It’s hard to overstate the importance of Brazil’s water resources to the entire planet. More than half of the world’s wetlands are in Brazil, and they serve not only as the literal source of life on earth, but also as a vital buffer against extremes of weather, drought and flooding.
Yet the real cost of water in Brazil is often overlooked: In terms of both costs and lives, a full 32 percent of Brazilians rely solely on rain or rainfall to access their water, a percentage the nation’s international development minister told me is growing. The lack of transparency makes it especially difficult to understand how close a nation is to or beyond the thresholds at which a water supply becomes unusable. (The figures may sound outrageous but are in fact increasingly true: In the worst drought in 100 years in 2018, Chile was forced to ration its water supplies just days after it already had during a five-year drought from 2009 to 2013.)
Next week, Brazil’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ernesto Araújo, will be on the International Space Station to take part in the first human voyage to the International Space Station. Throughout the journey, through the space shuttle Discovery, the astronauts will have the chance to watch down on Earth two Brazilian research and space projects: The Aerosatellite Software Engineering Mission, a project that will give satellite data an overhaul so that their utility is more transparent and usable for the world’s private sector; and the Aerosatellite Analytics and Water Application Project, a program that will allow the government to monitor how its airspace is used by commercial aircraft.
“With the achievements we’ve made in space technology and the development of technologies, and those technologies today available to private sector, Brazil has opened up space access to others,” Araújo said. “Today, I think [space flight is] playing a very significant role in being the vector to link all points of high technological development that work towards a single goal. And our goal is to make it a mission of national confidence.”
Brazil also plans to include its agreement with SpaceX on satellite launch flights with those that are already in place with other players in the space exploration industry, including the Russian Space Agency and Japan’s Commercial Satellite Terminal. While the contracts do not cover SpaceX’s upcoming orbital flight intended to land on Mars, Araújo hopes that the company’s growing influence will result in lower launch costs for the future.
“We hope to avoid with these contracts that as more and more companies advance with their satellites, costs will decrease,” he said. “We think we’re going to have an advantage as a neighboring country, as part of their concerns about climate change, with regards to the interaction between satellites and water. So we have shared interests with other companies.”
Musk has been the latest high-profile figure to open his checkered relationship with President Michel Temer’s government with a minor trip to the southern hemisphere. First there was a visit to the Amazon for the inauguration of the Embrapa Amazon Institute and then to Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, to see SpaceX’s latest acquisition of satellite antennas, Quetzal. On Friday, the New York Times reported that Temer’s team had agreed to allow SpaceX to conduct the third flight of the first of a new Falcon 9 rocket designed to launch used spacecraft back into space, which the company bills as a “reusability” feature, only with two engines on, and only if there is no engine fire.
“Everyone knows the commercial space sector is important for us, and we hope that some of the spaceships used by SpaceX will be going to us,” Araújo said. “So we’re working together with them in order to develop and develop our commercial activities.”