Sunday, 24 January 2021

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If you can be sustainable in space, you should on earth too

Photo of Mars -  Kevin Gill/Flickr/

2030 is not only the deadline for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals but also the target date for a manned American mission to the planet Mars.

Many would say that implementing a Sustainable Development Agenda on planet earth was a tall order but to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, while we may all be in the gutter - some of us are looking at the stars.

One of those who is looking at space is Dr. Karl Aspelund, an Icelandic-American researcher at the University of Rhode Island. Aspelund is a member of a group of space enthusiasts called 100 Year Starship, which advocate human space flight beyond the solar system by 2112 and a manned mission to Mars is a first step.

Karl Aspelund - Bio Pic

“A crew on a multi-year mission, whether on a Mars base or going further out, is going to be in a near-as closed loop ecosystem,” “Karl Aspelund told the UNRIC Nordic Newsletter.

In his research, Aspelund, an assistant professor in the Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design of the University of Rhode Island, is trying to identify the problems involved with meeting the clothing and textile needs and frame solutions and paths to solutions.

“It’s mission-critical. If we can’t solve the problems of sustainable existence for a small group of astronauts, then long-duration space travel and human habitation off Earth seem to be off the table,” Aspelund says Aspelund argues that there is a clear connection between the sustainable agenda and the Mars mission, where sustainable solutions are needed.

“Through the textile investigation it has become clear to me that solving these problems for small communities in space, means that we can solve them for small communities on Earth. If we can solve how to have a village-sized community sustain itself in a closed-loop ecosystem on Mars, then we have solved how to have a community sustain itself in a closed loop in the Kalahari, Kazakhstan, or Cambridge.”

The United Nations efforts on earth are certainly better known than its efforts in space. However, the UN has dealt with issues of outer space for more than half a century. The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) was established in 1958. Located in Vienna, its role is to promote international cooperation in the peaceful use and exploration of space, and in the utilisation of space science and technology for sustainable economic and social development. 

Aspelund says the UN has a role to play in supporting scientific investigations into solving local sustainability, and advocates for elementary education in a wide variety of sciences at local levels to increase the global cohort of science-minded students.

“Helping people realize that solutions for space are not taking away from quality of life on Earth but solving Earth problems at the same time, is also very important,” says Karl Aspelund.

“One solution won’t precede the other. They will proceed in tandem. To quote Dr. Mae Jemison, the director of the 100 Year Starship initiative “What is necessary for survival in space is what is necessary for survival on Earth.”

The article was first published in the UNRIC Nordic Newsletter.


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