Everyone apparently knows something about space because they have watched Star Wars, Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica (that’s showing my age). But my guest on Global Focus on Sky News this week actually does know something about space. In fact, a whole lot.
Pam Melroy has spent thirty eight days in space, been on three space missions and commanded one. She is an astronaut and is now Deputy Administrator of NASA which runs the United States’ space programme.
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She has a close connection to Australia having lived and worked in Adelaide in 2018 with Nova Systems, one of Australia’s defence and space industry powerhouses.
She advised the Australian Government on the establishment of the Australian Space Agency.
Her insights about the universe are breathtaking.
Space is the one unquestionably international industry. It isn’t possible for one nation to know everything there is to know about how to create and maintain a space programme. For that reason, it is a unique area for international collaboration.
The International Space Station is a case in point. It involves five space agencies and twelve nations working together to create and maintain its existence and its programme.
For example, Melroy says about Russia: “the relationship with Russia in the International Space Station has been pivotal to our success and is as strong as it has ever been.”
Many people had hoped that Antarctica would be a model of international cooperation and by and large that has been true so far.
However, new discoveries of minerals and the opportunity presented for national interests to be put ahead of international ones is straining the rules that govern the scientific and other uses for Antarctica.
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But it may prove a lesson for how nations cooperate in space. Australia is one of the early signatories to the Artemis Accords, which is the first attempt to regulate behaviours towards each other in space.
The need for cooperation is essential for the nascent Australian space industry to thrive.
While there is now an Australian Space Agency,  a Discovery Centre and Mission Control at Lot 14, seventy companies in just Adelaide in the space industry, with many more in Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane, the Gold Coast and beyond, the relationship between the US and Australia as partners in space is going to be critical to successfully creating a sovereign space sector here.
Melroy thinks we need to specialise in a few significant areas. She cites the Italians focusing on pressure vessels for spacecraft as an example of how to add value to the space sector.
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The US wants to help us as, “strong partners are the best ones”. She’s right.
On Global Focus, Melroy also explains the pillars that make the human energy, cost and time devoted to space programmes worthwhile.
Those pillars centre on understanding life on Earth better through scientific discovery to learn about our health and the environment. This is particularly germane to responding to climate change.
Melroy says, “NASA is the eyes in the sky for understanding climate data”.
Another pillar is the creation of technologies that assist our industrial base, and through technology, our national security.
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But interestingly, Melroy cites “inspiration” as a driving pillar in the importance of the work done on space. She was a child who grew up in the sixties and dreamt about going to space and ended up commanding a space shuttle.
She was inspired by the chance of discovery to do better, do more and achieve. It drove her and drives her fellow workers in NASA as it does their counterparts across the globe, including here in Australia.
The next big thing in space is going to be finding life elsewhere in the universe. It may not be life as we know it on Earth, but Melroy believes that is possible.
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Whether it is on Mars or even Venus, she believes the probes that are on Mars now and planned for Venus may well turn up a breakthrough of gigantic proportions.
Whereas I have been sceptical (and not a little jealous) of billionaire boys playing with very expensive space toys and jetting around space, Melroy has quite a different take.
She makes the excellent point that it was American billionaires who built the railroad network that opened up the United States and built the US nation and its economy.
Without the profit motive that drove those billionaires, the Western US would have taken many more decades to build.
They also drove better technology, engineering and a higher standard of living.
Melroy sees no problem in the modern day billionaires investing their money to improve technology, support government efforts to explore the universe and use that new found knowledge to improve life on Earth.
I see her point.
Hon Christopher Pyne is a former Minister for Defence and long serving Member of the House of Representatives in the Australian Parliament.
Watch Global Focus with Christopher Pyne each Sunday at 5:30pm AEDT on Sky News Australia.

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