Readers of Space News are no doubt well aware of the tremendous progress NASA and its contractor teams across the country have made in implementing the U.S. Space Exploration Policy. We are on track with development of the new systems that will enable humans to travel to the international space station and then beyond low Earth orbit back to the Moon, establishing a lunar outpost, exploring Mars and other destinations. What may be less clear, however, is the success we have had with our international partners. Having recently been asked to serve NASA as associate administrator of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, I would like to reflect on our progress in engaging international participation related to the U.S. Space Exploration Policy.
Following the 2004 announcement of the policy – introduced at the time as the Vision for Space Exploration – NASA began engaging the world’s space and science organizations by communicating the incredible opportunities for participation in this exciting new endeavor of extending human and robotic presence throughout the solar system. This initiative led to the May 2007 release of the “Global Exploration Strategy: the Framework for Coordination.” This framework document articulates the shared vision of 14 space agencies for human and robotic exploration of solar system destinations where humans will someday live and work. It recognizes that we now live in a world where many countries have space exploration objectives as well as the technological capabilities to satisfy those objectives. It also recognizes the significance of the strong partnership forged by the international space station program and it puts forward a bold vision of the importance of international partnerships to maximize collective achievement of our individual space exploration goals. NASA fully embraces this vision and we are committed to leading a truly global space exploration endeavor.
NASA and the other 13 space agencies that developed the Global Exploration Strategy recognized the need for continued dialog to enable international partnerships by forming the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG). The ISECG is an active multilateral forum through which information is exchanged with the objective of developing common interests, such as exploration architectures, concepts and objectives, that will lead to cooperation that will benefit all. The goal is to develop approaches that will maximize opportunities for our partners to establish tangible roles in human lunar exploration leading to other destinations. Under NASA’s leadership, the ISECG also initiated an effort to explore human lunar exploration scenarios that satisfy global space exploration objectives.
NASA’s participation in multilateral activities, as well as our extensive bilateral dialog with existing and potential partners, demonstrates the commitment by the
to lead a collective exploration effort with strong partnerships that also recognizes the fundamental autonomy of the world’s spacefaring nations to initiate their own space exploration activities. By working with our international counterparts, we see a growing community of national space agencies that recognize the value of space exploration with an initial focus on the Moon.
The positive result of our collective approach was evident when I kicked-off the Global Exploration Strategy discussions in April 2006 with many of NASA’s international counterparts. I am continually encouraged by the level of interest among a growing number of international space agencies, the appreciation of NASA as a leader and a reliable partner, and the amount of concurrent work going on around the world in both human and robotic exploration. There is great willingness to advance the spirit of the Global Exploration Strategy, and support for the activities of the ISECG. This progress is particularly gratifying as we strengthen and expand beyond the already close relationships we have enjoyed through the development and operation of the space shuttle and international space station.
In addition, there are multiple opportunities we are pursuing bilaterally with our counterparts in preparation to return humans to the lunar surface. We currently have two instruments flying on
‘s Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter that are characterizing the lunar environment, terrain and soil. NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are cooperating to share data from our lunar orbiters. NASA and the
are demonstrating drilling and robotic technology concepts at lunar analog sites on Earth. And NASA is preparing to launch a Russian experiment on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter that will give us insight into the radiation environment on the Moon that might affect human operations.
Our discussions are extending to other partners as well. We are engaged with the
, the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, JAXA and the Korean Aerospace Research Institute on exciting bilateral activities that we can conduct in the near term before boots are back on lunar soil. Earlier this year, NASA invited many of the world’s space agencies to discuss the creation of a scientific network of robotic spacecraft on the Moon, an International Lunar Network that would build on the individual scientific investigations enabled by the many lunar spacecraft missions being planned around the globe. Additionally, we are implementing several cooperative international activities that complement NASA’s surface analog studies in extreme environments to address operational challenges early in development as well as human research experiments, studies and technical tests that will enable safe, affordable and effective space exploration. Each of these examples highlights our ongoing global engagement efforts.
In summary, through a four-year effort to secure international interest in working with us, we are paving the way for a robust and sustainable international exploration program that reduces costs and technical risk as we engage the unique capabilities of a growing community of spacefaring nations. We will continue to make international cooperation a priority not just because it is our mandate, but because space exploration should be a global endeavor for all humanity. I have had the unique opportunity to work closely with NASA’s international counterparts on the space shuttle and international space station programs for most of my career at NASA. I look forward to continuing to build upon this experience in order to establish new relationships that will sustain our exploration efforts for decades to come.
Douglas R. Cooke is the associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems