Heads of 27 Space Agencies Agree on Need for Cooperation

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WASHINGTON — International cooperation is a cornerstone of space activities ranging from human and robotic exploration to climate change monitoring and disaster management, the heads of 27 space agencies from around the world agreed during a summit here Nov. 17.

Organized by the International Academy of Astronautics, the daylong meeting focused on these four areas of space activity, which the agency heads said are both necessary and ripe for broader collaboration. The leaders agreed that international infrastructure and data sharing standards would better facilitate cooperation.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said the U.S. space agency is actively working in partnership with a number of the nations represented at the summit to implement key initiatives in manned spaceflight, robotic exploration and Earth observation.

“As we look to the future, I can assure you that international cooperation will continue to be a cornerstone of NASA’s activities,” Bolden said in remarks during the meeting, which was held in honor of the academy’s 50th anniversary.

Bolden said NASA looks forward to pursuing collaborative efforts with other nations in space exploration as directed in a recently enacted authorization bill that sets funding levels for the agency over the next three years.

“I believe we are well positioned and strongly encouraged to continue our significant efforts to establish global partnership in a number of different areas,” he said of the 2010 NASA Authorization Act that U.S. President Barack Obama signed into law Oct. 11.

The new law directs NASA to continue flying the international space station through at least 2020 and asserts that the agency’s long-term goal for human spaceflight is to expand a permanent human presence beyond low Earth orbit with international involvement where practical.

“We fully prepared the international space station for its role as an international research facility through at least 2020, enabling cutting-edge research with our partners to be performed in the unique environment of space,” Bolden said.

According to a summit declaration made available following the event, the leaders of spacefaring nations agreed on the necessity of maintaining a human presence in low Earth orbit as a stepping stone to destinations in deep space. “Human space exploration is now the best example of global cooperation as indicated by the” international space station, the document states.

Speaking through a translator, Anatoly Perminov, director of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), said his agency’s top priority is continued support of the space station’s experimental space research capabilities and ensuring a continued human presence in space.

“We believe that moving in this direction will open new prospects for expanding international cooperation,” Perminov said.

In addition to manned and robotic space exploration initiatives, Bolden said NASA expects to see a rise in the number of Earth observation missions it conducts and that cooperation with other countries will be key.

“Earth observation must be an international endeavor if we are to understand the Earth,” he said.

Earth observation for climate change and disaster management was a particular focus for the space agencies of some of the smaller and developing nations, many of which are located in disaster-prone areas. According to the summit declaration, the current constellation of Earth observation satellites and related ground infrastructure is insufficient for global disaster management coverage.

Bolden said NASA is also cooperating with other nations on robotic missions in pursuit of planetary and deep space scientific discoveries that could shed light on the nature of the universe.

The NASA chief also called for more collaborative planning among spacefaring nations.

“We fully recognize that the long-term focuses of the truly global approach to space exploration depends on near-term coordinated planning,” he said. “If we cannot envision it, discuss it and plan it today, we cannot realize it tomorrow.”