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Sweden's first astronaut Christer Fuglesang
© Christer Fuglesang

Technology and inspiration of the past and future

Christer Fuglesang, Sweden’s first and hitherto only astronaut, shares his unique perspective on mining technology, heritage, and inspiration.

Many people associate space and research with the future, progress and development. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Falun Mine was at the leading edge when it came to science and technical development. Can you see any similarities?

C.F.: Well, mining often goes downwards while space activities mainly goes upwards, but being at the technological frontier of its time is a close similarity. Even today, modern mining is utilising and driving the newest technology, much as space does. The technology needed in order to perform and improve mining several hundred years ago, was later used in many other ways in the society. Likewise, technology for space gives a lot of spin-off (as we call it today) to improve life on Earth as well.

You have written a number of children’s books and you are chairman of the Museum of Technology in Stockholm. How important is it that museums like the Museum of Technology and Falun Mine (Sweden’s oldest museum of technology) work to inspire children and young people in science and technology? What role do you think that we should have as museums? Have you any dream plans concerning museums?

C.F.: I think it is very important that we inspire young people – in any way we can – to understand more of the natural sciences, technology and mathematics. It is important for our future - which depends on high technology - that many people know how that works and can develop it further. This is globally true, but specifically if we want Sweden to continue to be an industrially leading country with high living standard, we must ensure that we can inspire our children and youngsters so that enough of them chose to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

Christer Fuglesang, Sweden’s first astronaut – Photograph courtesy of Christer Fuglesang
Christer Fuglesang, Sweden’s first astronaut – Photograph courtesy of Christer Fuglesang

Museums can play an important role in inspiring people. In particular if they are placed in a historical context. I think it is very inspiring myself to see how technology has developed and to see it in an exciting and real environment is the best way to promote it. Falun Mine is an excellent example, as is visiting Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the history of space. Also the Museum of Technology, which you mention, interestingly enough recently opened a new Mine exhibition.

I think museums should offer a range of experiences in order to attract a broad range of visitors. Some only want to wander around; others read a lot or watch short movies. However, the best activity – in particular to get young people inspired – are hands-on.

Falun Mine has had many “machine directors”, including the famous Christoffer Polhem. These mechanical engineers tested many new ideas at the mine, ideas that have been of great significance for our technological development. What do you think that Falun Mine may have meant for technological development, and where can we find our “Polhem” today and the potential testing arenas?

C.F.: There is no doubt that the technical inventions that were needed to improve mining at Falun Mine and perhaps in particular those made by Christopher Polhem, helped Sweden economincally in Europe. Challenges in the mine to make the excavation more efficient and economical lead to technical inventions that later can be used in many other places as well. Typical “spin-off”, although that term was not used in those days.

Today, we find “Polhem” in many fields. For example the IT-area, perhaps right now particularly in AI (Artificial Intelligence), bio-engineering, energy evolution (we are hard pressed to invent or at least drastically improve the energy sector to combat the climate change threat) and in space.

Falun Mine has historically been a workplace to which people have moved from far and near. A place for the exchange of knowledge, where it has been important to receive impulses and role models from other countries, particularly in technological and economic fields. Today it is a tourist attraction with visitors from many countries. How do you think Falun Mine, as a World Heritage site, can continue to affect people and contribute to the dissemination of knowledge?

C.F.: Falun Mine is truly a unique site, with its 1000-year old history. Both the technical and social evolution over time, in the context of all of Europe's history, makes it extremely exciting and interesting. I imagine that use of VR and AR could make a visit to the mine even more exciting and realistically show how it was centuries ago. Reaching out on all media and making this World Heritage site more known – not only in Sweden but all over the globe – is of course a challenge in today's hyper information flow. And to achieve this, new creative and inventive minds might be needed.

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