Human spaceflight is one of those great romantic human achievements, says NASA’s Chief Economist

The last time I was in India was 15 years ago as a jazz musician. We played at the Delhi Gymkhana, we played the Bombay Gymkhana, and at the Portuguese Fort, reminisces Dr. Alexander Macdonald, NASA’s Chief Economist in his conversation with Kiran Karnik, former President, NASSCOM and a guiding force behind the Indian outsourcing industry.

While speaking of the space economy, Macdonald highlights that the estimated size of the global space economy is around $469bn a year, with 2/3rds being in telecommunication and communication satellites. 2021 was an interesting time for space investments. About $15bn of investment came from private players. However, 2022 saw space investments dip by 60%. This, he says, was probably the result of an increase in interest rates.

There has been turbulence but growth rate projections for the space industry are still incredibly high, between 8% and 12% for the next 5 to 10 years. The demand for bandwidth is effectively infinite, with no shortage of need for internet access and space satellites around the world. Regarding startups, he says, there is a chance for both, depending on the sector. We are also starting to see new areas that are exciting for people, like space tourism, Macdonald notes.

On the history of US space exploration, Macdonald highlights that it goes back over 100 years. It was billionaires like Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller who funded the first observatories. The first venture capital investment was in the 1940s.

Human spaceflight is one of those great romantic human achievements, says Macdonald. There\’s always the question of why we send humans. Robots can do these things, but the difference is that only humans can experience and only humans can tell stories. The story of the Apollo program is one of the most important of the 20th century. He believes that the Artemis program is going to be one of the most important stories of the 21st century, and the GAGAN program will be one of the most important programs of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Speaking of the Artemis Program to return to the moon, he believes this is going to change the face of human spaceflight and consequently, international relations. Because by going to the moon and being committed to staying there, for the long term, you have to learn as fellow nations to operate hopefully and live peacefully in another world, which is something that we have never done, never tried to do. And by doing something so hard, like going to the moon and learning to live there, we are going to develop whole new types of technologies for life support systems, for artificial intelligence, for quantum communication, by investing in these kinds of dreams, these impossible challenges, and then realizing them. We will thereby create entirely new fields of technology.

Macdonald acknowledges that he is incredibly excited about the future of the Indian Human Space Flight program because there are only three countries. And now there\’s going to be a fourth. And what happens as a result of that is not just technology and science, but new stories get created as well.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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