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Australia was at the forefront of the first space race and played a vital role in Apollo 11’s iconic Moon landing in 1969. Half a century later, Australians are more likely to see space as a threat than a frontier full of positive possibilities, and just one in ten say they would like to work in the space industry.
According to a new global report from Inmarsat – ‘What on Earth is the value of space?’, based on a survey of 20,000 people in 11 countries – 49% of Australians are concerned about space junk and collisions and 44% are worried about polluting space, while just over one third (36%) say they feel hopeful about the possibilities of space, one fifth (21%) say they don’t understand much about space and 10% say they don’t care about space at all.
With the space sector attracting record levels of investment and expanding faster than ever before, it is essential than Australians learn more about an industry that will increasingly impact their lives, according to Inmarsat.
According to the report, Australians are twice as likely to associate space with aliens (21%) than with communications and connectivity (10%). Most concerning for the future is that younger generations appear to have a view of space built on movie depictions rather than reality. 31% of Australians aged 18-24 associate space with aliens, compared with just 11% of people aged 65+. In comparison, only 8% of this younger age group associate space with communications – the sector that is leading global growth in the industry – half that of the over-65s (16%).
Meanwhile, 70% of Australians said they had never heard of or had no idea about space-based Internet, and 36% said the same for weather and climate monitoring – despite the first weather satellite having been launched in 1960 – and 31% had never heard or knew nothing about GPS and Satnav.
“I have a positive view that we can help people fall in love with space again. I’ve worked in the industry for decades and see the truly amazing stories that are just waiting to be told,” said Todd McDonell, President of Inmarsat Global Government, based in Sydney. “It’s understandable that with space-based technology so embedded in our everyday lives, it has become largely invisible, especially to a generation brought up with smartphones and tablets.
“Space can enable a better way of living for us all, but public support will make or break this vital contribution to a better future.
“What was really interesting is that, like their counterparts in other countries and despite a generally low level of awareness, Australians identified genuine causes of concern related to the space industry. As the sector goes through a period of major expansion – with forecasts that the number of satellites in orbit will rise from 7,000 to over 100,000 by the end of this decade – players in the industry have a vital duty to manage this growth responsibly.
“Having come so far, we cannot afford to destroy the gift of space through poor stewardship, fear, ignorance or inaction. Sustainability on Earth cannot exist without sustainability in space. Responsible space exploration and stricter regulation is a must.”
“I see first-hand how space is playing a vital role in putting food on our tables, how it keeps us safe when we fly, how it enables us to buy goods from home and have these shipped to us from the other side of the world. Whenever a natural disaster strikes and damages Earth-based telecommunications, satellites are there immediately to support search & rescue and rebuilding efforts. Perhaps most importantly for the future, space technology lies at the heart of efforts to combat climate change.
“I’m sure that if the industry can tell these stories, especially to the younger generation, then interest in space will grow and we will see a new generation emerge – one, much like back in the 1960s, who regard space as an amazing opportunity both as a career and as a force for positive change.”