea area was blocked and the annexation of the peninsula by Russia was effectively recognized – possibly under pressure from Russia, which is said to have otherwise threatened targeted attacks on the satellite network.
In addition to the expansion of military conflicts into space, there is also a risk of increasing littering in near-Earth space, which can make this use more and more difficult or even impossible in the future. So far, it has not been possible to establish internationally binding regulations that could counteract this. The workshop participants were largely in agreement in naming the problem, but no one had a convincing solution ready.
Just a little hope
“It must first get worse before it gets better,” said one participant, bringing with it the “fundamentally pessimistic attitude” finally diagnosed by the workshop organizers Stefan Selke (Furtwangen University) and Daniel Lambach (Goethe University Frankfurt am Main). to the point. In view of the emerging polarization between the USA and China, the chances of ensuring fair access to space open to all and of establishing space as a commons, i.e. a kind of common property of mankind, were classified as low.
The Wild West has come to an end, said one workshop participant, after the floor had been completely divided up. However, the quality of the soil has deteriorated significantly since then. Indigenous peoples previously displaced by the white conquerors would have a clearer understanding of the importance of the shared commons. This wealth of experience should be used in the development of space. With which he underlined that international cooperation in space travel must not be limited to the technologically advanced nations – which does not make matters any easier.
But the last word has not yet been spoken. The next workshop in March will deal with the use of space resources, before concluding in October with utopias and the possibilities of a new beginning of civilization in space.
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