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Space debate


Citizens weigh in on the final frontier




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The next frontier in space exploration is usually left to governments and scientists to decide, but the European Space Agency (ESA) decided to ask ordinary citizens directly in a series of forums like this one held in Switzerland.

About 100 people came together at Lucerne’s Transport Museum to exchange ideas on where space travel should head in the coming years and decades. The debate was the brainchild of Jan Woerner, the new director of the ESA. He felt that everyday citizens are the ones who benefit from space exploration through satellites that provide telecommunications and GPS, and therefore they should have a say in how their money is spent on such endeavours. On average, the ESA costs European taxpayers 12 euros (CHF13) per year.

The Swiss forum was one of 23 similar events held simultaneously in locations across Europe and in Canada, an ESA partner country. But Claude Nicollier, a former Swiss astronaut, felt the event fit his home country especially well.

“I think this debate shows the democratic character, almost direct democracy like we have in Switzerland, where we ask citizens what they want us to do,” he said.  “And they express themselves and become those who participate in outlining the larger political direction of the country.”

With input from Veronica DeVore