Reflections on parting
On 16 May, the Space Shuttle Endeavour was launched en route to the International Space Station (ISS). On board was the large science experiment, AMS, designed to look for evidence of dark matter and antimatter. The flight is Endeavour's last, and it heralds the end of the shuttle era. In parallel with this somewhat technical farewell, we have also had to say goodbye to Thomas Reiter, who has been Director of Human Spaceflight and Operations for the European Space Agency (ESA)since mid-April. Two departures in the area of space exploration were sufficient reason for me to start reflecting on fundamental issues in spaceflight.
First, however, a quick look at DLR as a whole – active in aviation, energy and transport as well as space, responsible for space administration on behalf of the German Federal Government and for managing the execution of research projects for a number of ministries. All these subjects have always been very exciting for me; in aviation research, DLR is working on strategic alignment at the European level. One of the results is 'Flightpath 2050', which follows on from ‘Vision 2020’. In the energy sector, we have found ourselves in new territory since the politically-advocated 'Energy Turnaround' following the disaster in Fukushima. In transport and energy, plans for future mobility using alternative energy sources, especially those based on electricity, are playing a key role. And the subject of security research, which is being addressed by multiple disciplines at DLR, is constantly growing in importance.
The departures in the space flight sector mentioned in the introduction give rise to fundamental considerations for me. As a supplement to my personal expression of thanks to Thomas Reiter at the DLR Space Symposium held in the Vulkanhalle in Cologne on Friday, 13 May 2011, a further expression of appreciation of his activity as executive board member should be added here. Overall Thomas Reiter was a godsend for DLR. He led the space flight research and technology sector with charisma and competence, simultaneously acting as a public ambassador for DLR and spaceflight. I expect that we will continue to have many opportunities to work together and exchange ideas. On the other hand, the 'technical departure' of the shuttle fleet is a final farewell with far-reaching consequences. It is true that there have been gaps of several years in the US space programme in the past, for example between the last Apollo mission in 1975 and the first space shuttle flight in 1981. However, this time the enforced break has an extremely important consequence, as it will not be possible to travel to the ISS from the United States for some years. This dependence on Russia and the calmness with which it has been accepted is a symptom of the paradigm shift encompassing society that is clearly demonstrated in spaceflight – the transition from the Cold War of the 1950s and 60s to the 'one world' of the future:
- from national self-sufficiency to global cooperation
- from specialisation to general significance
- from prestige projects to science and daily application
- from governmental activity to diversity, public as well as private
- from tight control to political and strategic goal-setting, with implementation by competent institutions.
At the same time society is demanding transparency and participation. It is not easy to see all of this in context and draw the correct political conclusions, as the debate on future energy consumption has shown. What will matter, in the future rather than the past is that, regardless of the subject and scope of the choice to make, the decision makers base their daily activity on integrity, specifically on the linking of decision making, accountability, legitimacy, participation and control. This especially applies to democratic systems and will form the basis for successful future development of nations and institutions – although some may be dreaming of a non-competition global society with shared prosperity.
Top image: Jan Wörner and Thomas Reiter. Credit: DLR.
Centre image: Jan Wörner delivering his speech on the departure of Thomas Reiter at the DLR Space Symposium in the Cologne Vulkanhalle on 13 May 2011. Credit: DLR.
Bottom image: Space Shuttle Endeavour prior to its last flight. Credit: NASA.