Point of view

What can you learn about forestry from an astronaut?

Author

Anders Portin

Managing director at the Finnish Forest Association

I am still grateful to my parents who woke me up at half past three in the morning on 21st July, 1969. I was ten years old.

Sleepwalking, I went over to the black-and-white TV screen. Soon after, Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Eagle lunar module and spoke the historic phrase, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

So I listened with great enthusiasm to astronaut Christer Fuglesang‘s presentation at Swedish Forest Days.
I did not really understand what he was doing there. What could an astronaut teach us about the use of natural resources or the bio-economy?

Fuglesang talked about his long training and exercises, mental and physical, as well as detailed preparation for a wide-range of potential possible and unforeseeable events. He waited fourteen years to travel into space: all the time, looking ahead and focusing on performance.

The astronaut emphasised the role of science and research. Multidisciplinary research has been necessary for example, in the development of rockets and space stations, and scientific experiments are carried out continuously during space travel. In zero gravity conditions, new information is gathered e.g. on combustion technology, medicine and biological processes.

Fuglesang also talked about the impact of mixing different people together. The space team includes different people, with different basic education, men and women, and many different nationalities. Only when the members of the work community complement each other can you get the best results.

He talked about material efficiency and recycling. On a spacecraft, everything is optimized and recycled. Facilities, materials and equipment are all designed following the principles of the recycling economy. Even urine is treated and drunk again. Electricity is 100% renewable solar energy.

From space you cannot see national borders. Disputes, wars, and disagreements appear incomprehensible. The entire space project would have come to nothing if the old agitators Russia and the US, and many European states had not taken it further together. “Cooperate with your former enemies,” was the astronaut’s message to the forestry audience.

“From a distance you can see how fragile and thin our atmosphere is. Only a thin layer covers our big planet. The atmosphere is absolutely not some kind of infinite rubbish dump. The ecosystem needs to be taken care of, and people must move to sustainable consumption,” finished Christer Fuglesang.

Surprisingly, a Finnish forestry professional learned a lot and got many new ideas from an astronaut, from a field that has developed rapidly – in just fifty years. This is apt, as our bio-economy is developing and just taking its own giant leap for mankind.

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