Peace Through International Space Cooperation
Interview with Andreas Mogensen, the First Dane in Space
By Michelle Rasmussen
COPENHAGEN, Sept. 19, 2015 (EIRNS)—On Sept. 2, 2015, at 10:37 AM local time, history was made when Andreas Mogensen became the first Dane to go into space. Mogensen, representing the European Space Agency (ESA), and fellow astronauts Sergey Volkov of Russia and Aidyn Aimbetov of Kazakhstan, lifted off in a Russian Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, run by the Russian space agency, but located in Kazakhstan. The main purpose of Mogensen’s 10-day mission was to co-pilot that Soyuz craft, in top shape, up to the International Space Station (ISS), and to co-pilot the one that has been there for the past six months back to Earth.
Mogensen, who has a Ph.D in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas, Austin, learned to speak Russian in order to train to fly the Soyuz spacecraft in Russia.
Almost a year before his mission, on Oct. 10, 2014, Mogensen held an English-language press conference in Copenhagen about the mission, where EIR asked several questions, and was granted a private 10-minute Danish-language interview. In the press conference Mogensen stressed the importance of continuing space cooperation with Russia, essential to the existence of the ISS, and as a peace-keeping measure. During the private interview, he described human space travel as an extension of man’s natural urge to see what is behind closed doors—to explore the unknown.
Excerpts from the press conference, and the translation of the interview are found below.
The name of the mission was "Iriss," a combination of Iris and ISS. Iris is the Greek goddess whose name both means rainbow (the sign of peace), and messenger. She is the messenger of the gods of Olympus, between the Cosmos and man.
While on the ISS, Mogensen conducted twelve experiments, the most exciting of which was to document what happens above the clouds during giant thunderstorms. From the Cupola, the panoramic window in the Russian module, he was able to film flashing “blue jets”—repeated light bursts—seconds apart. During his Sept. 16 press conference, he expressed his joy of discovery and excitement when he found out that this was the first time the phenomenon was discovered and filmed.
Mogensen also recorded "red sprints"—powerful red-colored light/energy ejections, first discovered in 1989. During the experiment, named "Thor," after the Nordic thunder god, ground researchers tracked thunderstorms, pointing him in the right direction. You can see his video of the thunderstorm over India, which produced the blue jets.
Mogensen also tested a new type of space suit which counteracts the adverse effects of weightlessness on the spine. He controlled robotic landers on the Earth, as a simulation for future Moon or Mars missions. Two mini-satellites called "Cubesats" were brought along, one built by Danish university students, and one by a Danish space company, which had to be deployed later. Another experiment, to test whether small pieces of paper would stay on the surface, or become embedded in water bubbles, was designed by Danish school children who won a competition.
With Mogensen’s mission, a blast of scientific and technological optimism blew across Denmark. Almost the entire nation woke up early to follow the blast-off at 6:37 A.M. Danish time, with gatherings including those at the planetarium, gymnasiums, whole grade schools, and the headquarters of Danish Industry, which held a conference on creating a “space-business adventure.” On the evening news, the chairman of Danish Industry pointed out that for every unit of Danish currency spent on space, there are spin-offs worth 4.5 units. It is also the case that all the money that Denmark sends to ESA, comes back in the form of contracts to Danish companies.
The nation followed Morgensen’s mission through the media. At one point, he called in to a national Danish TV hook-up, speaking to both the Prime Minister and the school children who designed the bubble experiments.
Andreas Mogensen’s determination to qualify himself to become an astronaut, his passion for space travel, scientific discovery, and technological progress, his successful mission, and his determination to inspire youth to study science, have created the beginnings of a necessary paradigm shift, which he is planning to help solidify in the future. - * * * -
Excerpt from the October 2014 press conference (See the whole English-language video here:)
EIR: This is more political, because you spoke before about the importance of these missions for increasing international cooperation. Yet, we’re in a political situation where, in the U.S., at least, the cooperation, because of the sanctions policy, between NASA and the Russian space agency, is being put down. There are some cooperation agreements that are continuing, but others that have been canceled. Do you have something to say about the importance of maintaining this cooperation, and not allowing it to be eroded because of political considerations?
Mogensen: Especially in this case, I think that the International Space Station is a perfect example, because, really, ISS wouldn’t be able to exist, without both the participation of the U.S. and Russia. So, in that sense, we have to work together, and we are working together. As far as I am aware, it is not an area where we feel any of the sanctions, and the space station wouldn’t be able to continue without it. Right now, the only way to get to the space station is with a Russian Soyuz. At the same time, a lot of the vital systems on board, for example, the solar panels, are on the American side. So really, it’s a very, very close collaboration, and if that were to break down, well, there would be no space station, and we don’t see any sign of that happening.
So really, projects like the space station help us ensure that we do continue, because it’s very easy to end up in a situation where some of the communication breaks down, but, on a daily basis, we have communication on all levels, from the ministerial level, all the way down to the technicians and the engineers, who discuss daily on the ongoing operations.
Like many other scientific programs during the Cold War, it’s a way to ensure mutual understanding, and mutual cooperation and communication, because it’s only through daily communication and cooperation, that we break through the stereotypes, and that we learn to see each other on a human level, rather than on a rhetorical level, where political slogans come into play. So, I think that the space station, in this sense, is a perfect example of the cooperation that we need in the future to ensure that peace continues.
International Cooperation Must Continue
Mogensen also responded positively to an EIR question about cooperation with the Chinese and Indian space programs. He said that he looked forward to a possible ESA trip to the upcoming Chinese space station, and that one of the most important aims of his mission was to inspire Danish youth to study natural science.
The other EIR question was about plans to study asteroids.
On Sept. 16, a few days after Andreas Mogensen arrived back on Earth, he arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark, for a short tour of his home country. EIR was able to ask him a further question about space cooperation with Russia, at his press conference at the Danish Industry association. The press conference was broadcast live on national TV2, and part of his answer to EIR was the lead of the article which appeared on TV2’s website, entitled, “Andreas Mogensen: There Are No Borders from Space.”
EIR: When you held your press conference in October, I asked you about the fact that the preparations for your space mission occurred during increasing tension between Russia, on the one side, and the U.S. and Europe, on the other, where you made it clear that it was very important to maintain scientific and space cooperation.
So, now, after you have been in space, on a Soyuz rocket, together with a Russian cosmonaut, from Baikonur, what do you have to say about why it is important to maintain the cooperation between the Russian space agency, the European Space Agency, and NASA?
Mogensen: It is only through cooperation and communication, that we can solve some of the problems that exist. What I can say is, that on the Space Station, there are no problems between the nationalities. We are people who go to space together in order to solve common problems.
When you look at the Earth, maybe the first impression you get, is that there is one Earth. You can’t see the borders from space, and you quickly get a feeling that the borders are something created by humans.
We are all people with the same dreams, the same wishes, the same needs, and we live on the same planet, so, that is why the cooperation that lies behind the space station is so important. And I believe, that in the future, it will be even more important, because it is an example of how we can solve problems together. In the future, more and more of our problems will be on a scale that makes it necessary that we work across borders, and across cultures. That is really, really important, and a good example of what we can achieve, when we work together and cooperate.
The Coolest Job
From Oct. 10, 2014 interview:
EIR: Why did you want to become an astronaut?
Mogensen: That’s a good question. The simple answer is that it is because it is the coolest job you can possibly have—the most exciting job. It started, of course, with a dream when I was little. To go into space, and be weightless. I was really fascinated by the Apollo missions, and I think that the idea of being allowed to walk on the Moon, and feel what it was like to walk around up there, and then look back at the Earth—I thought that that must be the most fantastic thing you could achieve in your life.
That is probably where the dream started, and then, later on, through my teenage years, of course, I also began to be fascinated by the scientific side. I can remember that my first physics teacher introduced me to some books on physics, which I thought were really fascinating—about the Big Bang, and how the universe began.
So, now, I am able to combine the two things that I’m most interested in, namely physics and astrophysics, and, of course, getting to travel and experience, because traveling has always been a part of my background. Yes, to go to space is the ultimate form of travel experience.
EIR: But, philosophically, there are some who believe that people do not need to go into space?
Mogensen: There I would say that I do not agree, because I think that our curiosity is a quite natural part of us. If you agree with the scientists who say that one of the places we started from was Africa—that was what prompted us to leave Africa, and explore the whole Earth. So we’ve always had an urge—if we come to a big ocean, to build a boat, and then cross the ocean to see what was on the other side. Or if there was a huge mountain in front of us, we’ve always had the urge to climb the mountain, and see what was on top. And I think space is a totally natural part of the urge we have to explore our surroundings.
But, also, to seek answers to some of the really big philosophical questions about who we are, and what our place in the world is, because that is something that has always fascinated us very much. And space is a part of that, especially when we look at our search to find life elsewhere. I, personally, think that if we find life elsewhere one day, whether it be on Mars, or on other planets, that will be one of the greatest discoveries we have ever made, because it will really change our conception of ourselves.
EIR: Yes. Our founding editor Lyndon LaRouche, who is an economist and politician in the United States, has said that it is both our destiny to go into space, but it will also change the way we see ourselves, if we are bound to being on the Earth, or if we are out in space, and then a part of the solar system, and the next step, to explore the next galaxy. How do you see that shift in our point of view, if we only are on the Earth, or if we’re out on the Moon or Mars?
Mogensen: Well, it is quite certain that it will enormously change our perception. I look at it a little like being a child. When you come into a new big house, and the doors are closed, you have a natural urge to ask yourself, “What’s on the other side of these closed doors?” It may well be that there is nothing, but it also very well may be that there are some of the most fabulous riches. We have such a natural urge to open doors—to see, and find out what’s on the other side of the door.
And then, of course, you cannot avoid being affected by what you find. There are also many examples of astronauts, especially Apollo astronauts, who went to the Moon, and experienced what is called the “overview-effect”—that is, when you step back and see the Earth as a whole, and see the very, very thin atmosphere that actually ensures all life on Earth. Without that very, very thin atmosphere, well, life would not be possible. So you cannot avoid being affected by it, and understand how fragile the Earth actually can be, and how necessary it is for us to take good care of the Earth, to ensure that not only our children, but our children’s children, etc., far into the future, have an Earth to live on.
EIR: On the question of creating technological and scientific progress, you say that the research component is also a very important part for you. Because we have had an economic policy where it has been said, “We will lower wages, cut back on the population’s living standard.” But how do you see the role in not only maintaining scientific and technological progress, but advancing it, which was referred to as an “Apollo effect” before [during the press conference]?
Mogensen: Well, I think that technology, in many ways, really is the way forward, even if we can sometimes be a little afraid of new technology. If we just look back at the past 50 years, at all of the technological advances that have occurred, that have radically changed our society, from being one where most of us worked on farms, in order to create food for ourselves, to now, where our society has completely changed. Now we are concentrated in big cities. Generally, if we look at both the Western world, but also the developing countries, the standard of living has increased enormously many times. Just that we have been able to eliminate many common diseases, with the help of vaccinations, is enormous progress. If we also look at the mortality rate of children during childbirth, and during their first years of life, that has also fallen dramatically. So I think that when you look at it globally, that there has been tremendous progress in all parts of the world. Of course, there is still great unevenness, where some parts of the world are behind others. But, in general, the standard of living has enormously increased.
But there are also challenges in the future. Because the higher our living standard becomes, the more energy we use. That is quite clear. So, if you take a country that is developing, and then raise it up to the standards we have in the West, it requires huge amounts of energy. So that is, of course, also a great challenge, but it’s something that I think we can certainly get a handle on.
EIR: But, as I said before [during the press conference], China wants to go to the Moon, explicitly to be able, in the long term, to utilize Helium-3 for fusion power. So they would like to take up the challenge.
Mogensen: Yes, that is something we will have to do, just to find answers to some of these challenges. And space is an important part of that. Because we know that the Earth is affected, not only by our activities, but also by solar activity, and activities from the universe. So that is not only a way in which we can get children interested in space, and science classes, but it is also, in itself, an important part of our survival and our future.
EIR: Do you think we need political leaders like Kennedy, who have great visions for the future, rather than looking forward to the next election?
Mogensen: Of course, that is one of the challenges. When we talk about space projects, some extend over 15, 20, 30 years. So those who start it, are not those who get something out of it, politically speaking.
But I think that what has been started with the space station program—which right now includes America, Russia, Europe, Japan, and Canada—is a very good basis for the future of space travel. Those countries are all aware that the next step, if it will be the Moon, asteroids, or Mars, will be in collaboration with other partners, because it is not something that can any longer be undertaken by one country. It will have to be a partnership. So it will not surprise me if, in the future, we saw, for example, China and India becoming part of that partnership.
EIR: Thank you very much.
Mogensen: You’re welcome.
EIR: And, shall we say, good luck?
Mogensen: Thank you.
EIR was also present at Mogensen’s lecture at Copenhagen University on Sept. 17, 2015. There EIR asked about his reflections after his mission about the role of human beings in space, and to go out into the universe, and how that would help shape the future on Earth.
Mogensen answered that the question of our role in the universe is a hard one, which he doesn’t know the answer to, but we will only come to know if we have a role to play away from the Earth, until we take the first step. That is what we are trying to do, he said, but we are still only taking the first small steps, with the 1960s missions to our closest neighbor, the Moon. Morgensen concluded his answer by saying that he can’t imagine that space would not play an important role in 50, 100 or 1,000 years, but what role that will be, is what we are trying to figure out with our space program.