Space: Seek Truth, Build Character, Nurture All
Last week, I had the pleasure of joining over 2,000 other space professionals in Jerusalem — the City of Peace — for the 66th International Astronautical Congress (IAC). Now more than ever, space is proving to be essential in helping to solve some of our world’s most important challenges, in growing our economies, and in building a brighter future for ourselves and those who will come after us.
Our endeavors in space touch nearly all walks of life, and all areas of human activity — art, music, business, engineering, accounting, policy, law, mathematics, materials, and more. And the IAC is the paramount opportunity for the entire global space community to gather, in order to exchange ideas, learn from each other and to share thoughts of where we should all go next.
Since we met in Toronto at IAC 2014, many exciting and important activities in space have been realized, and tremendous discoveries have been made. We have been carried along, “flying in formation” with (and landing on!) a comet, thanks to the hard work of the Rosetta/Philae team from ESA. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has flown past Pluto, giving us our first-ever detailed look at our fascinating and distant planetary neighbor. Russian and American astronauts have embarked on collaborative year-long journeys in low-Earth orbit aboard the International Space Station. Commercial space has continued its rapid growth, in areas which include Earth imaging, communications, payloads, launch services, and more. And most recently, we have learned of new observations of (very salty!) water on Mars, critical for our understanding of planetary evolution, the workings of one of our nearest neighbors in the solar system, and perhaps for the understanding of the origins of life itself.
How fitting that the IAC continues to be a paramount annual opportunity, where the entire global space community can meet, exchange, learn, review and promote what has been done, and what has to be done, to advance space activities for a better future for the whole humankind. The 2015 IAC convened space actors from around the world, and offer an unprecedented variety of technical sessions, plenary events, space exhibition, associated and side events and fruitful networking opportunities. It was also held in Jerusalem, a location where we could not help but to be reminded of the significant work in store for of all of us, to continue to grow the quality and positive impacts of our space-related activities through the IAC.
A contrast, between “great hope” and “great despair” was with us throughout the entire week in Israel. It was an opportunity for us to focus and reflect upon what makes our activities in space so special, and so critical to a better future for all who share this planet. Like many of you, space, for me, is a special calling. Through our daily work in space, we are largely able to satisfy our economic needs — to earn a paycheck, to pay tuition for our children, to put a roof over our heads, and buy food to eat. But this is indeed what just about any “job” can do for us. In the area of space exploration, however, we are able to do so much more. In short, and at its best — borrowing liberally from aspirational language where my children attend school — Space enables us to Seek Truth, to Build Character, and to Nurture All.
We seek truth: “Are we alone?” “What is our place in the Universe?” ”What is the nature of dark matter?” “How does the Sun work?” “How did the solar system come together?” “What data can we obtain in order to fortify our many complex policy decisions?” Space is a critical tool that helps humanity answer questions that are extremely important and profound, but perhaps just at the edge of our ability to comprehend. And in answering these questions, we find more and more challenging questions to ask. Space provides the data and information necessary for good decision-making, while also pointing us towards the next meaningful questions to ask for the future. The answers to questions we ask in the context of space, satisfy many of our most inner hungers, supply our need for “good decisional data,” and fortify us to move forward in gathering even greater knowledge of the Universe and our place in it.
We build character: The building of a person’s character — or the character of a nation — is much more than “building capacity,” “learning algebra,” “acquiring knowledge,” “climbing a learning curve,” “eating healthier,” “enhancing capability,” or “fortifying the economy.” Capacity, capability, and economic development are a part of — but not all of — a person’s or nation’s character building. Building character is the advancement of both technology/capability, and the wisdom to apply these, judiciously, for positive global outcomes. Humans build ICBM’s. But the technology behind these machines is much better applied in sending people and instruments to go to the stars, to answer many of the questions above, and not to destroy each other. Nations build atomic energy capability. But this capability is much better used in lighting and warming our nights, safely and in an environmentally responsible way, and not applied to flatten entire cities. Humans continue to build tremendous and ever-faster technological communications and data capabilities. But when used for unlawful and unnecessary invasions of privacy, we exercise our extraordinary capability, but also pervert and stunt our character.
We nurture all: All spaceflight — from Apollo to Hubble, from New Horizons to Shenzhou, is human spaceflight. From one look at the Rosetta control room in Darmstadt when Philae landed on comet 67P, or the control room at JPL when Curiosity landed on Mars, you can draw no other conclusion. The activity of exploring space nurtures us, directly and indirectly, as nations and as individuals. We give our fellow passengers comfort on spaceship Earth when they are faced with recovery from disasters, and space is there to help. We are nurtured and inspired by the beauty of the Martian Landscape, a Hubble Picture, the atmosphere of Pluto, or the Earth as seen from space. Space and the derivative applications we create help keep us safe and secure. Literally, space helps us know ‘where we are going’ with great precision, and has made it possible to never again be lost, and to never again be alone. We use space to help educate our children, and nurture them further to aspire for greatness in their own lives. And we mutually nurture ourselves in space exploration, through collaboration, sharing of values, exploring, and understanding the many others who also live on this planet.
Our week together in Jerusalem was unforgettable. But equally unforgettable must be the reasons we convened, and what we are trying to accomplish through global space exploration. These are foundational reasons that cannot only be spoken about, or celebrated a safe distance from the challenges we are trying to overcome. They must be lived. The context of our past week in Jerusalem showed us directly why they are so important. Together, we can build a stronger and more relevant community, seeking truth, building character, and nurturing all, through the exploration of space. Space can help us find a better way.
It was a pleasure and an honor to continue this journey with all of you at the 2015 IAC in Jerusalem, and I look forward to another step in this journey next year in Guadalajara!