30 July 2001
Features - Habitat (None)
Symbolism of Space
Creating Support for Space through Public Awareness
by Carol Pinchefsky
By Radik Kagirov

We see more images of aircraft on TV, in newspapers, and in magazines than we do real aeroplanes in airports. We see their logos every day on billboards, in magazines, on television, more often than we see them on aircraft tails.

Instead of space ships, stations, and probes, we see the symbols--the characters and features of the spacefaring industry--that have been ingrained into many aspects of our society. The influence of space symbology is underestimated, and with the help of these symbols, it is more than likely that very soon astronautics will begin to take on the importance of aeronautics.

Nothing builds a business like excitement about its products and the feeling that this business has a future. Successful companies have used space symbolism to such great effect that their name becomes synonymous with the best type of technological development. Companies use aerospace symbolism to build a reputation for excellence and to position themselves near the top of the high-tech industries.

In modern civilization there is a trend to make a fetish of technology in general and of aerospace technologies in particular. Images are perceived as representative and connective symbols; they can express additional depth. Interest in space and related phenomena are rather successfully used in marketing and in the advertising business. Essentially, marketing managers use the symbols of the cosmos and the space industry to lure potential customers. It seems to be reasonable to suggest that if this particular marketing strategy works, the public is indeed interested in space.

Recently there were plans to rescue the Mir space station from destruction by converting it, not only into a space hotel for tourists, but also as a film location. A cosmic thriller _The Last Journey_ was planned to be filmed on board Mir at a cost of about US$25 million. With opportunities to film in Earth studios, with a plentiful and powerful special effects, filmmakers nevertheless insisted on shooting in orbit as a symbolic event.

A movie filmed in space could have been useful for both moviemakers and the space industry, but according to the Russian Space Agency (RSA), they considered such projects an undesirable but necessary compromise. Yuri Koptev, the head of RSA, said to journalists, "This is, of course, an exotic project, but the Agency estimates it as a possible way to gain additional means. Life did force us to change mentality. When the question is about dozens of million dollars we are obliged to overcome snobbism."

They say that this project went wrong because the sum was not settled by the sponsor. But this consequence is, to some extent, the result of the position of the RSA: a reluctant concession. On the contrary, space agencies should be interested in participation in such "noisy" projects. This is their chance to gain public support and, eventually, profit. Unfortunately, the restrained approach to the use of space is governed by technocrats who believe that this sphere is too complicated for others. Change is clearly necessary.

There were many reasons why the Americans beat the Russians in the moon race, and they were rather controversial, but one of them remained almost unnoticed: Inspired by charismatic President Kennedy, the American program was presented to and deeply accepted by the nation. But the Soviet Union leaders wanted to prepare a surprise for their opponents and a pleasant event for the Soviet people. So they performed the project almost in absolute secrecy. The program was intensively promoted in special institutions but was unknown to all others, therefore it had not sufficient power and "inertia" and consequently was easily stopped by government decision. This serves as an example of the necessity of public awareness.

Russia has one of the worst public attitudes to space science in the world, even though this country was once a leader of space exploration. Fundraising for the former Mir space station earned little and demonstrated that the Russian people are no longer interested in space programs. Furthermore, the tendency to emphasize problems, not achievements, prevails.

Actually, the delays with the fulfillment of Russian commitments to the International Space Station (ISS) was not connected to Russia's economic problems but instead with the absence of equal public support in the country. Even though their specialists have invaluable experience of running a space station and received NASA's financial contribution, the public was unfavorably disposed toward the project. As a result the agreed terms were broken.

Had Russian public opinion evolved with the help of aerospace symbolism, this may not have happened. And space policy objectives might be furthered more effectively by a change in public strategy. If the effects of the use of symbolism and its psychological impact are better estimated paradoxical results could occur - simpler and less expensive projects could gain better results.

Governmental authorities, their expert advisors, and large segments of general public will need to become convinced that space exploration is a desirable, practicable, and attainable goal. Although this will require worldwide correlation of opinion and decisions, it has to begin within the rather diverse socio-economic and socio-cultural systems of a number of participating nations. As Abraham Lincoln once wrote: "Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed."

Our attitude to aerospace science is our future in the new millennium. We should encourage enthusiasm toward an interest in striving to space. We should give to this future as completely as possible.

About the Author
32-year-old Radik Kagirov is a graduate of Samara State Aerospace University and Samara State Academy of Economics (Russia). He is familiar with space enterprises and has also worked several years in the media industry. At present, he is working on his postgraduate thesis covering socio-economic aspects of aerospace industry.

Address: 443035, H. 4, Sharikovi St., Samara, Russia.
Tel: +07-(8462)-70-23-81
E-mail: rrkagirov@mail.ru
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Carol Pinchefsky 30 July 2001
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