by Anastasia Medvedeva, Charlie Bilsland, Raphael Roettgen
On the day of the Crew Dragon launch, I asked a few friends if they would be watching it, as I was hosting a launch party. As someone who is invested in the success of the space sector, I was surprised by their answer – “the only people who care about this are people in the space community.” I say surprised, but to be honest, we all know how little people care about space. People don’t speak about space. They don’t follow it in the same way they follow Formula One, football teams or TV shows – and it shows. In the mainstream media, the most space related headlines are those of asteroids that are invariably (not) coming to kill us. Space debris, traffic management, weaponisation of space, commercialisation of space – no one cares about these, even though these are the most pressing matters, and they will affect us all.
But “space does outreach”! Does it? I don’t know what outcome ‘the space community’ is looking for when it does outreach, but based on the lack of interest in space from outside the bubble, I think anyone would be hard pressed to prove space outreach is successful. There’s serious issues with current space outreach, including the term itself – ‘outreach’ as defined by Wikipedia, is ‘the activity of providing services to any population that might not otherwise have access to those services’ – a hangover from when space was for, and by, governments, and they had to persuade their citizens of it’s value. Essentially, currently space outreach doesn’t work – plenty of money goes into it, and year on year, it doesn’t change anything. So why are we still approaching it the same way?
Space is important, with GPS, weather, communications, and so much more having a huge impact on people’s day to day lives. If you take away Google Maps, we would all cease to be able to navigate. Earth observation and communications are critical in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations, as well as helping us solve the looming issue of climate change. Space delivers a huge return on investment, and has potential to create trillions of dollars of economic value, but, and this is important, we need the support of everyone to achieve this, and currently, the space sector does not have that support. People used to be passionate about space, when it was new, and interesting. When Apollo 11 landed on the moon, the video was broadcast around the world, with people feeling like they were a part of a historic moment. Gagarin’s launch into space sent shockwaves throughout the world. The closest thing our generation has to those incredible achievements would be the successful landing of SpaceX’s Falcon rocket, but honestly – most people just didn’t care. We, as a community, just have to admit that space just isn’t that exciting, on its own. One successful launch is much like another, and when it takes three hours of sitting around, watching astronauts getting clipped and unclipped into a rocket, it gets pretty boring. The attention span of the world has shortened, and we, as a community, have been slow to adapt.
The reason why I care about this is from experience of working in outreach – I know that reaching new audiences and educating people about space is hard. But it can, and should be, done differently. There has to be better ways to support those doing outreach, help them find new audiences and create compelling content that audiences are actually interested in.
And there are better ways to do things. In the past month, a few colleagues and I ran two brainstorming sessions with those in the space community, at Space Bar, and the International Space University alumni weekend, with the workshops generating an absolute avalanche of ideas. The community has so many ideas for how to reach people outside the community, but they are not being empowered to do so. Why are we, as a community, not engaging with video games, movies, cartoons or TV shows to leverage the huge amount of interest these generate? Why is there no representation from the space sector at Comicon, SXSW, Blizzcon or even Burning Man?
As a community, we can do so much more to inform and engage people about space, especially educators and politicians, but it requires us to be uncomfortable – to go outside the bubble we know and to try new things. To do this, we need help. What would a community look like, composed of people who care about space, and want the rest of the world to care about it too? Space is the domain of all mankind, and it means that it’s our collective responsibility to engage everyone in this conversation – if you want to get involved, find out more at powering.space, or reach out at [email protected].
Many thanks are due to AstroAgency, Remco Timmermans, Torsten Kriening, Ke Wang, Juan de Dalmau, and the wider ISU community for all the help received.