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Affordable Space Programmes Becoming Part Of South’s Development

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Space: the final frontier. At least that was how heading off into the stars was portrayed in cult television and film series Star Trek. While many countries are working to raise living standards and eradicate poverty on earth, some are also looking to space for solutions to earth-bound problems.

Traditional space programmes were government-led and state-financed. They involved enormous armies of technicians, engineers and scientists. Each launch and mission had to be overseen by a vast mission control centre with row upon row of technicians watching computer screens in real time. Space technology advanced rapidly in the 1950s and 1960s with so many bright brains hard at work and with brave people willing to put their lives at risk, leading to humans walking on the surface of the moon in 1969.

All of this expensive expertise meant few governments had the resources to set up space programmes – and it was even out of the hands of most of the private sector. In time, these leviathan space efforts lost the financial support of governments and the pace of new developments and achievements slowed. Nobody has set foot on the moon in 40 years – or on any other planet, for that matter.

But various developments are changing the space scene today and promising a bright future and a return to rapid innovation.

Space programmes are playing a greater role in the economic and innovation strategies of countries in the global South. New technologies and trends are turning space exploration into more affordable, small-scale operations within the reach of many countries.

New information technologies and innovations in miniaturization mean satellites can be very small and light. These developments bring down costs considerably, and also reduce the number of people needed to monitor space missions.

For example, on 14 September 2013 Japan’s space agency, JAXA, proved a slimmed-down space launch can work when it fired off its Epsilon rocket with a small satellite onboard. What made this mission different was how little it took to monitor the mission: just two laptop computers  and a small team of eight people. Previously, similar missions required a team of 150 people.

Fewer people meant the launch was much cheaper. One of the reasons for having many people involved in the launch of a rocket is the need to perform multiple systems checks to make sure the launch is successful. The Epsilon is a “smart” rocket and saves on the need for people to micro-manage the launch procedures by having its own on-board computer with artificial intelligence (AI) capable of doing the laborious checklists before launch.

Billing itself as “The first Latin American space development company,” Colombia’s Sequoia Space (sequoiaspace.com) was established in 2008 to build miniature satellites (called nano or pico satellites) that are affordable to countries in the global South.

Located in Bogota’s trendy neighbourhood of Chapinero, Sequoia has set itself up to exploit the technological trend towards making things smaller and smaller.

The firm manufactures satellites that range in size from 1.3 kilograms to 16 kilograms and are custom built for the customer’s needs. One satellite it is working on for the Colombian air force weighs 4.5 kilograms. It can make satellites to conduct missions in earth observation, remote sensing, micro-gravity experiments and other scientific experiments.

The company was launched in 2007 by a team of Colombian engineers, who turned their extensive experience in developing satellites for the aerospace industry into a start-up. Their dream is to further develop the aerospace industry in Latin America and grow its role in the global space industry. They hope to make it possible for more and more countries in Latin America to carry out space missions.

The company currently has clients in Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru.

Other Latin American space programmes include Peru’s CONIDA (http://www.conida.gob.pe/). Its mission is to “To promote, to research, to develop and to disseminate science and space technology for national interests, in order to create unique and differentiated services driving national development.”

Ecuador’s Ecuadorean Civilian Space Agency (EXA) (http://www.exa.ec/index-en.html) has had a rough ride with its space programme with the failure of the Pegasus nano-satellite. Ultra-small, Pegasus was a small cube measuring just 10 centimeters along its edge and weighing just 1.2 kilograms (BBC). It was launched on 25 April 2013 from the Chinese spaceport of Jiuquan (http://www.cgwic.com/LaunchServices/LaunchSite/JSLC.html) but collided with a cloud of particles from an old Soviet-era rocket. It was declared lost by August 2013, having cost the government US $700,000.

A second satellite, Krysaor (http://www.exa.ec/nee-02-eng.htm), is set to be launched in November 2013. It is intended as a partner to Pegasus and is for educational uses and also to monitor space debris, its website states.

Other trends in the space race include radical changes in how space missions can be funded and the range of players who can do it. Space entrepreneurs who are using their own private wealth to finance space missions and technology development are now driving innovation.

Pioneers in this new frontier include two US-based private companies. SpaceX (spacex.com), headed by Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk, boasts of having “the world’s first reusable rockets.” Started in 2002, it now employs more than 3,000 people and has an ultimate goal of creating the technological capability for humans to live on other planets.

The way SpaceX offers access to space as a service is also radical. The company website shows how the re-usable rockets work and then offers potential customers a price list and various options for delivering payloads to space (spacex.com/falcon9).

Another pioneering company is run by the founder of the online shopping service Amazon (amazon.com). Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin (blueorigin.com) seeks to lower the costs of getting humans into space.

Inspired by the revolution in project funding brought about by the Internet, Denmark’s Copenhagen Suborbitals (http://www.copenhagensuborbitals.com/) is looking to crowd-fund space missions from donations and says it will use the money to launch peaceful-purpose suborbital spacecraft.

“We aim to show the world that human space flight can be different from the usual expensive and government controlled project,” its website says.

How are these companies relevant to countries coping with wide-scale poverty and economic underdevelopment? There are many space technology applications that can aid poor countries. They can improve communications technology and provide more sophisticated communications services. Satellites can monitor weather and agriculture and conduct sophisticated mapping activities. This can help with planning for fast-growing urban areas.

The West African country of Nigeria is running one of Africa’s largest space programmes to boost its effectiveness as an agricultural economy. Nigeria announced its space programme in 2003 and launched its first satellite in 2007 with the Chinese. Unfortunately, this satellite failed and fell out of orbit.

But Nigeria did not give up and now has three satellites in space.

In 2011, President Goodluck Johnathan said the satellites would “substantially reduce the annual expenditure of over $1 billion arising from the use of foreign bandwidth for GSM Communications, cable television, e-commerce and e-government by both public and private users in the country” (allAfrica).

The Nigerian government is using these satellites to help with its planning and monitoring of disaster-prone areas.

Two countries of the global South, India and China, got involved in space programmes early on in the global space race. India started its space programme in the late 1960s and launched its first satellite in 1975. China began its space programme more than 50 years ago but did not launch its first satellite until the early 1970s. Since then, the country has also launched human beings into space.

And their ambitions are rising: both India and China have their sights set on large-scale space voyages, including missions to the planet Mars.

China is now working on a 60-ton space station to orbit around the earth which is planned to be finished by 2020. Ambitiously, the country is also working towards sending human beings to the planet Mars sometime around 2040 to 2060.

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: September 2013

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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TV’s Moral Guide In Question – Again

By David South

Id Magazine (Canada), November 28-December 11, 1996

Television programmers are under attack once again. Thanks to Guelph activist Patricia Herdman’s Coalition for Responsible Televsion (CORT), two violent television shows – Poltergeist (CTV) and Millennium (Fox/Global) – have lost several advertisers in recent weeks due to pressure from CORT. It’s just another wave in a new assault on the immorality of television.

Positive Entertainment Alternatives for Children Everywhere (PEACE), a Montreal group founded after the murder of 14 young women in that city in 1989, staged a press conference last week, complete with sweet-faced children, to announce its “Toxic TV” list. Who is toxic? Old favourites like Bugs Bunny, Batman and Robin and The Simpsons. PEACE also produced a list of “Positive” TV shows. It included a wrist-slashing selection of insipid programming, such as Barney and Friends, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Kratt’s Creature.

But critics of television overlook the strong and often simplistic moral messages that infuse most programming. Some even argue the mostly Judeo-Christian morality comes at the expense of atheistic and agnostic perspectives.

University of Guelph philosophy professor Jay Newman argues that religious moralists are making television the scapegoat for all of society’s ills.

He argues television, rather than being a moral vacuum, is heavily influenced by Judeo-Christain values – often in shows many people don’t suspect.

Newman sharply criticizes religious moralists, who he says, neglect to observe the same contradictions in their own beliefs that they see in television.

In Newman’s view, religion shares many sins with television. Religion promotes passivity (“The meek shall inherit the earth”), disrupts family life (who needs to talk to that “immoral” gay brother/sister?), does a questionable job of moral education, invents celebrities (the saints), sacrifices spiritual wisdom for meaningless ritual and entertainment (the Mass), and promotes violent behaviour (who can forget the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition?).

Leaning back in his chair at his University of Guelph office, the irascible New York-born Newman enthusiastically defends television.

“When we assess TV as bad,” he says, “I’m not convinced religion is the only moral teacher, and it has not been the best moral teacher. Religion has been a very important force of hatred, whereas Star Trek teaches us to respect other cultures.

“TV has been of great value in promoting pluralism and an increase in tolerance.”

Newman isn’t talking about gore-soaked TV like Poltergeist and Millennium, shows he says speak more about their producers than about the medium of television. “Wanton slaughter can’t be blamed on TV. But I do agree with psychologists that some television inures us to violence.”

He sees Star Trek as a moral force for both pluralism and tolerance, strong values that are essential to democracies with many ethnic, cultural and racial groups. “This show promotes tolerance towards people who appear different. It shows aliens have aspirations and desires just like us.”

Newman does take offence to one race of aliens on the popular series: the Ferengi. While the Ferengi are supposed to be the equivalent of used car dealers in Star Trek’s universe, they draw criticism from Newman for their anti-semitic undertones. But even here, says Newman, TV can’t beat the pantheon of Christain anti-semites.

As for the bumbling antics of Bart Simpson and his dad Homer, Newman says The Simpsons also contain positive morals. “The Simpsons teaches us to accept the foibles of others and empathize. It does it in a gentle way without passing a very austere judgement.”

Newman even sees hope in the dreamy world of daytime soap operas. They teach people to develop empathy. They also use negative role models to show that hatred and contempt backfire on people; that promiscuity and adultry don’t come without a cost.”

As for Seinfeld, a sitcom about a group of friends who seem to never do anything, Newman says, “I’m a New Yorker and I can’t sit through it.”

Newman, an expert on religious fanaticism and hypocrisy, has responded to religious critics of television in his new book, appropriately titled Religion vs. Television. Newman sees religious critics of television as at best hypocrites, at worst specious claimants to higher moral ground.

“[Religious leaders] make judgements to show the usefulness of their institutions in an attempt to restore the lustre of religious authority.”

Newman believes the debate surrounding violence on TV is misguided. He believes the root causes of violence should be dealt with first.

“Television is a convenient scapegoat. Its criticism parallels religious bigotry. They don’t focus on the individual, just the medium. And this is accepted by people who call themselves liberal!”

TV immoral?

But critics of TV say any decent moral messages that slip through are undermined by television’s subservience to a higher God: consumerism. For Rose Anne Dyson of Canadians Concerned About Violence in Television (C-CAVE), this corrupted morality can’t be ignored. “There is only one over-riding religion today: consumerism. Its main purveyor is TV.

“Television is a major socializer today. Parents and teachers are key to modifying that influence. But most if television is very bad and just teaches consumer-driven values. There isn’t a single children’s programme that isn’t infused with commercial values.”

Dyson believes the negative effects aren’t just psychological. “Watching too much TV is bad – it causes obesity and hyperactivity.”

Dyson’s claims were recently backed by a new study showing unhealthy minds may lead to unhealthy bodies. A study conducted by Columbia University claimed the more that children watched TV, the fatter they got. Researcher Dr Barbara Dennison found children who watched 14 hours of television a week had diets with 35 per cent of their calories from fat. The study blamed the high representation of junk food in television ads and the fact they promoted couch potato dining. Canadian children on average watch 18 hours a week of television.

Dyson does agree with Newman’s criticism of organized religions’ spurious claims to higher ground. “Judeo-Christian religions have gotten us into a lot of trouble!”

To control this morally wayward TV, Dyson looks forward to more entertainment conglomerates self-regulating their programming. “The cornerstone of democracy is to obey rules.

“A lot of cultural studies people tend to underestimate the impact of TV – there is too much of a value-free approach.”

Id was published in Guelph, Ontario, Canada in the 1990s.

Further Reading:

Channel Regulation: Swedes Will Fight Children’s Advertising All The Way

From Special Report: NMM (New Media Markets) Spotlight On The Emergence Of Satellite Porn Channels In The UK

Undercurrents: A Cancellation At CBC TV Raises A Host Of Issues For The Future

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021