Jean-Yves Le Gall
Jean-Yves Le Gall, president of the French space agency, CNES. Credit: CNES/C. Charrier

PARIS — Incoming International Astronautical Federation (IAF) President Jean-Yves Le Gall on Oct. 14 said his term of office will be dedicated to broadening IAF’s geographic reach, bringing more young people and women into its ranks and diversifying its financial base beyond the annual conference.

Le Gall said IAF, whose conference in Mexico drew a more than 5,200 participants, is also grappling with how to broadcast IAF sessions over the Internet while at the same time assuring that attending delegates get value for their investment.

Addressing a press briefing here at the headquarters of the French space agency, CNES, where Le Gall is also president, he said webcasting the keynote address of SpaceX founder Elon Musk on SpaceX’s Mars colonization plans was a global success.

Le Gall said a similar high-impact webcast, on a subject yet to be selected, is planned for the next congress, planned for September 2017 in Adelaide, Australia. “We need to find something similar to what we had with Mr. Musk,” he said.

The trick, he said, is to broaden IAF’s reach with a worldwide audience without undermining the attractiveness of the conference — called the International Astronautical Congress — for those in physical attendance.

“Someone watching a webcast is a spectator,” Le Gall said. “What we need is for participants at the conference to be more active. This means more discussion, more networking. It’s something we’ll be working on for the future.”

The annual conference is the IAF’s principal source of revenue. Le Gall said the experience of another space-science organization, the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) earlier this year should be a warning to professional associations of the danger of over dependence on a given event.

COSPAR’s biennial Scientific Assembly this year, scheduled to occur in Istanbul, Turkey, was cancelled because of an attempted military coup in Turkey, which followed a terrorist attack at the Istanbul airport.

Like COSPAR, IAF prides itself on moving its conferences around the world, a reflection of its international membership — 327 member organizations from 66 nations.

Whether that goal needs to be modified given the safety concerns of many delegates — and regardless of whether all these fears are justified — is a discussion all international organizations are having.

Le Gall said the 77-year-old IAF is “at the crossroads of is existence with the globalization of space” and the need to reflect the dynamism of the space sector. A conference scrubbed at the last moment such as what COSPAR is contending with “could be catastrophic. We cannot depend only on the congress” for financial viability, he said.

Regional meetings in between the annual IAC conferences are planned.

He said the organization’s overall health and financial status is good and he  praised the work of its predecessor, Kiyoshi Higuchi of Japan, for his work in making IAF more relevant to the new space age.

Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.