Space is not a mere playground for scientists. It belongs to everyone and the recent announcements by the ESA resonate with this general agreement. Every citizen has a right to take part in the projects, management, and research of space. This reality may seem obvious, but deserves a bit of appreciation.
“The engineers want to call it MMOSSWEFDASSCOME, our Communication team want Sunny McSunface. We (desperately) need your help to #NameTheMission!”. This is the tweet the 300,000 followers of the ESA Operations account could read last spring.
It may look banal as such, but it reveals how the European Space Agency envisions its relations to the public and its perspective on the future of space.
Just a few days ago, another announcement standing in this line was publicized: the ESA is calling for mission ideas to monitor space weather.
With those calls to the public, the agency is making a clear statement. Space research and exploration are not matters reserved to scientists and experts only, they also belong to the population. And everyone can or should feel the right to involve, make suggestions, share ideas.
The good news is that other agencies have opted for this approach too. Back in 2016, NASA announced a challenge to tackle one issue of space exploration. How to deal with human dejections? The name Space Poop Challenge may have been the subject of a few jokes and laughter, it remained nonetheless a great way to include the public in research.
Keeping space for all
This is one very specific aspect of astronomy. Throughout history, groundbreaking or minor discoveries were not always the achievement of professional astronomers and scientists. There are numerous examples of amateurs who have brought enlightenment to the world. You only need to go back a couple of months to find an illustration of this.
In July, an amateur astronomer – Kai Ly – discovered a new moon around Jupiter. The massive gas planet is surrounded by dozens of moons. and finding another one may not be a giant leap for mankind, but it serves as a reminder that space is everyone’s playground.
Despite the Cold War and race for space, this idea of "space for all" emerged rather easily. As early as 1963, only six years after Sputnik’s flight in orbit, the United Nations established the main laws of space, which are still applicable today. They clearly affirm that nobody, State or person, can claim ownership of outer space or any celestial body and that all research shall be done in the interest of the entire mankind.
In some way, the attitudes shown by the ESA and NASA adhere perfectly to the early treaties. They pursue the rationale that seeks to maintain space as a democratic and fair place.