Commentary | An Exemplary Trans-Atlantic Achievement

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Our recent meetings in Paris and Washington gave us significant opportunities to discuss how we will move forward together to achieve mutual goals for human spaceflight and scientific exploration and to build on the longstanding partnership between NASA and CNES. While discussing the future of space exploration, it was clear to us that our shared investments in space are helping to make a bright future possible for people across the planet.

The international space station is one such investment for the United States and Europe. The contributions of France and other member states of the European Space Agency have been crucial to the ISS’s remarkable achievements over the past 15 years. French astronauts have been among the international ISS crew members, Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicle that resupplies the station is operated from the CNES Toulouse Space Centre, and France is providing critical parts of the service module for the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, the first vehicle able to take humans beyond low Earth orbit since the Apollo program.

The success of our space programs will be judged, in part, on how well we continue to make space exploration about global partnership. This is true at the institutional level, but also true at the industrial one.

NASA and CNES have also developed a longstanding partnership and unique expertise in altimetry with the NASA-CNES Topex-Poseidon mission launched in 1992 and the more recent Jason missions. This expertise will be key for our very ambitious next joint mission, SWOT (Surface Water Ocean Topography), scheduled to be launched in 2020. The data collected by these instruments from these missions help us to better understand our environment.

With respect to Mars exploration, NASA and CNES have partnered on nearly every mission to Mars in the past 15 years, including Mars Global Surveyor, Odyssey, Mars Express and the Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity rovers, as well as MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution), which will arrive in orbit around the red planet in September. When French President Francois Hollande met recently with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, we signed an agreement that will allow CNES to provide NASA with the primary instrument — a seismometer — for the next NASA mission to Mars, InSight, that is scheduled to launch in 2016. We also hope to be partners again on the Mars 2020 mission.

In all these fields of cooperation, our main objective is to exploit and share our agencies’ expertise to transition scientific invention to technological innovation in order to spark inspiration and create jobs for highly qualified workers. The scientific and human spaceflight achievements of the past half-century would not have been possible without partnerships like those NASA and CNES have formed. Building on this exemplary trans-Atlantic achievement, we look forward to even greater global cooperation in the future.

 

Charles Bolden is NASA administrator and Jean-Yves Le Gall is president of the French space agency, CNES.