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We hope to be a symbol of international cooperation, ISS astronauts tell conference

What better symbol is there of the huge strides that were made in space technology during the latter part of the 20th century, and the extent to which this was made possible due to international cooperation, than the International Space Station (ISS)? Appropriately therefore...

What better symbol is there of the huge strides that were made in space technology during the latter part of the 20th century, and the extent to which this was made possible due to international cooperation, than the International Space Station (ISS)? Appropriately therefore, a conference on 'winning through cooperation' in Brussels, Belgium, on 17 February, featured a live link-up with the two current residents at the ISS - Leroy Chiao from the US, and Salizhan Sharipov from Russia. 'I would like to stress how important I think space is. I am very happy to be part of this international mission. We are working well together and I hope to be part of a symbol of international cooperation,' said Dr Chiao. The conference, which attracted ministers from around the world, heard repeated calls for increased collaboration, and explanations for why this is desirable. Professor John Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University in the US, took a pragmatic approach to cooperation, explaining why national governments both desire it, but often find it challenging: 'Governments invest in space not because it's good, but because it's a way of advancing other areas in society. It's a means of advancing their own national interests, whether that is political leadership or the best way of working in a particular field. These motives are all different and they change over time.' Another difficulty, highlighted by the Director-General of the European Space Agency (ESA), Jean-Jacques Dordain, is that the benefits of space activities often appear only right at the end of a project, after many years of collaboration. But this has not dampened the agency's desire to work with others: 'We in Europe are all set for new adventures with partners in Europe and internationally,' said Mr Dordain. Much attention was awarded to Europe's successes in space. Many speakers drew on the examples of the global monitoring for environment and security (GMES) programme and Galileo, Europe's satellite navigation system. German Minister for Education and Research Edelgard Bulmahn spoke of the recent images of Saturn's moon Titan, captured by ESA's Huygens probe. The images provoked 'pride and joy and respect for the vastness of the Universe,' said Ms Bulmahn. Mr Dordain highlighted the many other achievements of ESA: 'In spite of a much lower budget than the other space powers, ESA is the only space agency that, at the same time, is orbiting the Moon and Mars, has landed on Titan, is chasing comets and is getting ready to depart for Venus.' The EU was represented at the conference by Commission Vice President Günter Verheugen, who explained why space is now high on the EU agenda, and promised increased funding from 2007. The enlargement of the EU to 25 Member States has meant a more commanding role for the EU internationally and a stronger interest in foreign and security policies. In this sense, 'space policy is an indispensable and strategic asset,' said Mr Verheugen. It is also of interest economically. The satellite navigation market is expected to be worth 200 billion euro per year by 2020, and the space sector in general provides many jobs with high added value. 'But prosperity and growth cannot come without investment. The drivers of growth - research and development [R&D], modern technology, the highest skills and efficient networks - come at a price. In agreement with Commissioner Potocnik I have decided substantially to increase R&D efforts for space and I hope we will also see appropriate public-private partnerships develop. But we need value for EU money. New instruments need to deliver maximum value. We have to have the courage to prioritise and not just Europeanise [...],' said Mr Verheugen. Questioned about the future EU budget for space, Mr Verheugen said that the budget would be 'significantly higher' in the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) for research than in FP6. He added that he is 'completely satisfied' with discussions on the space budget line with Commissioner Potocnik.