September 22, 2010 at 8:07 am by Frank White
One of the most persistent ideas that emerged from my interviews with astronauts for The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution (AIAA: 1998) was the concept of summit conferences in space. Some of the astronauts felt strongly that if world leaders could see the planet from that vantage point, their negotiations and decisions would be different.
The objection, of course, is that with current technology, we can't risk sending world leaders to, say, the International Space Station. There are also security and cost concerns that make the idea somewhat impractical at the moment.
However, if the goal is to have impact on how people think and what they do back on Earth, why not send a group of philanthropists like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to the space station for a week? These two, in particular, are interested in global philanthropy, and they have been challenging other billionaires to donate more of their wealth. They can also afford the trip.
So far, most of the "space tourists" who have gone to the space station have been wealthy, and the experience has no doubt had an impact on their thinking and their philanthropy. What would be unique is to have two or three members of this exclusive club go together, have a dialogue about global issues while they are there, and share that discussion with those of us still on the surface of the Earth.
It's still a summit conference, only with different participants.