Monday, January 18, 2010

Increasing cooperation in space exploration

Several milestones in 2009:

The multi-nation International Space Station can now maintain a crew of six astronauts, rather than three. Russian assistance in expanding the station, slowed because of budget troubles, will resume in 2010 as the U.S. Space Shuttle carries up the next Russian module.

Two of the largest space exploring nations announced a new partnership. The US and China agreed to expand cooperation in space science and begin discussions on cooperation in human space flight. Chinese space leaders and the NASA Administrator will make reciprocal visits in 2010.

NASA and ESA signed a letter of intent to closely coordinate their Mars exploration programs. Under the Mars Joint Exploration Initiative (MJEI), ESA will direct a joint orbiter mission in 2016, with the US leading a mission including American and European landers in 2018. Two initiatives to be organized further in the next few years are a possible network of landers in 2020, with the ultimate goal, the return of Martian soil and rocks to Earth, coming after that.

International cooperation is not always easy, but it is imperative. Budgetary pressures alone will ensure we see more of it. And if there is any endeavour in which humanity should be cooperating as a species, it is reaching out from our home planet.

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