Culture and Space Exploration

What is the role of public culture for the future of space exploration?

Dr. Marie-Luise Heuser, philosopher, Duesseldorf

Spaceflight is not only an economic enterprise but is to be understood as a cultural attainment.
Rockets and space stations are the most advanced and most sophisticated cultural monuments of our modern time like the pyramids in old Egypt or the cathedrals in the Middle Ages. The possibility of mankind to exceed the boundaries of earth is a consequence of their creative power which first were documented in the paintings of the Cro Magnon. In the history of philosophy the faculty which is named “mind” was often associated with flying and soaring especially in the platonic and neoplatonic tradition - see especially Platon’s “Phaedros”.

Giordano Bruno developed at the beginning of modern times on this basis a first philosophy of universal space and a philosophy of flying through space. He asked: Why do we want to go beyond our natural environment? His answer: all human beings has a finite body but also an infinite mind. The mathematics of the infinite can show this. The result is that we are not satisfied with the finite “prison” of earth. From time to time mankind is shaking at the walls: first with ideas and philosophical concepts, than with literature and art and in the end with technology.

Philosophically and scientifically (especially in mathematics) the door was made wide open to an infinite plurality of worlds. From a philosophical point of view it seems to be a provincial pettiness to want to go back in the cave. Mankind is able to go into outer space and has to do so. This is a cultural claim against the background of the history of dreams, poetics, ideas and theories of Copernican world view.

Futuristic projects

In the early 20th century the European avant-garde shows what can be the role of public culture for futuristic projects. Intellectuals like the stage director Fritz Lang, who directed 1929 the film “Frau im Mond” (Woman in the Moon), produced an atmosphere of enthusiastic spaceflight-“fever” in the golden 1920’s. He encouraged Hermann Oberth to develop a rocket which should fly 40 km into the sky only to promote the film. Oberth failed. Thence it was the film company UFA which sponsored the first experiments with rockets in Berlin.

Another example is the suprematistic movement founded by Kazimir Malevich in Russia which developed an extraterrestrial view in paintings and sculptures of great influence and significance. Relating to Malevich the international ZERO-group was founded in the 1950’s which created a “sky art” which nowadays pertains to the haute couture of worldwide art. The money which is invested in art and culture has to be also invested in “sky technology” like the UFA in Germany does this in the golden years of Weimar Republic.

We have to establish networks of artists, philosophers, authors, scientists and engineers, who are interested in outer space, to build up a cultural movement for space exploration.
This is the goal of the Gesellschaft für Kultur und Raumfahrt.

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