Like many of the participants at the International Space Development Conference (ISDC2019), I too dreamed of becoming an astronaut when I grew up. My childhood space hero was … Yuri Gagarin. Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet cosmonaut, was the first human to reach Earth orbit, and he accomplished that remarkable feat in 1961, aboard his spacecraft Vostok 1. Quite an achievement, but still – why Yuri Gagarin, you may ask?
After all, only a few years later, in 1968, NASA launched Apollo 8, the first manned space mission to orbit the Moon, and in July 1969 U.S. astronauts Neil Armstrong, “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins, flying the Apollo 11 mission, made the first successful landing on the Moon. And then, the rest was history.
Or, was it?
As it turns out, not everyone experiences history the same way. Back in the 1970s, where I grew up – on the other side of the Iron Curtain, in Romania – news from the West were percolating slowly and were heavily redacted. So the science classes we were taught in school were heavily biased towards highlighting the achievements of the Soviet space program. Not many school children knew anything about the Apollo program – but, we all knew about Yuri Gagarin.
Fast-forward a few decades, and here we are, engaged in a new space race, in a much-different sociopolitical climate, where investments in space development are made not just on the basis of national prestige, but also based on hard-nosed business models, and where access to information is ubiquitous.
So, unlike during the Cold War, now we are all truly sharing the same history, we are sharing it in real-time, and decisions and progress made by one country spread rapidly and impact decisions and progress made in another country with such speed that going it alone is no longer a viable or realistic option. When we go to Space, to the scale expected to happen within the next 10-25 years, it won’t be just one country going to Space. We will ALL go to Space.
For this reason, the creation of a health care system tailored to the unique circumstances and needs of for space travelers should be an international endeavor and be done in a collaborative way, ideally under the aegis of the United Nations, with heavy participation from state space agencies.
And to set the context, we’ll start with a story about the future…