Alþingi, the Icelandic parliament, voted yesterday to have the minister of foreign affairs apply, on Iceland’s behalf, for membership to the European Space Agency (ESA), RÚV reports. Sævar Helgi Bragason, who heads the Astronomy Association of Seltjarnarnes, welcomed the decision and pointed out that it will allow Icelandic scientists an opportunity to apply their education. The majority of funding reserved for the agency will be allocated toward projects done in Iceland.
In his view, this is a way to fight brain drain from Iceland. Educated people oftentimes leave the country and fail to return, due to a lack of employment opportunities in their field.
Sævar remarked, “This is an excellent and inexpensive way to support innovation, technology and education in our country. Our contribution toward this would perhaps be ISK 80-200 million (USD 698,000-1.74 million, EUR 633,000-1.58 million) a year. The best thing about this is that ESA rules require at least 96 percent to come back in the form of projects.
Sævar believes that new projects could open opportunities for technical companies, such as in programming, nanotechnology and the building of equipment. This would not be limited to astronomers.
Sævar added, “Here in Iceland, we’d probably focus on observations on the ground: monitoring our glaciers, monitoring changes in Icelandic flora, and observing the ocean around the country. To begin with, we’d probably focus on things like that which impact our economy.”