The Citizens’ Debate on Space for Europe
What’s the difference between the space agency and other departments of government such as health, social security or defence? Perhaps the difference is that, to the public, the purpose of the more traditional ministries is self-evident, while that of space is not so obvious at all?
The same would be true of research councils, of course, or of public support for the arts. Yet the space agencies have big big ambitions. Extremely costly ambitions: to send astronauts to the Moon and Mars, and set up permanent scientific bases on those worlds.
If their political masters are not willing to put up the funds, then the agencies must go behind the politicians’ backs and address the taproot of democratic power: the people. That, at any rate, seems to be the logic behind the European Space Agency’s new exercise in public consultation, the Citizens’ Debate on Space for Europe.
On 10 September, groups of members of the general public were assembled in capitals in all of ESA’s 22 member states simultaneously. In the UK the event took place in Edinburgh. I took the Caledonian sleeper train north to play my part as a typical (!) citizen.