Kleptomania or sloppiness seems to unite 180 countries and regions of the world. In any case, if we are to believe the numbers that list the gifts of moon rocks that have since disappeared and cannot be found. With the Apollo 11 and 17 lunar missions, the astronauts brought back dozens of kilograms of moon rocks. Those rocks were not only to be made available to scientists in the USA or disappear behind vault walls, but also to be handed over to other countries.
The American government under President Nixon decided to offer samples of moon rocks in a plaque as a gift to the 50 US states and four overseas territories as well as to 135 countries worldwide as part of a ‘Good Will Tour’. A total of 270 such plaques with moon samples were presented as gifst. Barely handed over, many of them were already untraceable again. According to current estimates 180 of 270 have ‘disappeared’.
The ‘Friendship 7′ capsule, with which John Glenn was the first American to circumnavigate the globe, was also sent on the Americans’ Good Will Tour, whose message was to emphasize the unity of all people and countries. John Glenn performed in 30 cities around the world, visiting Mexico City, London, Tokyo, and Accra. NASA also sent two ‘space vehicles’ with information material about the space program to Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe.
With the successful moon landing, which was the highlight of the space program, the Americans made one thing clear to the world: the USA was the leading country on earth economically, militarily and technologically. Even though the increasingly loss-making Vietnam War already broke this narrative, the nation clearly signaled its dominance to the world.
At that time, obtaining reliable information from the Warsaw Pact countries was very difficult and even the few data available were unreliable. No matter how much President Eisenhower in the 1950s had pointed out that American cars were better than Russian ones, or that agriculture was more productive, it was ineffective. These facts were only visible to those who lived near them and experienced this first-hand. But everyone could hear Sputnik’s radio signal, no matter where they were. And even though Eisenhower calculated how many satellites the Americans and the Soviets had launched into space since the Sputnik launch, and that the Americans not only had more up there, but that they were still functional, they had not been the first.
Originally called prestige in the 19th and early 20th century, the modern term is “signaling”. It originally comes from economics and biology, in which, for example, males have a particularly prominent plumage or large antlers with many ends, which can be an obstacle in everyday life, but which signal to a female willing to mate that the male has such good genes that he can afford this luxury.
In the economic and political environment, a space program, for example, signals that a country’s economy can afford to spend this money, even if it does not have a direct practical impact on the country. This in turn signals that it is more likely to establish mutually beneficial economic relations with such a potent country. Highly qualified workers and students are also aware of these signals and are drawn to those employers, research institutions and universities that support such programs.
If we lean back, close our eyes and think about which technologies or which scientific breakthroughs of recent years came from our country and had great or supra-regional significance, which would come to our mind? Would these be the same people who would enumerate other countries, would they be asked the question about our country?
And vice versa, what failed projects from home come to mind? And perhaps the even meaner question: How quickly and quickly and how many failed projects come to our minds compared to the successful ones?
If we compare our country with the USA or China and imagine, for example, a highly qualified researcher in the field of AI or medicine from a third country with good offers from companies and research institutions in these three countries, which offer from which country would be more likely to win? Maybe not from our country.
And this is exactly the power and importance of signalling. Global competition is not just about resources or land, but about talent. Only those who can win them over have the chance to help shape new technologies and open up new markets for themselves.
What signals are coming from our country, will be in part 2.