Thursday, 22 August 2019 09:11 GMT

A giant leap for humankind -- future Moon missions will include diverse astronauts and more partners

Author: Sara M. Langston

(MENAFN - The Conversation) As NASA celebrates the 50th anniversary of the historic Moon landing with alive TV broadcast and events , there is a focus on recognizing the contributions of thethousands of men and womenwho made the Apollo 11 mission possible. This year is particularly significant for the legacy of the Apollo program because of the president'sSpace Policy Directive 1 , which tasks NASA withreturning to the Moon by 2024 . This time, the mandate requires establishing a permanent lunar base and advancing space explorationto Mars and across the solar system .

As a space law and policy professor, I see positive differences with this new goal compared to the earlier space race: a focus on international cooperation, industry and astronaut diversity to achieve sustainable space exploration.

Inclusive US space policy

While the presidential proclamation calls forreturning American astronauts to the Moon , NASA is no longer in it alone. Directive 1 invites commercial and international partnerships. NASA's return mission will also include bothmen and women astronauts , leading to thefirst womanto step on the Moon. I think this inclusive vision invokes a refreshingly equitable interpretation toward human footprints on the Moon and the collective role of humanity in space.

Already companies likeSpaceX ,Blue OriginandMade in Spacehave partnered with NASA to provide advanced technologies and services necessary to extend life in space. This includes3D printingandspace transportation . In June, NASA announced new opportunities for civilian astronauts and commercial scientific research on theISS National Lab . Currently, more than50 companies engage in research and developmentfor a range ofcommercial, pharmaceutical and educationalpurposes.

These are positive steps, but what the space sector still needs to improve forspace explorationis to equalize the gender imbalance inNASAand STEM fields. This is more challenging becausewomen comprise only 20% of space industry employeesand30% of the workforce in STEM research and developmentglobally. Women are further excluded when the equipment,like smaller-sized spacesuits , isn't designed for them. But this challenge also presents an opportunity forgovernment and industryto work together to close the gender data and technology gap. This is necessary to ensure the requisite space hardware and technologies exist for a new diverse body of NASA and civilian astronauts.

Space for all humankind

Thebenefits of fostering an inclusive framework for space explorationare already recognized. Both theU.N. Office for Outer Space Affairsand NASA state thatinnovation and diversity drive exploration .

The 20-year old International Space Station, for instance, is asuccessful experimentin international cooperation in space and science. No one nation could have accomplished this alone.

Inclusivity is particularly visible in the U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs' programs and language, where 'humankind' is used instead of 'mankind.' ItsSpace for Women Projectseeks to ensure that space benefits everyone and that women play an active and equal role in space and exploration.Fairness and inclusionare, after all, important aspects ofa stable society . Inclusivity also supports international policymaking at the state level. Russia recently decided to join U.N. efforts todefine guidelines of behavior in spaceto avoid being excluded from rule-making.

Back in 2016, the European Space Agency proposed aMoon Villageto promote international harmony. The European Space Agency's vision is to unite interested parties and nations to establish a sustainable Moon base for science and commercial purposes. In April, SOM, an urban planning company, and MIT presented thefirst concept designfor this village.

Private ventures, too, benefit from promoting diversity in space.Germany is seeking to send its first female astronautto the ISS through a consortium of commercial sponsors and crowd-funding. Diversity and inclusivity are everyone's concern.

Reframing the narrative for space

Multiplicity of voices and perspectives matters for understanding space. Online media platforms, includingShespeaksscience ,EverydayastronautandMadam Mars , are weaving space images, science, information, cultural references and stories together to educate and inspire people's interest in space and exploration.

Even nonhuman icons play a role in expanding space diversity. When NASA endowedCuriosity with its own identity and Twitter account , the rover's science and exploration of Mars exploded on social media with more than4 million followers . People connected with the rover'spersonalized voice and daily narrative . What is less known is that Curiosity's feed is run bythree womenat theJet Propulsion Laboratory . Diversity of voice and perspective allows people to connect, learn and understand. Perhaps other future technologies and AI will play a role in furthering our notions of space, exploration and diversity.

Undoubtedly, the use ofspace improves life on Earth . Butwe also need human explorers in spaceto derive the greatest benefits. An inclusive approach is most likely to succeed. After all, returning to the Moon is only the beginning.

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A giant leap for humankind -- future Moon missions will include diverse astronauts and more partners


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