Every morning when I walk into work, I walk up a staircase above a strange looking cone about a meter and half high. Inside are bundles of wire, small windows for sensors and a whole pile of very old looking electronics. I have stopped and looked at this a few times and read the interesting notes on the wall behind it. It is a prototype of Australia’s first satellite, WRESAT. Around it in this mini-museum are other examples of rockets and various weapons that fly. There’s even a Long Tom missile that reaches from the ground up and past the 1st floor landing. There are early models of research programs that took over 20 years to flesh out. However nice it is to see these items, there is a sad fact behind them. WRESAT was put into orbit over 40 years ago. It only took us 11 month to design, build and put this into space, that’s pretty impressive. However , today, in 2008, Australia does not have much of presence in space. Even though we are one of the leading counties in the world when it comes to standard of living, wealth and technical capability we simply don’t have any space program. We *used* to be one of those countries. That SUCKS.
Andy Thomas, one of Australia’s few people it has put into space, mentioned our myopic view of space a couple of days ago in this article. Even when he was in space it wasn’t officially as an Australian. And then today I hear of Indonesia’s space program and a recent rocket launch. And India’s, China’s and Japan’s and the list goes on, except Australia is never on that list.
Australia does not have a presence in space because our short sighted governments don’t seem to think this is important. Most likely in the same way that they don’t think basic science or a skilled workforce or even people who can think is important. My theory is this, if you’re really friggin stupid then it’s difficult to understand the benefits of being smart and doing clever things. If you haven’t any first hand experience of doing clever things, you’re too busy dealing with the here and now to think about long term planning or difficult issues. Like long range research. It’s just sooooooooooo much simpler to go with bread and circus politics and keeping the masses happy. And that’s what we’ve had for as long as I can remember.
What I can remember is seeing Neil Armstrong walk on the moon in 1969. It was cool, we got half a day off school and I can clearly remember seeing the black and white fuzzy broadcast at home. Throughout school I had an interest in space and decided to make a career in it. In 1980 I was accepted into aeronautical engineering over in NSW. However I didn’t take up the offer, I simply couldn’t afford to live in Sydney and student support funding was means tested and my middle class dad earned too much, which at the time really wasn’t much compared to the average wage. However I went on with an engineering career for 20 years and with hindsight it was the right decision because the space industry died in the arse around that time. Ironically Andy Thomas went to the same University as me, even the same department with the same lecturers, but a few years earlier and he escaped to the USA to have a career in space. He simply couldn’t have that career and stay in Australia.
This inaction over a space program isn’t all that limited. The inaction over the River Murray, the long term (un) sustainability of our crops and stock and the total lack of any population plan whilst mindlessly supporting economic rationalism and the bat-shit crazy idea that we can have growth forever is just typical of people who have no clue nor idea about the future and further supports the idea we are led by morons. We are so lucky we are rich in natural resources which means we can let our manufacturing industry squander, our smart people drift overseas and we can live by our ‘she’ll be right’ attitude. However when some country like Indonesia is putting up rockets and has an active space program we really need to have a long hard look at ourselves.
As a country we really need to see an eye doctor about our myopia, it’s starting to make us look stupid as well as blind.