Where space is concerned, America is from Mars and Europe is from Venus, claims UK report

March 5, 2004

Brussels, 04 Mar 2004

A new report has been published by the UK think tank Demos, which argues that the EU and the US have fundamentally different approaches to space, but that Europe should stick to its unique path.

'If you glance through the glossy brochures produced by ESA [the European Space Agency] and NASA [the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration] you could be forgiven for thinking that Europe and the US have identical approaches to space,' states the report, entitled 'Masters of the Universe'.

'They both feature the same shots of gleaming satellites, astronauts talking to children and images of distant planets. They both repeat the mantra of exploration, education, inspiration, industry and collaboration. But probe a little deeper and the differences become sharper,' the report continues.

The different approaches are described in an interview with ESA Director-General, Jean-Jacques Dordain: 'For the US, space is an instrument of domination - information domination and leadership. But space enables the opposite kind of leadership [...] it is the best way to distribute information, closing the gap between the information-rich North and the information-poor South [...]. Europe should be proposing a different model: space as a public good.'

Echoing the argument of US commentator Robert Kagan, the report's authors, Melissa Mean and James Wilsdon, claim that 'America is from Mars and Europe is from Venus.'

The different approaches to space have been illustrated by the dialogue between the EU and the US over Galileo, the European satellite navigation system, as highlighted in the report. '[T]he spat over Galileo is about more than just the usual jockeying for power between Europe and the US. It also presents a fundamental choice between open and closed models of innovation.' While the US GPS was designed as a closed, military system, Galileo will be a civilian-controlled system, and was designed with civilian users in mind.

The report's authors endorse the European approach, which they identify as being 'distinctively European, grounded in the values of peace, prosperity and freedom, with a strong commitment to international development and environmental protection.

But for Europe to follow a different path to the US, pursuing the development of space for the service of citizens, space budgets will need to be revised, claims the report.

A need to develop a new attitude towards space is also highlighted. While the UK is currently experiencing renewed enthusiasm for space among the younger generation (aged between 16 and 34), the country's space industry is dominated by male scientists approaching retirement age. 'For years they have been making the argument that space science should be valued for its economic and technological benefits. The unintended effect of this cumulative message was to portray space as 'worthy but dull',' reads the report.

The report's authors therefore have much praise for Colin Pillinger, the leader of the team that attempted to land Beagle 2 on Mars. 'Pillinger's stroke of genius was to treat space as an extension of show business,' they declare. 'Despite his status as an elder statesman of British space science, he recognised something that the space establishment had missed: that reaching out to new audiences was an important component of the programme's long-term success.'

Masters of the Universe goes on to explain why the space industry is an important contributor to competitiveness as a source of innovation, and why space science and Earth observation should not be neglected. The authors then conclude that 'For the first time since the end of the Cold War, there is a growing recognition that space matters.' The EU has produced a White Paper on developing a European space policy, the US President has announced a new space strategy, and growth countries such as India and China are investing heavily.

'But there is no consensus yet about how space will matter,' add Ms Mean and Mr Wilsdon. As the EU and the US pursue their very different views of space, this is likely to become clearer. To read the Demos report, please visit: http://www.demos.co.uk/catalogue/masters _page380.aspx

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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