By Katarína Nevedalová - 25th October 2012
The long-term viability of Europe’s space projects relies on the development of a new generation of scientists, writes Katarína Nevedalová
As I have said on several occasions before; the popular TV show Star Trek was always a source of inspiration for me. It encourages people to engage in important matters of society, science and knowledge in general. The current generation is facing tremendous challenges: the current economic crisis, social injustice, poverty or even conflict. In an environment like this it is easy to neglect the importance of space exploration, or science fields related to it, even when these disciplines are the ones which are pushing humankind further. Space exploration and the knowledge gained from it have far greater power and the potential to shape our future than anything else. In the not so distant past, progress in these fields was a question of prestige.
After the end of the cold war and the fall of the iron curtain, the disappearance of the competition caused visible decline in the attractiveness of the space missions. Soon it will be 40 years since the last manned mission to moon’s surface. Apollo 17 launched on 7 December 1972 and, as in previous Apollo missions, it consisted of a three-member crew. The following years were shaped by the usage of unmanned remote controlled drones and rovers. The most recent achievement was the successful landing of Curiosity rover in Gale crater on Mars on 6 August of this year.
If we take a look at EU achievements; we have to mention the successful beginning of the test phase of the EU’s Galileo project. Galileo has the potential to be a serious competitor to the US operated global positioning system. The next big achievement in space exploration that would be able to balance out the huge gap between the early 1970s and present is a manned mission to Mars. This is currently more a topic of science fiction than science fact as it is mostly present in Hollywood movies rather than practice. The preliminary work started in the early 1950s and the feasible concepts of the artificial habitats necessary for astronauts to survive on the surface of Mars, due to the extreme length of such missions, were introduced in the early 1990s.
In spite of our capabilities, the real preparation has not started yet. I was surprised to hear from astronaut Andreas Mogensen that according to him we are closer to a manned mission to Mars now than people were in the early 1960s to a manned mission to the Moon. At the beginning of my political career, I focused my attention to the education agenda as a member of various youth and student organisations. As an MEP, I continue to focus most of my efforts into the field of education and training. I consider the quality in opportunities for obtaining knowledge to be one of the main pillars for the growth of our society.
Humanity cannot again reach for the stars without a new generation of scientists, engineers, philosophers and innovators. That is why I am working on programmes like Erasmus, where not only students, but all citizens, can have equal opportunity for obtaining the education or training that they and Europe so desperately needs. Europe faces a critical skills shortage and universities and educational institutions produce some of the most influential minds of our time; therefore it is absolutely necessary that we utilise them to their fullest potential.
Katarína Nevedalová is a member of parliament's culture and education committee and hosted the event, Science rules: Star Trek in the European Parliament