The social impact of a national space agency

| November 13, 2017

The Australian government has announced their commitment to a national space agency. For people like me, who are embedded in the industry and live and breathe space, the social and economic impacts of this announcement are well understood. But if you aren’t immersed in the industry, you might be wondering what the fuss is all about.

An Economic No-Brainer

The economic value has been measured and the return on investment in space is economically significant. It is measurable and has accepted globally.

  • The space technologies improve our lives on Earth. An everyday example is connectivity on your mobile phone and GPS.
  • The space industry employs a lot of people, and a range of skill sets. To enable space mission to happen, we require the cooperation of all types of people (not just technical), so there is something for everyone!
  • An agency would support the research and development in universities, enabling them to collaborate globally and be competitive. Making them more attractive to international students (one of our biggest exports).
  • The agency would allow us participate in global projects, and drive Australian business to grow globally.

This is by no means a conclusive list, and I’m sure there are many more things that could be added. But overall, the price tag to achieve these benefits is small, compared to the economic benefit they can give us, so it’s a no-brainer.

Social Impact on Young Australians

I am more interested in is the social impact the agency will have in Australia, and specifically education. Discussions during IAC in Adelaide this week, have noted that the social impact of the space agency is harder to measure and far less objective.

Presently, they’re faced with the stark reality of automation taking up a significant amount of jobs off the market. It’s a conversation they hear regularly and isn’t very motivating to say the least. Our main economic and job industries are dwindling, many young people are looking around asking what they’re meant to do.

With an agency, our government is saying that they are backing an industry long term. With governments support, Australians can expect stability, and find comfort in that security.

Having an agency means that students can now allow themselves to get excited and involved. There are now going to be opportunities for them that don’t require them to move internationally or have a second passport.

This means the growth of Australian local companies, and international opportunities for them. It means the children of miners and manufacturers can see a glimmer of hope in an alternative pathway. The agency gives young people something to aim for and to be excited about in a world where we are swamped in the negativity of what the future will bring.

A national space agency gives young Australians hope.

The Answer to Our STEM Crisis

The existence of an agency, some national direction and something to aspire to will undoubtedly boost our student’s engagement with STEM.

They can see where and how their STEM education is going to be useful. And for those students who haven’t been able to board the STEM train, space offers opportunities to all areas and includes more than just the technical. It gives opportunities to almost all pathways, ensuring that this new industry is accessible by the wider Australian population.

And, we’ve actually seen the impact of this before. Back in the Apollo era, the USA saw their STEM engagement sky-rocket, to unforeseen levels. More young Americans ran for the STEM subjects and fields in the hope of being able to support their nation in the space race. The wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves and their communities.

A Common Point of Pride

One of the many things I admire about NASA is the cultural impact it had on it’s citizens. US citizens unite together in their pride of putting man on the moon and all the tremendous achievements they have made. The population finds their national agency’s work something to be proud of as Americans. It is a uniting point, and plays a role in the identity of what it is to be American.

The ability to unite a population, provide a source of pride that all Australians can share is something that few things other than a great space agency can bring. A national agency could bring together different generations.

It will give us an opportunity to focus on the next generation, and bring them into the conversation about where we want our nation to be and what we want it to achieve in the future.

Whilst creating a space agency might seem like a weird decision for the government to make now, we should be walking into this opportunity with excitement and the vision to make this worthwhile for everyone in Australia.