Europe has found its place among the stars

Has the idea of space, and the opportunities it opens up, become obvious to the general public? The response is positive but not completely clear-cut.

On first analysis, some outcomes are particularly noteworthy. According to participants in the Citizens’ debate on Space for Europe organised by Missions Publiques for the European Space Agency, sending European astronauts into space, ensuring independent access to space or even the importance of Europe and its visibility as a major player in the space sector did not figure in the picture of significant European achievements of the last 50 years.

Instead, on a number of occasions, the participants bore witness to a vision of space that would benefit humanity and its future. Space often emerged as a common good for humanity, with space activities needing to be conducted in that spirit. For 41% of participants, the European Space Agency should contribute to improving global security. 21% limited this choice to within European borders. Moreover, nearly half of the participants (46%) felt that the most important space success over the last 50 years was… the setting-up creation of ESA. This reflects a more or less global vision and approach to issues, and perhaps accounts for the relatively little interest shown in more specific proposals. What you might mistake for indifference, however, is actually down to the fact that citizens have already taken some of these issues for granted. This is true in terms of sending astronauts into space, ensuring independent access to space, and Europe’s place as a major player.

The public: craving information

In terms of these issues, space is clearly established in people’s minds. A number of the responses drive this point home. There is thus broad trust in the agencies — 82% of respondents — and in space activities in general (82%). It is interesting to note the very strong confidence in ESA (88%)and, more generally, in European space activities (85%). Moreover, 89% of participants rejected the idea of space as an empty territory devoid of all interest. 85% of respondents felt that it was still important to send European astronauts into space. Communication was the theme that drew most comments and written responses during the Debate. People want information on space and on ESA’s activities. And they want it in different forms: interaction, social media mobilisation, publications on the Agency’s successes, meetings and discussions organised with the public. This needs to call on people’s emotions, through a project like the Apollo mission.

Space for humanity

Space is perceived as a place for survival, a kind of “life raft”, according to participants’ written contributions. In fact, they see the establishment of settlements on other planets as a real possibility.

37% felt that the main aim of sending women and men into space was to prepare permanent bases beyond Earth.

The Citizens’ debate on space for Europe website.