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Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Survey shows disturbing ignorance of space: how to change that

We now have sobering insights into people’s knowledge of the benefits of space. The British satellite telecommunications company Inmarsat has just published a survey of 20,000 people in 11 countries.

The report, “What Is Space on Earth Worth?” asked what people associate with space. The findings included that 21 percent pointed to aliens, 14 percent said science fiction, 10 percent associated it with “Star Wars,” while only 8 percent said communications and connectivity and 3 percent broadcast. and television.

“This suggests that perceptions are being shaped more by popular culture and less by the true role that space plays in today’s economy,” the report states.

The report also notes a “generation gap” in attitudes toward space.

“Younger people (18 to 24 years old) are more likely to link billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk to space than people aged 55 to 64. Perhaps this is because people over 55 remember the space race, the NASA shuttle. [program] and all wonder attached to space at that time. While 18-24 year olds have grown up associating technological innovation with the internet and are more likely to follow billionaires like Musk and Bezos on social media,” the report says.

Among those surveyed, 37 percent associate space with going to the Moon and Mars; 20 percent associate it with space tourism; and 25 percent associate space with “research and exploration.”

A small core of people have some understanding of how space could benefit people on Earth. “For example, 7 [percent] of respondents said space can alleviate poverty. while another 7 [percent] the space of thought can support the goal of producing enough food.” However, that number is incredibly small.

What can be done with this separation of space and the benefits it offers? NASA certainly has a strong web presence and is active on twitter. The print media has offered information about the benefits of space exploration, especially when it comes to science, commerce, and even political soft power. But not enough people seem to be paying attention.

The fact that many people get their information about the space from popular culture is also concerning. In my view, for every wonderful movie or TV show like “The Martian” and “For All Mankind,” there are arguably horrible ones like “Moonfall” and the recently canceled “Space Force.” Popular culture is not a reliable source of accurate information about space and its benefits.

Television media coverage of space has been spotty at best, especially compared to how it approached the Apollo run to the moon. The Big Three cable networks don’t cover space missions from start to finish, like they did in the 1960s. Everything is available live streaming, including all SpaceX Falcon 9 launches and Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital excursions. for the rich and adventurous. Yet little or no thoughtful analysis and debate occurs on cable news networks. In fact, sometimes the commercial space becomes mockery, as was the case when Fox News’ Tucker Carlson compared Jeff Bezos to Dr. Evil.

Once NASA’s Project Artemis to return to the moon begins in earnest, with the launches of SpaceX Starship and NASA’s Space Launch System, cable news coverage of space is likely to increase. But can the television media be trusted to provide accurate and unbiased coverage? Or will you go for the sensational and controversial?

There isn’t much more NASA can do that it isn’t already doing. A fine line separates education, which is part of the space agency’s mandate, and promotion, which is frowned upon.

However, billionaires from the commercial space, such as Bezos and Musk, have no such restriction. Until now, the marketing Blue Origin and SpaceX have undertaken has been business-to-business or even business-to-government. Neither company has undertaken business-to-customer marketing. However, since ordinary citizens of the various countries traveling through space pay the bills for their government contracts, this must change.

One can imagine Musk and Bezos, normally bitter rivals, combining forces to fund a cross-platform marketing campaign to sell space exploration and economic development. They could hire an advertising agency to do the research for the campaign.

The time to imagine that the space could be sold has only passed. Everything from fast food to cars is sold through advertising. Why not travel to the Moon, Mars and beyond?

Mark R. Whittington is the author of the space exploration studies “Why Is It So Hard To Get Back To The Moon?” as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond” and “Why is America Going Back to the Moon?” He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.

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