Roy Gibson: the future of space exploration

The European Space Agency's first director general Roy Gibson reflects on the future of space exploration.

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Space exploration is going to have a hard time because of lack of money. I think for many years to come the elaborate plans of twice round Mars and back in time for breakfast is out. I can’t say I’m terribly worried about that. Mars and other places have been there a long time and they’re not likely to go away very quickly. But it is the part that has a kind of visceral grasp on people and they – even the most non-space minded person can summon up a bit of enthusiasm at the idea of peering at somebody trying to walk from one side of Mars to the other. I accept it, I don’t participate in it, I never have. The amount of money that you would need to spend, it would in my mind view be criminal to start committing it at this stage, there are so many other things that need money. I’m not saying it will never happen, but I think it’s not a sensible argument to be deployed at the moment. And it’s a pity, really, because they overflow into political consideration. A minister, newly minted, minted minister, who can shake hands with an astronaut, is … that’s a very good photo opportunity. The fact that it’s going to cost God knows how many billions of dollars, doesn’t seem to come into the account. So I’m pretty negative on that side. There’s an intermediate area, and that’s space science. And I think there it’s reasonable to keep going and refining what we know about the planets, about our outer environment, about origins and this kind of thing, but not with a view to going there, just with a view to increasing our theoretical knowledge of the construction of the earth and the universe and other universes. So I’m in favour of keeping that going. But then all the rest, in my view, the emphasis has now changed. It’s now either commercial or application, and therefore it should be driven by need or by the benefit that you can show you will get from putting money into it. But I think that the various navigation areas, telecommunications, TV, climate, climate change, the amount that you do in these areas has got to be determined by those people who are interested in and responsible for those sectors, not by space. Space has got to be responsive to those needs. It’s got to stop promising that it can do more than it can and fit in to the general thrust of that particular subject. It becomes the handmaiden of climate, not running climate but being there, being responsive to what they are needing. Sometimes pointing out how space can help in things that they want, but basically and fundamentally serving needs. And I think that’s the future.
  • Interviewee Roy Gibson
  • Duration 00:03:49
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Thomas Lean
  • Date of interview 5/23/2010
  • Shelfmark C1379/19

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