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After fifteen years of working in the ISS commercial development and space education at the European Space Research and Technology Centre of the European Space Agency (ESA/ESTEC, The Netherlands), Lena De Winne, TV host in Belgium and author of a number of books about space for children and adults in English and Russian, was appointed Acting Minister of Information and Communications of Asgardia. In an interview with Asgardia Space News, Ms. de Winne who has been working with Asgardia since day one, talks of her dream of space, and shares the story of the final steps on the way to Asgardia’s creation
- Lena, you have been appointed Acting Minister of Information and Communications. What are the Ministry's main goals and objectives? Can you share your plans for the near future?
The main task is to bring Asgardia to a new level of recognition. Asgardia should be present in the overall global narrative. Today Asgardia is primarily known in the context of space exploration. However, this isn’t Asgardia’s sole purpose. One of its main tasks is the creation of the world's first digital state whose territory lies outside the surface of the planet Earth. The very fact of Asgardia's existence is, in a way, a challenge to our civilization's historical foundations, it being a country with a territory in space that inherits all of humanity's democratic achievements... I am confident that we will succeed in positioning Asgardia in the global information environment, and discussions of societal constructs and successful functioning of the democratic process will revolve around it. Then the formation of a community of people who have chosen to become one nation, even though they don't live on the same territory, will come to completion.
- What will the Ministry's key functions be?
- To ensure the presence of the Asgardia narrative in the information field at the international level.
- You have fifteen years of experience with the European Space Research and Technology Center of the European Space Agency; you're an international lecturer and book author who talks and writes about space. When did the “space era” start in your life?
- Like every Soviet child, at the age of 6, I wanted to become a cosmonaut. Then I grew up and forgot all about it. Later, in 1993, when I graduated from the Moscow Power Engineering Institute with a degree in electrical engineering, my personal circumstances brought me, entirely by chance, to Holland. At that time, coincidentally, the European Space Agency was starting the programme called EuroMir whereby European astronauts flew to the Russian space station Mir. They were looking for an engineer who was able to translate. So I started work as a translator with EuroMir, and, having worked there for several years, effectively I had received one more technical degree as I had to talk of, and write texts about, a very specific subject - human spaceflight.
- What is your space dream like?
- I dream of the 1967 international Outer Space Treaty, signed by over a hundred countries back in the day, being put into practice today, for space to become the first truly demilitarized area available to each and every individual living on the planet Earth. First and foremost, Asgardia seeks to give equal access to the exploration and use of outer space to all of humanity. I sincerely believe that we need an oasis accessible to everyone on equal terms, where we all can live together in perfect peace. Space must become such an oasis. I am a pacifist at heart, but my dream of peace hasn’t come true on Earth yet.
- Today, it's probably hard to imagine - but do you actually believe that humanity will live on other planets? When do you think this will happen?
- It all depends on what we mean when we say, "live." At the moment (I am a realist; I like to set achievable goals and subsequently bring them to realization) it seems to that human work in space is similar to work in oil development, or in Far North exploration, in terms of working on a rotational basis. And I can see this happening on, for example, the Moon, in our lifetime. First settlements on the Moon that Asgardia talks about, with conditions as close as possible to those on Earth (gravity, protection from radiation) will become a reality in the future. I think of this with a great deal of optimism, as I am confident that already in the next decade people will fly to the Moon the same way they go on long-term business trips today. We will explore the territory and build comfortable settlements for people. However, it is not for me to say when the planet Mars will see its first apple trees blossom, and its first kids' first day at school.
- You are the director of the scientific magazine, ROOM. What makes this magazine special?
- The scientific magazine ROOM founded by Dr. Ashurbeyli is the first and only edition of its kind that combines interdisciplinary aspects related to space exploration while not representing anyone's interests. Space agencies and companies, of course, publish very good magazines, but, as it can be expected, they do it on their own behalf. One of the goals they pursue is to create an image for their organization. We have an entirely different vision for ROOM. ROOM brings together professionals whose work is some way connected to space. Thus, the magazine represents an interdisciplinary cross-section, rather than being ‘horizontal’. The contributors are experts with a background in different sciences, engineering, technology, law, economics and business, as well as philosophy and entertainment. We give everyone regardless of their field a chance to publish with us if they write about space on an expert level. Another one of ROOM's features is that it's also a discussion platform. We invite people with opposing views to debate in our magazine.
- You were with Asgardia from the start and saw the fantasy of a cosmic state transform into reality. What did this process look like? What were some of the landmarks of the State's formation?
- Asgardia was the work of Dr Ashurbeyli's entire life. To create something like this, it takes being who he is - a highly educated man with an immense experience and broad outlook. He came up with the idea of something that had a glorious future, something he could develop by investing his vast knowledge. In May 2016, all of us were at the Manfred Lachs International Conference on Conflicts in Space and the Rule of Law. It's an annual conference on aerospace legislation held in Montreal under the auspices of the McGill University Center for Research In Air & Space Law. Doctor Ashurbeyli delivered a speech there (https://room.eu.com/magazines/read/12#page/16 , link available to registered subscribers only). The magazine ROOM that our team represented was (and remains) one of the conference's media partners. ROOM serves as a platform for an expert community that includes a prominent lawyer, one of the world’s leading experts in the field of aerospace legislation, Ram Jahu, a professor at the McGill University. In the margins of the conference, Dr. Ashurbeyli discussed with Professor Jahu the legitimacy of creating a space state, and that contributed to the decision to create Asgardia. However, I wouldn't call it a landmark, but rather, a final touch that made Dr Ashurbeyli realize that the time had come to go to the next level. He had been working towards this for his entire life. Later it turned out that the first 100, 000 subscribers registered in Asgardia within 40 hours after its opening was officially announced on October 12, 2016. But that's another story.
- How do you see the future of Asgardia in, for example, 10 years?
- In 10 years, the global stable Internet system will be in operation via Asgardian satellites, providing Asgardia with an independent communication system of its own, giving the world an alternative option of Internet access. Thanks to the existing and well-functioning Asgardian telecommunications structure, all public services will be fully digitized, and the first digital democracy in the history of mankind will be fully operational. That is, any Asgardian anywhere in the world will have access to, for example, banking, at all times. The mayoral and ambassadorial structure and consular services will have been operating successfully for a number of years. Asgardia will have a significant role to play in maintaining peaceful use of space for the benefit of all people on Earth.
- What do all Asgardians have in common?
- As everyone is different, it would have been pretentious of me to form any judgment as to what unites them. I would say on a personal level (and those I know myself are a relatively small number of people living anywhere on the Earth), they all have a strong faith in space exploration as an integral part of life on Earth, and, even though most of them have nothing to do with it professionally, their enthusiasm and love of adventure is like that of children; the monotonous routine of the adult life hasn't gotten the best of them; it didn't destroy their ability to dream. They are the ones who still look at the stars. My personal observation is that our society today is experiencing a crisis of the postmodern era. I wonder how people ever manage to look for meanings with this happening, and I am happy that many people find it in something so distant, but yet, so important for all humanity - space as its future habitat.
- What important events, do you think, should Asgardia expect in 2019?
- I very much hope that the materials presented at the Asgardia Executive Congress in Vienna in April will be worked through on a serious level, and strategic decisions on the development of the state will be made. Then, in late June, the first Science and Investment Congress will be held in Bruges, being also the first congress for Asgardia to hold. In the future the event is planned to become annual or biennial, occupying its rightful place on the top of the conference calendars of the scientific, technical and investment communities. Asgardia's Scientific and Technical department is successfully advancing in the development of satellite constellations of about 10 thousand satellites, with testing of their prototypes expected to begin this year.
- In conclusion, what is your message to all Asgardians today?
- You followed your dreams - and they brought you here; even though all of your dreams are different, they must have something in common if they brought you together. Asgardia is where we all live out our dreams - and, if each and every one of us manages to do that, that big dream we all share will come true. As we bring our own dreams to fulfillment, we will see the dreams of all of Humankind come true.