I have met many friends and colleagues whom always raise questions like, Why should we spend money on going to space when we have so many other problems at hand to solve? This question has been asked several times since the beginning of the space race era when John F.Kennedy first mentioned the famous phrase “We choose to go to the moon”. As a Singaporean, I would like to give my perspective in the most Singaporean way possible. I have tried to make this article as friendly as possible to younger readers with plenty of links. So feel free to comment below on how I can improve it.
Space exploration always had its fair share of skeptics and non-believers. But all these people have reaped the benefits all these years. We will discuss further on that later below.
I would like to make an analogy with our train system. Recently the train system has faced several breakdowns and engineers have been busy fixing them (a.k.a firefighting). There’s completely nothing wrong in saying that I’m obliged to fix the problem when it happens. But are Singaporeans happy with this system? We expect a good reliable system where faults are detected early, regular maintenance is done, engineers are trained and new innovations should take place(e.g New signaling). Most importantly you expected these to happen several years before all the faults started showing up.
If all of life was about solving problems, why wake up in the morning – Elon Musk
Similarly, the education system and innovation platforms are like train systems which constantly need to be fueled with motivation, direction, and inspiration from early years. We have to induce a deeper learning engine behind creating a strong innovation platform where you have outcomes that benefit everyone. Most importantly a solid Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) platform.
The generation before us has shown what the earth is like to us. A handful of men went to the moon. Today your child and you can look up to the sky, look at the moon and proudly say, “we as humans, have gone to the moon”. This is pride as one humanity, that is 7 billion people on earth.
Space exploration is the greatest venture humanity can embark upon.
Earthly Reminder: Taking a look back down on earth, reminds us there are 7 billion people on this blue dot. And your problems are way smaller than that.
Top 10 Reasons why I think, Space for Singapore is important, share what you think below!
1.Innovation & Creativity – The right attitude
You live in a mobile phone era that allows a Junior college or a polytechnic student to build and test CubeSats no larger than your two hands clenched together. The platform has been created to create endless amounts of sputniks and allow more people to go into space. To be innovative and creative, you need to build inspirational rituals. One such ritual is the urge to send something into space. Innovation is the basis of re-purposing or improving on an invention. Plenty of inventions and patents are still out there waiting to be revolutionised. Its a long process from the point a youth is exposed to inventions throughout his primary, secondary and college life to the point he starts innovating. This gap has to shrink. More youth need to be exposed to inventions, programming language, open source technologies, and opportunities. Because most innovations start really when you’re young, and when you have space and time to explore. The people engaged in such education have connected the dots between such inventions and STEM. Such a system will allow more innovations while they have a motive to conquer their studies back in school. The best outcome is when one can synthesise across domains to create new solutions.
If you would like to more about how NASA’s research has helped create useful technology on earth, you should check out NASA Spinoff. Over 2000 products /projects that benefit the society has been created into publications.
2.Science & Technology
Space Exploration and its contribution to science and technology is pretty much self-explanatory. It is the main driving engine that continuously fuels thousands of scientists and engineers that work day and night to bring understanding and discovery. In Singapore, everyone is an excellent data analyst. At the age of 12, I have parents discussing what is the upcoming popular career option and how they are preparing their child for it. In my perspective, it is very rare I find someone in a job they really like or feel passionate about. Science and Technology is a very important part of the nation’s growth and we should have more students self-motivated about STEM. In many cases, you need a lighthouse that these students are attracted to work towards to. It is our responsibility to build that lighthouse.
Coronal Mass ejections fire a surge of highly charged particles that would fry any circuit. This includes circuits on our satellite, that controls the phone networks, internet , GPS and many others. In 2014, astrophysicist Daniel N. Baker explained that when these powerful ejections hit the earth directly, it could cause widespread power blackout and even burn out electrical pumps that supply water to your home. It could cause damage ten times worse than Hurricane Katrina. This is why NASA is flying a 1.5billion dollar spacecraft called Parker Solar Probe into the Sun.
It is also important that while we promote innovations using out laptops and smartphones, it is also important to reintroduce a sense of physical exploration, to get out there in the field. On 18 November 2008, the moon impact probe was released by ISRO’s Chandrayaan 1 which recorded evidence of water in the thin atmosphere above the moon’s surface. Once again in 2009, NASA’s payload Moon Mineralogy Mapper aboard Chandrayaan-1 detected water on the moon’s surface. Similarly, Materials on the moon surface contain helium 3 which can be used for the fusion reaction to generate power. Now the possibilities of colonising the moon and mining have become popular goals by countries like Russia and China.
Similarly, Asteroid exploration and mining have also been in the books of scientists. There are about 16000 near-earth asteroids, and mining them for precious commodities such as gold, silver, lead, and water would help restore the natural resources back here on earth. Though bringing back significant amounts may not look energy efficient. The method might be useful for deep space missions. Imagine what if we can mine the asteroid and use these resources to travel further into space. Something like a space petrol station. It may sound far fetched, but we are already making significant progress. Checkout JAXA‘s Hayabusa2 spacecraft which landed two bots on asteroid Ruyugu here. Regardless if it is the moon or mars, the urge to discover will fuel the human spirit that will keep us alive. We are who we are with centuries of discoveries behind us.
One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do – Henry Ford
4.Communications Infrastructure & Common man benefits.
Yes, not everyone is happy that we are going to have satellite ERP. But these are changes sometimes inevitable just like how everyone today needs wifi. It is like a virtual bubble, the moment you step out of it, you feel like something is wrong. Remember the days you waited for your internet to connect while it makes those screeching sounds. Today Wireless@SG is almost everywhere. Today your mobile phone can make international video calls from anywhere in Singapore.
Japan have successfully managed to transmit energy wirelessly. That might sound old to you because you have already been exposed to charging pads where you don’t have to connect your USB cable. Imagine walking out of your house, and your mobile phone provider can charge your phone wirelessly for you. Imagine, if all these energies that we are using is beamed down wirelessly while solar panels collect electricity from our star.
GPS trackers are so important that applications like GRAB, Foodpanda make pickups and drops seemingly efficient and effective. GPS trackers also commercially allow for asset tracking. Most importantly, it can show you where your next pokemon is. Ever seen your boss swiping frantically for a legendary pokemon somewhere random during office hours? I personally have used GPS trackers during hikes. The tracker allows me to call for a helicopter if I were to face danny Boyles 127 hours. I am not cutting anything off my body.
Now imagine all these positive vibes satellites have given us, what if one day it is suddenly all these benefits are taken away from you? What if you simply cannot do anything about it even though you paid for it? This brings us to the next point.
The modern-day fraud is digitally influenced and complex. It is continuing to develop into new areas where your neighborhood police might take long investigations to understand. Plenty of fake websites that might easily siphon out your hard earned money without even you knowing. The worst situation is when there’s no trace of where the money went to. Aerospace Engineers from European space agency (ESA) created a system to detect cyber scammers similar to their software that control spacecraft. Read More. Singapore is technologically advanced and we depend on apps, credit cards, e-commerce, electronic systems, and mobile phones. All these are vulnerable to attacks, and the highest form may one day come from space. We should be well prepared for such issues.
In 2007, China shot down one of its own aging weather satellites in an anti-satellite test(ASAT). Much recently India also successfully tested thier ASAT technology. The U.S Military depend heavily on space for reconnaissance and detecting incoming missiles. Russia is also building surface-to-air missiles powerful enough to take out a satellite. All major powers have signed the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. The treaty outlines nothing in space can be claimed as a single country’s territory. It also bars countries from stationing any sort of weapons. The treaty also states that parties can’t build military installations or test weapons on celestial bodies such as the moon. However, there was no mention about the use of intercontinental ballistic missile which can enter and exit space to the specified targets. Well, now Trump’s space force doesn’t sound that stupid doesn’t it? Nevertheless, the development of space technologies in the commercial sector will also benefit military interests and also further strengthen the defence of our powerful little red dot.
7.Weather Data and Pollution Data
Issues such as global warming is getting worse and we are watching it happen. Disappearance of rain forests, coral reefs, pollution of the ocean, increased desertification, forest fires and most commonly known melting ice caps. Nearly 30 years of satellite data helped come to a conclusion in 2007 that global warming was due to increased green house gases. The eco-system is being damaged and only proven data can help policymakers fund solutions. No kickstarter campaign is enough to bring a solution to such a global problem.
Picture above depicts the degradation of coral reefs. Source : The Ocean Agency/XL Catlin Seaview Survey/Richard Vevers
Majority of your everyday weather information, and the weeks forecast come from studying satellite data. This includes haze, wild fires, hurricanes.
The hubble telescope is a space telescope that was launched into low earth orbit in the 90s, within a few weeks of launching it, the images were fuzzy and blurred instead of the beautiful pictures of the universe. A 36 million dollar telescope technically was not working and the only way to fix it is to go back up again. While one team worked on the repairs another was trying to make use of the blurred images they were already receiving. An algorithm was developed to sharpen the images and process whatever data it offered. This technology was later found effective in identifying cancer in mammograms which normally are processed by the human eye. Read More. Such a collaboration could not have come about if someone did not decide to send the hubble space telescope to take pictures which offer no medical value. Similarly this trend can be seen across a vast number of research done by NASA for space exploration. The whole radiology department which includes your X-RAY , MRI, CT, PET-CT were all invented by someone who had literally no experience on interest in medical science. Significant amount of technologies that are used today were re-purposed from other findings and research programs.
The global space industry is estimated to be worth about S$434 Billion. Singapore Space and Technology Association(SSTA) has signed Memorandum of understanding with various partners to support careers in the Space industry. Several space related startups have already sprung up and are doing reasonably well in terms of getting funding and support. However, we can do better!
10.Increases Academic & Political Cooperation
International Space Station(ISS) is a technological marvel that to date upholds an indispensable partnership between countries. After the loss of space shuttle Columbia, the soyuz was the only way to sustain the ISS for about 2 years. After the shuttle retired, the Russian transportation capability is once again leveraged on. Regardless of political shifts and funding issues. The strong partnership enabled to overcome these challenges, offering an overall program stability. Similarly our universities today have several partnerships and programs in place for our Singaporean students to be part of, some of which transition in to full time jobs while others lead to discoveries and innovations.
The V2 Rocket is the world’s first long range ballistic missile, invented in the then Nazi, Germany and eventually was used by UK,US and Soviet Union post-war. Wernher von Braun, helped design the V2 rocket for Germany. After the war, he was brought to the US and help with the US rocket program. He developed a rocket that sent up the first U.S satellite Explorer 1. He also was the chief architect of Saturn V rocket which was used for the Apollo missions.
Documentry about Von Braun here.
Though everyone believed the trip to the moon was a dream shot. Clearly, it is understood that geo-political reasons always play apart in space related activities. The sputnik (first artificial earth satellite) was actually indirectly seen as a ballistic missile. Just that the fact that it had no missile in it but a simple radio transmitter that gave everyone a beep sound on the ground in the US. The nation was shocked that the Soviet had a very advanced space program. Many of the early innovations at that time were driven by war and paranoia.
Today we live in a country where the government is less frequently changed. This would actually allow for long term plans, collaboration and projects. Its a perfect platform to innovate and be part of this growing space economy. Its inconceivable that we don’t need to send more human beings and robots out there to continue our discoveries.
Picture above : Credits NASA. Cubesats.
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Article by : B.KANESH