Last updated March 6, 2018 at 4:35 pm
A Space Agency of our own – exciting news of an Australian Space Agency was announced on the first day of the International Astronautical Congress.
I’m sitting in the Heads of Space Agency Forum at the 68th International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, and thinking, next year, Australia will have a seat at the table. We’ll have our own space agency at last! Every speaker is congratulating us on this development and I’m bursting with pride and excitement.
As a space archaeologist, I spend a lot of time thinking about Australia’s space heritage – the Woomera rocket range in South Australia, the Australis Oscar V amateur satellite in Earth orbit, the Orroral Valley NASA Satellite Tracking Station. Australia was the third nation to launch a satellite from its own territory in 1967! Back then we were players. We collaborated with Europe, the UK and the US, and we had our own rockets.
But for some reason, we let it all go. Well, there were many and complex reasons, but I think one we can’t ignore is a sort of typical Aussie reluctance to celebrate our achievements. We’re more comfortable with the ‘little Aussie battler’ than the over-achiever. We are happy to own our sporting heroines and heroes – why not our scientific ones? Other countries don’t seem to have such a problem with this.
I have a vision for this space agency. First of all, I think we need to recognise that Aboriginal people are impacted by and engage with satellite technologies in unique ways. They have to be part of the Australian journey back into space, just as they are now the ambassadors of Australia to the stars. The Voyager spacecraft, launched 45 years ago this year, carry the music of Milingimbi Island in the Northern Territory on their famous Golden Records, out beyond the edge of the solar system.
I also want to see Australia step up to the plate at the international level. With a space agency, we could join the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee and have a say about how the nations of Earth tackle the urgent problem of space junk. Australia was one of the founding members of the UN Committee of the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, but we’ve dropped off the radar on this and many other international committees. I’d love to see us back in the debates, representing not just Australian interests but those of the region.
Tuning back into the Space Agency Forum, the heads of NASA, JAXA, ESA, Roscosmos, and the Chinese and Canadian agencies have just been asked what the ideal headline news for their agency would be. This is a good question! What would it be for Australia? What might the public read about our activities in the decades to come?
Here’s a headline I’d like to see: Aboriginal astronauts adapt old technologies to new conditions on Mars.
Wouldn’t that be worth celebrating?
Follow all the IAC 2017 coverage, including news and articles in the lead up to this astronautical event, and daily live videos during the Congress at australiascience.tv/iac-2017.