NASA Cancels All Travel to COSPAR Meeting in Istanbul

NASA Cancels All Travel to COSPAR Meeting in Istanbul

NASA is denying all travel for NASA employees and contractors to the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) conference to be held in Istanbul, Turkey beginning just five weeks from now.  The reason:  security.   COSPAR President Lennard Fisk worries not only about the impact on COSPAR, but the messages NASA is sending about its commitment to leadership in space science and its resolve to not let terrorism be rewarded by changing what we do.

In a June 21 memo, Al Condes, NASA Associate Administrator for International and Interagency Relations, advised NASA employees and contractors, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), that “the Administrator has determined that the Agency will not sponsor or process travel for the 2016 COSPAR conference.”   Condes added that “As Administrator Bolden has consistently stated, the safety of our NASA family is paramount.”

The COSPAR meeting runs from July 30-August 7.  The Condes memo acknowledges that “a significant number” of employees and contractors “have made tentative plans” to attend. 

Indeed, international travel typically is booked many months in advance, often with non-refundable airline tickets.  The biennial COSPAR conference is the premier event in the space science community where the world’s top space scientists meet to share research results and discuss plans for new missions.  It also provides a forum for broader space issues.  This year’s conference includes a panel on human exploration of the Moon and Mars, for example, at which NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman is (or was) scheduled to speak about NASA’s Journey to Mars.

The Condes memo provides a link to a State Department advisory for travel to Turkey that warns U.S citizens of increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey and especially advises against travel to southeastern Turkey.  Istanbul is in northwestern Turkey. 

The State Department advisory about Turkey is one of 43 alerts and warnings for countries around the globe.  Among them are all of Europe and Israel.  Administrator Bolden just returned from a trip that included France and Israel. 

COSPAR President Len Fisk worries about the impact of NASA’s decision not only for this COSPAR conference, but the next one, which is scheduled to be held at JPL in 2018 and for which planning will be done in Istanbul.  More broadly, he wonders about NASA’s commitment to global leadership in space science when a decision like this means that NASA’s space scientists will be excluded from the discussions.  On an even broader level, he questions what it means in terms of the U.S. response to terrorism and whether we should “reward” terrorism by changing what we do in our daily lives.

In a statement provided to, Fisk expressed his deep concerns.

NASA has cancelled all travel of NASA civil servants and contractors to the COSPAR-2016 meeting to be held in Istanbul on 30 July – 7 August.
And by doing so it demonstrated that it has no intention of exerting
strategic leadership in the world, and that terrorism
should be rewarded. The leaders of all the major space programs will
gather in Istanbul to discuss among other topics, the future of human
space exploration, but NASA will be absent. The major scientists of the
world will gather in Istanbul, to share the results
of their research, to plan future projects, to promote international
cooperation in space science, but NASA civil servants and NASA sponsored
contractors will be absent. And for what reason: a misguided assumption
that Istanbul is more dangerous than Paris,
or Brussels, or Orlando, Florida, or for that matter Israel and Jordan
where NASA Administrator Charles Bolden recently visited. Terrorism is
rewarded if it causes us to cease to pursue  that which is important, or
for that matter our daily lives.

Fisk is the Thomas M. Donohue Distinguished University Professor of Space Science at the University of Michigan and a former NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science and Applications.  He is a past chairman of the Space Studies Board at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Mexico is among the 43 State Department alerts and warnings, less for terrorism than drug-related crimes.  The 2016 International Astronautical Congress (IAC) will be held in Guadalajara, Mexico the last week of September.   NASA employees and contractors would be well advised to take note of NASA’s action in case it makes a similar decision with regard to that meeting.

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