Fresh approach needed to make space travel exciting again, Abu Dhabi summit hears

Geopolitical forecaster George Friedman says missions are promoted in 'dull and tiresome' ways

The Orion spacecraft reaches its maximum distance from Earth — but are people interested in space missions? Photo: Nasa / AFP
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A new approach from the space sector is required to reconnect with the public and make future missions exciting again, an Abu Dhabi summit was told on Tuesday.

George Friedman, a geopolitical forecaster, said at the Abu Dhabi Space Debate that those leading space programmes were struggling to garner interest in Moon missions.

Space agencies, particularly Nasa, are hoping to send humans to the lunar surface once again, more than 50 years after the Apollo era ended.

Nasa launched its Orion spacecraft on a test flight around the Moon on November 16.

The spacecraft took off on the world’s most powerful rocket, the Space Launch System, in an event that was streamed live around the world.

Mr Friedman said he was “horrified that no one cares about Orion”, even though it has travelled farther than any other human-rated spacecraft.

“Orion went far beyond the Moon and, in the United States, hardly anyone knew it," he said. "The technology was there, it was brilliant. The purpose was outstanding but there was no poetry.

“When John F Kennedy spoke about ‘we go to the Moon not because it’s easy but because it’s hard’, I don’t know what he meant but I know what it felt like — it felt like a necessity.

“So, part of this programme of going into space must be the transformation of the hearts of people into those who lust for space.

“If we really want to go to space, we don’t need a new programme, we need to resurrect that excitement.”

George Friedman spoke of 'resurrecting excitement' in space missions at the Adnoc Business Centre on Tuesday. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Connecting with the public

The Orion flight was part of Nasa’s Artemis 1 mission, the first of many planned missions under the programme through which Nasa hopes to build a sustainable human presence on the Moon.

Mr Friedman said the public would not be interested in technical details but would need an “emotional connection”.

The space agency has conducted much public outreach for the Artemis 1 mission, but most of this has involved sharing the technical capabilities of the rocket and spacecraft.

"People wonder why there's no enthusiasm for the space programme — it's because it's made as dull and tiresome as possible," he said.

"But this is a realm that will be extraordinary in the sense of a new planet to go, but very ordinary in the sense that human things like songs, war and peace will be there as well.

"I have no idea what the Moon's national anthem will sound like, but it will have one. No nations exist without a song and principals."

The UAE has also launched a long-term Moon exploration programme and has been conducting public outreach for its first mission, which involves the Rashid lunar rover.

It will be carried to the Moon on the Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander, built by Japanese private company ispace.

The mission will be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket this month.

Updated: December 06, 2022, 2:52 PM