14 Space Agencies Launch Era of Cooperative Exploration

SARTEANO, Italy, May 31, 2007 (ENS) - In an unprecedented move, 14 space agencies from all over the world today revealed their common vision for globally co-ordinated future space exploration to the Moon, Mars and beyond. The vision for robotic and human space exploration focuses on destinations within the solar system "where we may one day live and work."

Gathered in the south of Italy's Siena province, in an Abbey of the Valombrosian Order built in 1085, representatives of the 14 space agencies launched into the future with a joint document, "The Global Exploration Strategy: The Framework for Coordination."

It was written following intensive discussions that began after a space exploration conference held in Washington, DC in April 2006. With different backgrounds, interests and capabilities, the agencies have started to develop a mutual understanding of, and language, for space exploration.

While it declares that "Sustainable space exploration is a challenge that no one nation can do on its own," yet the strategy does not propose a single global space program.

Instead, it recommends a voluntary, non-binding forum, the international Coordination Mechanism, through which nations can collaborate to strengthen both individual projects and the collective effort.

The 14 agencies that have agreed to cooperate in future space explorations are: ASI (Italy); BNSC (UK); CNES (France); CNSA (China); CSA (Canada); CSIRO (Australia); DLR (Germany); ESA (European Space Agency); ISRO (India); JAXA (Japan); KARI (Republic of Korea); NASA (USA); NSAU (Ukraine); and Roscosmos (Russia).
International Space Station

The International Space Station is an existing cooperative project. (Photo courtesy NASA)
They agree that coordination will improve the safety of humans in space, for example, through interoperability of life support systems.

Welcoming the strategy's publication, British Science and Innovation Minister Malcolm Wicks said, "This document marks the start of a new era of space exploration."

"During this century we are sure to see some fantastic voyages of discovery as robots and humans venture further into our Solar System," said Wicks. "What they learn will excite and inspire new generations to get involved in science and create new technology that could benefit the whole economy."

"The Moon is our nearest and first goal," according to the new strategy. "As a repository of four billion years of solar system history, it has enormous scientific significance. It is also a base from which to study Earth and the universe, and to prepare humans and machines for venturing farther into space."

Mars is also a prime target, the agencies say. "With an atmosphere and water, it may hold key secrets to the evolution of life in our solar system."

Mars has a thin atmosphere that partially shields the surface from radiation. The agencies say in the new strategy that surface temperatures at low latitudes are "quite harsh but not unmanageable."

Because Mars has a day-length only 37 minutes longer than Earth’s, the production of electricity from solar cells is feasible. This could sustain humans and their machines until more advanced power sources are available.

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope took this snapshot of Mars 11 hours before the planet made its closest approach to Earth. The two planets were 55,760,220 kilometers (34,647,794 miles) apart. August 26, 2003. (Photo courtesy ESA)
The potential presence of water ice and maybe liquid water under the surface of Mars might make sustained human habitation more practical and self-supporting, the agencies agree. "It may also be possible to synthesize methane and oxygen rocket propellants from the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and hydrogen from water ice," they say.

"Eventually, we hope to reach other, even more challenging destinations, such as asteroids and the moons of the giant planets," the agencies say. The new strategy envisions destinations such as Jupiter’s moon Europa, or Titan and Enceladus, which orbit Saturn.

The agencies see a partnership between humans and robots as essential to the success of these ventures.

"Robotic spacecraft are our scouts and proxies, venturing first into hostile environments to gather critical intelligence that makes human exploration feasible. Humans will then bring their ingenuity, creativity and problem-solving skills to these destinations," says the strategy document.

"We are now entering a new wave of space exploration, one of historic significance," the strategy document says.

The United States has developed its Vision for Space Exploration; the European Space Agency has its Aurora space exploration program. China, India, Japan and Russia have ambitious national projects to explore the Moon or Mars, while future national missions are being discussed in Canada, Germany, Italy, Republic of Korea and the United Kingdom.

Astronauts from several countries have built the International Space Station, "the most ambitious science and technology project ever undertaken."

Two International Space Station cosmonauts successfully completed a 5-hour, 25-minute spacewalk Wednesday, installing debris protection panels and rerouting a Global Positioning System antenna cable. Here, Flight Engineer Oleg Kotov guides a bundle of debris panels. (Image courtesy NASA TV)
The agencies say that in addition to strengthening international relations through sharing of "challenging and peaceful goals" many social, intellectual, economic and environmental benefits will result from the coordinated strategy.

"We will learn about the evolution of the solar system and how to protect against harsh environments. By understanding how planets work, we learn more about our Earth. The technologies created will help build a more sustainable society," the document states.

The agencies says the new era of space exploration that they envision will inspire young people toward careers in science and technology and provide them with challenging jobs that encourage innovation and creativity.

"The human migration into space is still in its infancy. For the most part, we have remained just a few kilometres above the Earth’s surface – not much more than camping out in the backyard," they said. "It is time to take the next step."

The "The Global Exploration Strategy: The Framework for Coordination" is online at: http://esamultimedia.esa.int/docs/GES_Framework_final.pdf