Dubai-UAE: 12 February, 2018 – The practicalities, opportunities and challenges of space exploration were under the spotlight at the Space Settlement Forum on the inaugural day of the sixth World Government Summit (WGS 2018) in Dubai. The series of sessions attempted to answer the question: “In this era of inequality and serious issues facing mankind, such as climate change and political instability, is space exploration necessary?”
It is necessary for resources, according to several experts. The prospect of tapping into Mars water was examined throughout the sessions. NASA released the Mars Water In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) Planning Study, last year, which looked into how astronauts could reach for the Red Planet water. Richard Davis, Assistant Director for Science and Exploration in the Science Mission Directorate at Nasa HQ said: “With the world facing water depletion, we are turning to Mars. In the coming years, we expect to find water that we know is on Mars, and I am convinced these extreme environmental conditions compel society to constantly innovate to find solutions.”
In ‘Space Exploration in the Heart of Earth', Her Excellency Sarah bint Yousif Al Amiri, UAE Minister of State for Advanced Sciences, championed greater investment in science, to boost the intellectual knowledge supporting the UAE and driving its economy.
Astronauts Dr. Mae Jemison, Dr. Chris Hadfield and Dr. Cady Coleman offered inspiring first-hand experiences from their time in outer space. Chris Hadfield said: “There's nothing that crosses the technical, and the artistic, like holding onto a spaceship in the universe.”
Other topics that were explored included farming in space, international cooperation in deep space, and a discussion on whether humans are necessary for space exploration.
In the session ‘Farming in Space', Christophe Lasseur, Head of the 11-nation Melissa Project of the European Space Agency (ESA), shared his experience of running a photo-bioreactor with algae to produce Oxygen and trap CO2, to keep a crew of rats alive and comfortable for six months. Reminiscent of the sci-fi movie The Martian, Julio Ernesto Valdivia Silva, a postdoctoral researcher at NASA Ames Research Centre, also spoke about his attempts to grow potatoes in soil samples from the Atacama Desert in a bid to recreate the conditions of Mars.
A number of experts also joined for a panel discussion titled, ‘The Case for Space'. Dr John C Mankins, President at Mankins Space Technology, Dr. Henry R. Hertzfeld, Professor of Space Policy at The George Washington University and Marit Undseth, Senior Researcher at OECD highlighted that many challenges must still be solved to enable human space exploration. The most important of these are providing air, water, food, and protecting astronauts from hazards caused by spending a long time in a low gravity environment.
The experts also opened a dialogue on how solutions to these problems will require the development of robust, portable, and self-sustaining life support systems that can operate in a range of environments and extremes of temperature. These innovations ensure safe, affordable, and effective operations in space, they will be a platform for innovations that will benefit people and industries on earth.
Similarly, in a session titled ‘International Cooperation in Deep Space', Franco Fenoglio, Head of Human Exploration & Transportation Unit at Thales Alenia Space, explained that while NASA is aiming to help humans reach Mars by the 2030s, the mission will require a round-trip taking almost 1,000 days, facing a plethora of challenges. These challenges could include crew psychology, environment, communications, logistics and supplies and, ultimately, the safe re-entry of the space shuttle.
‘The next goldmine' discussed the next frontier of resource extraction, from the moon to asteroid-mining. Just one asteroid in the solar system has an estimated US$5.4 trillion worth of platinum. The opportunities of capturing this potential have far reaching implications for humanity.
Lastly, in a panel titled ‘Are Humans Necessary for Exploration?' moderated by Rachel Feltman, Science Editor at Popular Science, experts discussed whether robots can replace humans on future missions of space explorations.
Dr. Bidushi Bhattacharya, rocket scientist and co-founder of Astropreneurs hub, said that while there are technical innovations and economic benefits from space explorations, the social capital that we get from sending humans on space missions is not achievable with robots.
According to Dan Lester, Senior Scientist, Exinetics, the cooperation between humans and robots is going to reset the picture of human space exploration. Emphasizing that humans are an essential part of space explorations he said: “Human presence is profoundly important. This includes human senses, vision, hearing, touch, mobility and dexterity – exploration is about placing these things on other worlds.”
Under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the World Government Summit 2018 runs from February 11 to 13 at the Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai. The landmark event convenes more than 4,000 participants from 140 countries, including heads of state and governments, as well as top-tier representatives of 16 international organizations.
Hosting more than 130 speakers across 120 interactive sessions, WGS 2018 features six distinct forums that examine the challenges of vital sectors for the future with a view to finding the best resolutions for the greater global good. Furthermore, over 20 specialized global reports spanning key sectors and topics of the summit are being launched during the event.