transforming politics one spaceflight at a time?

Should we take Apollo astronauts' advice and send our politicians into space to give them a sense of scale?
running astronaut

Here’s an old idea. Take the world’s politicians and launch them into space, literally. But as tempting as it will be to simply leave them there, the point of this exercise would be for them to see that in space, floating only a few hundred miles above the surface, borders, nations, and governments disappear, and the only thing left is a little blue planet floating in the void below them. Call it a hands-on demonstration of Carl Sagan’s famously touching monologue about the pale blue dot and an application of the idea voiced by Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell to “drag a politician a quarter million miles and say ‘look at that you son of a bitch’” to combat the petty politics of the day in which our world tends to be mired. However, space agencies generally have much more important things to do than give politicians joyrides and speeches, so engineer Kristian von Bengtson has a proposal for space tourism companies to carry out just such a task and educate our politicos. It’s certainly an interesting idea, but would it really work? Could we really transform the world by flying diplomats and high level officials into space to show them the world as it is, or will our political systems work against us here?

Despite the fact that the archetype of the politician generally refers to someone with no spine, no principle, no regard for the needs of anyone but his or her friends and campaign donors, and constant lies, real politicians are ultimately humans just like we are and while they do schmooze and hand out empty promises like they’re going out of style and will spoil if kept, they’re certainly capable of changing their minds and having their own opinions. Yes, it’s entirely possible that some politicians when launched into space will be trying to look for a little blotch of ground underneath and proudly say “that’s mine! I’m in charge of that,” spectacularly missing the whole point. But there are bound to be those officials who really do let the weight of what they see think in and realize that holy crap, we’re all one species on a floating blue rock and that we have the tools to explore what’s beyond it, and that there lies our ultimate future. When they return, they may even start lobbying for more cash to be given to space exploration, R&D, education, and other crucial areas in which a modern, First World post- industrial nation needs to excel to have both a booming economy, and offer hope for future generations. Keep in mind that said lack of hope is fueling riots and protests across the world today, so resolving this issue is a very, very big deal. Unfortunately they’ll be up against a brick wall, i.e. their vision-lacking colleagues.

Once they come back to Earth, they’ll have to face the very same problems they would have faced before flying into orbit. Constituents will want jobs, services, food, and a well-oiled infrastructure. Campaign donors whose cash fills their election funds coffers will want favors that make them better off now, not in five to ten years. And every few years there’s another election which will take a majority of our hypothetical politician’s time while any trace of long term vision or big dreams of funding exploration and education will be attacked as just wasting a lot of taxpayer cash with no clear goal in sight. Politics today work on time spans of a year at maximum, based on a protracted election cycle and attempting to appease an electorate that wants things done now and in the United States, mired in vicious and embarrassingly petty, dangerous, and childish partisan gridlock. How does one effectively take on the world and convey an eye-opening experience to those who don’t want to listen or those who value the balances of their bank accounts after doling out promised favors to campaign donors infinitely more than they do the future of the nation they were elected to serve? No, the fundamental push for a pivot back to science, technology, and education has to come from an electorate which votes politicians who ridicule scientific projects they don’t understand as a waste and kicks out school administrators who believe that a school’s goal is to make students behave and pass tests rather than teach and inspire them.

# politics // commercial spaceflight / human spaceflight / realpolitik

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