Today, we shine a light on a complex issue in the news, provide multiple perspectives, and present our take on the controversy. Our hope is to start a conversation that informs us all better, and we invite you to share your ideas. Send an email to [email protected] with the subject line “space” or a tweet to @NewsdayOpinion.
Welcome to the new normal in our corner of the solar system: machines built by China and the United States simultaneously but separately roam the surface of Mars, as an orbiter from the United Arab Emirates circles the planet. Russia is testing anti-satellite maneuvers above Earth even as life below becomes more dependent on satellite technology. And while the great space powers jockey, private companies are gearing up to take the lead in what was once a state-run sphere.
This is the current situation and in recent years in outer space, a sign that the next era of the era of space exploration has arrived. It’s a crucial chapter in the history of space, with a lot going on in the skies.
Humanity in the galaxy
The past few months have seen incredible achievements in American science and engineering, with the Perseverance robotic robot landing safely on Mars and the Ingenuity experimental helicopter taking off into the planet’s thin atmosphere, a feat for the first time. time.
Yet China’s Mars landing in May makes it clear that America has company in space.
Space is also becoming a tense battleground for the military muscles of major countries, and the United States Space Force, created under President Donald Trump as a new branch of the military, is one of them. China, India, the United States, and Russia have all tested orbital military capabilities. In a difficult incident in 2020, a Russian satellite flew behind an American spy satellite hundreds of kilometers above the Earth’s surface.
In a modern twist, nations are no longer the only major players in space. Spending by the commercial space industry continued throughout the pandemic. Part of that portends more space tourism, and already there is a reality TV show in the works, “Space Hero,” which would pit competitors against each other for space travel.
But there are also bigger changes underway, with private companies eyeing their own exploration missions. It may not be long before companies attempt to collect heavy metals from asteroids or water on the moon.
Businesses see dollar signs in anything that can be sent to and from Earth. This means transporting astronauts to the International Space Station, but also Amazon’s plans for thousands of internet satellites delivering high-speed broadband from low orbit.
Then, of course, there are the UFOs. Conspiracy theorists and the curious will likely follow closely next month, when U.S. intelligence agencies are due to provide unclassified reports to Congress on the often-seen, always tempting, never-enough-explained objects.
Conflict in the cosmos
Leaving aside the issue of extraterrestrial intelligence, many space puzzles loom. China’s ambition to become a great space power shows that space races are about more than sidelining Russia. This means that space competition and perhaps even conflicts between nations could increase further.
Although space treaties and agreements have been signed by countries including the United States, there are still many questions about how economic activity will be regulated in space. The UN Outer Space Treaty covers the issue of property rights in space, but some experts say we shouldn’t use a first-come, first-served system to encourage companies and countries to mobilize resources. Others rightly argue for a future with real limits to lunar or planetary development: think about how economic activity is regulated around natural sites like the Grand Canyon.
Another reason to think carefully about what exactly we are doing above: the amount of space debris that has been accumulating for decades. There are hundreds of thousands of debris orbiting Earth that could endanger current and future satellites, and cleanup is difficult.
Space waste can be big. Consider the world held its breath as rocket debris from a Chinese flight fell to Earth earlier this month, happily landing in the Indian Ocean and not, say, at Roosevelt Field.
But debris can also be small and still dangerous, from pieces of broken heat shields to astronaut gloves dropped during spacewalks. The International Space Station had to change course several times to avoid the debris.
Cooperation is essential
Humanity will not get far in this new, overpopulated and enlarged space age without more and stronger international cooperation, regulations and agreements to help many countries and companies get into space. This could include new management and coordination of space traffic or extended agreements on what is prohibited there.
Closer to home, we hope that President Joe Biden establishes a comprehensive agenda for the next era of space exploration without ceding the field to the private sector, and that the residents and businesses of Long Island – who have played a role essential in the history of space from the Apollo Lunar Module to the recent Mars Perseverance spacecraft – continue to look to the stars and help grow our economy.
The most important thing at this crucial point is to make sure that space exploration lifts all of humanity and does not reproduce the sordid problems and mistakes we made here.