Nov 08 2008
Back in the U.S. fresh from the International Astronautical Congress in Glasgow, Scotland, Jerry Grey, a President Emeritus of the International Astronautical Federation himself and current Editor-at-Large of Aerospace America, suggests that what we need now is “a united, global effort for long-term human space exploration using the burgeoning capabilities of all nations to the best possible advantage of our home planet,” (Aerospace America, October, 2008).
This is certainly the right answer and I couldn’t agree more!
Based on the history of NASA and long wave timing, I suggested in 1996 and again in 2006, that around 2013 NASA was likely to morph into (or become part of) an international organization focused on human exploration of the Moon and planets. In fact as I’ve highlighted in this weblog, in 1992 Otto Steinbronn and I (both then with General Dynamics) proposed a specific model — called Interspace — for a truly global space agency. Interspace features both ESA-style and Intelsat-style management structures.
As evidence that we (globally) are ready for a “One World” approach to space, Grey cites the 10th anniversary of the “international marvel” known as the International Space Station. ISS partners and participants include the U.S., Russia, Canada, Japan, and the European Space Agency (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom).
According to Grey, NASA’s efforts to organize the International Lunar Network (ILN) is “another bellwether of global cooperation” in space. In July 2008, representatives of nine countries — including Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, United Kingdom, and the U.S. — held a meeting at NASA Ames Research Center and agreed to a cooperative approach for lunar exploration.
More evidence supporting a unified, international approach to space is provided by the Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency founded in 1993 and headquartered in Beijing. APRSA promotes the peaceful use of space technology in the Asia-Pacific region especially for Earth observation, communication satellites, space environment utilization, and space education. In addition to China, a partial list of its participants includes Australia, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Peru, Republic of Korea, Thailand, and Turkey.
Grey laments the fact that “there is as yet no truly unified drive to pursue a multidecade (or better, multicentury) partnership” for human exploration of the solar system. Part of the challenge is that historically speaking, Maslow Windows — ebullient times of Great Explorations and Macro-Engineering Projects — have peaked only during brief intervals separated by 55 to 60 years.
Optimal use of global assets for the exploration of the Universe will require the “kind of leadership exhibited in 1975 by…Roy Gibson” when the European Space Agency was created. With Gibson-style leadership and if we can leverage such experiences as ESA, ISS, ILN, and APRSA, we’ll be able to develop a unified, global, multidecade, Interspace-style approach to space. This will enable us to: 1) optimally open up the planetary worlds to all humankind, 2) coordinate our defense of Earth against space impactors (e.g. asteroids), and 3) develop multidecade plans that are specifically designed to facilitate continuous human expansion into the cosmos even outside Maslow Windows.