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article imageOp-Ed: Why can't science sell its big ideas? Like the ESA moon base?

By Paul Wallis     Jan 2, 2016 in Science
Sydney - The actual idea of a working ESA moon base is perhaps the biggest single step since the Apollo landings. The infrastructure and logistics alone are extremely important. What do we get from the indefatigable online media? An imperfect vacuum.
The European Space Agency has announced the idea of a functional moon base by 2030-40. Even the dates are unclear. The media coverage has been appalling. When major news sites can’t do better than a third rate version of Buzzfeed, you have to ask who’s running the dunghill.
Pictures of something that doesn't exist, we do get. Thanks, guys, nice to know your sense of proportion is as comatose as ever.
Nor is this “new” news. New Scientist ran the story of a Russia/ESA joint venture back in October last year as a two-paragraph piece. The tabloids have only just now caught up with it.
Let’s look at the priorities here. If someone called Kardashian picks their nose, forget wars, disasters and everything else — if it’s one of the biggest single moves in human history, you get “Golly gee! A picture!” information quality.
I don’t know if the ESA is looking for a publicist, but you could get a chocolate chip cookie anywhere on Earth which could have done a better job of driving interest than this unsightly mess. This is huge. To deliver a working moon base means basically upgrading the space industry from top to bottom, much higher efficiencies and better cost management than anything previous.
Maybe the idea’s at inception stage, which would explain the half-ass publicity, (scientists, like most experts, are great at reducing big ideas to uninformative, convoluted one-liners) but the ramifications of this long-held ideal for the Moon are gigantic.
Using the Moon base to help with a Mars landing, for example, means by definition a whole industrial paradigm. Ummm….yeah… We can mention that…. Dear deities, what an unsightly ooze of information we have here.
If the space industry can be legitimately criticized for anything, it’s that it has absolutely no idea how to sell its ideas. Artificial gravity, ion engines, you name it; it’s a mumble where it should be a roar. I grant you that scientific evangelism can be just as unsightly, and grim, as the religious variety, but some sort of grunt has to be powering these ideas.
Undersold science, now in its fourth generation
It seems that science has no idea how to sell to media. For example — space science is directly and indirectly responsible for just about everything in a modern home from frypans to polymers, computers, and phones. Space requires a level of technological efficiency and innovation which dwarfs most mainstream tech. That fact is well-known to most educated people, and undersold as hell.
Maybe, and understandably, a lot of mumbling guys in labs is the default image of space science. It’s a misleading, and dangerous, image. These are the top people in their fields, and they don’t talk baby talk except on science documentaries. They also don’t seem to speak big-biz-language, and that’s a big issue. Capital is required. Not everyone is Elon Musk. Mumbles and credibility aren’t a natural mix.
Mainstream media, in its red-carpet-chewing senility, isn’t the ideal venue for this sort of talk, but it’s also the coal face of space science in media. This image is what the hardheads see, and it’s almost as bad as low grade graffiti.
Do we see values? Do we see opportunities? In fairness, not all big biz has to have everything spelled out for them, but consider the “market forces” (market farces, more like) competing for the dollars required for space exploration and development. Those dollars have choices, and if those choices aren’t addressed, no prizes for guessing where they go.
I hope that the ESA and partners will recognize the value of their idea, and deliver a lot more power to the working model to help it get off the ground, quite literally. I’ll believe it when I see it – Even NASA gets a sort of grudging acknowledgement in the financial environment, not the recognition it deserves.
Even the ESA website isn’t exactly a mine of information on the moon base idea. It should be; it’s very much in the project’s interest to manage its profile from day one, not as an afterthought.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about European space agency, ESA moon base project, science vs publicity, mainstream media coverage of ESA moon base idea, elon musk
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