Monday , April 12 2021

The Scramble For Rare Places

One of the most amazing things anyone has told me in recent years was that “Ireland has a decent space industry.” The fact that the comment came from the head of the space agency of a large European country and that we were sitting together on a bus in the Middle East adds a bit of brilliance to the observation.

There is an incipient space industry in Ireland, which coincides with its large aeronautical sector, and this made me wonder if one day Ireland will send a man or a woman to Mars.

The images that NASA’s Perseverance spacecraft have sent to Earth reinforce the sense of wonder created by previous probes (about ten ships or probes have landed on Mars) and remind us of both the power of technology and the possibilities it opens up. space.

Ireland on the Moon!

Although Perseverance’s “trip” cost about a total of $ 3 billion and the trip lasted about seven months, it is estimated that a human trip to Mars will cost more than $ 500 billion and depends on the corresponding orbits of Earth and Mars, between seven and seven nine months.

It was thought that the mental toll of spending seven narrow months in a spaceship would be too much even for well-trained astronauts, but after the confinement of COVID-19, it could be said that we are now all astronauts. Until someone has the courage to make the trip, we will see more and more robots visiting Mars and more interesting experiments, such as attempts to grow plants on Mars and develop oxygen machines suitable for use.

With NASA at the forefront of rover landing on Mars, several countries are also in the process of executing or planning missions to Mars: Japan, India and the EU are the main ones. Russia first drew up plans to send humans to Mars in the 1960s, and China is expected to put a probe on Mars in May, while the UAE is a new player with its Amal probe. A number of private companies (most notably SpaceX) are also involved in the space exploration (and trading) game.


The race for space is potentially part of a larger trend that I will call “fighting for rare places”. This takes many forms: a race for safe parts of the planet, such as the New Zealand mountain den, a billionaire (see the movie “Goodbye to 2020” … and New Zealand also has a space industry), a race for space and the scientific and mineral gains this can produce, a race for the deep oceans and, related, a race for the Arctic.

In particular, the Arctic is interesting: it is overseen by the Arctic Council (Canada, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Russia, the United States and Denmark) for its strategic location, its role as a measure of climate damage, and, for its part, the opening increased sea routes by melting ice.

Russian games

Geopolitically it is a vital place: a Russian submarine planted a Russian flag under the Arctic in 2007 (curiously, Russia’s leading Arctic scientist has been accused of espionage by China) and Denmark has recently acted to bolster its military presence. in the Faroe Islands and Greenland.

Reflecting on Thomas Pakenham’s book “The Scramble for Africa” (which incidentally happens again), the fight for rare places has a strong strategic impetus, has dubious ecological side effects, and can ultimately have negative side effects. serious (again, a euphemism for Africa).

This “confusion” reflects a world where cooperation between nations is increasingly strained, where large chunks of economic activity depend on select natural resources (rare earths) and where, in some parts, the rules of the game are met (l space and the Arctic) not open to interpretation.

To draw last week’s note thread, it also reflects the great power of steroids “big games”. In the Great Game of 19th the British and Russian spies of the last century crossed into Isfahan and Bukhara, will now orbit one around Mars, slide into each other in subarctic mini submarines or gather on exclusive ranches on the Argentine plains.

Like the Great Game, everything is potentially fascinating, but it’s probably also expensive.

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