State Department Wants Space Exploration to be "Shared Global Priority"

State Department Wants Space Exploration to be "Shared Global Priority"

At the opening session of the International Space Exploration Forum (ISEF) this morning, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns called for countries “to make space exploration a shared global priority, to unlock the mysteries of the universe, and to accelerate human progress here on Earth.”   As for the United States, he said our commitment to space exploration is growing stronger despite pressures and challenges at home and abroad.

Burns began by noting that this is an “unprecedented time for space exploration” with China’s landing of Chang’-e on the Moon last month, NASA’s Voyager 1 becoming the first manmade object to leave the solar system, the15th anniversary of the International Space Station (ISS), and other discoveries and breakthroughs in the past year “that transformed our understanding of outer space and our way of life here on Earth.”   That is why, he continued, “despite the many pressures, challenges and urgent priorities facing the United States at home and abroad, our commitment to space exploration is only growing stronger.”

Burns laid out three areas for increased collaboration in space:  more countries participating in the ISS; encouraging “entrepreneurial ventures” and supporting “the kind of robust and competitive commercial space sector that is vital to the next era of space exploration”; and increased focus on defending Earth from Near Earth Objects (asteroids and comets) and space debris. 

Most of the one-day meeting being held at the State Department is closed to the public, but media were allowed in for the first hour to hear opening statements by representatives of the United States, Italy, the European Commission (EC) and Japan.   ISEF builds on a process begun in 2011 at an event hosted by the European Union, European Space Agency and Government of Italy, according to the State Department.  Japan will host a second ISEF two years from now.

Burns was joined by White House Science Adviser John Holdren to offer the U.S. viewpoint.   Burns noted that the “Man and the Expanding Universe” statue outside the conference room in which the meeting was taking place was put there 50 years ago to celebrate space exploration and “reminds us that space exploration is not just the preoccupation of scientists and astronauts but a vital undertaking for all those who wish to advance the cause of global peace and prosperity.”

ISEF is billed as “the first-ever ministerial-level meeting to build support for global cooperation in space exploration,” but Burns was there instead of Secretary of State John Kerry; the President of the Italian Space Agency, Enrico Saggese, stood in for Italy’s Minister of Education, Research and Industries (H.E. Maria Chaira Carrozza); and the EC representative, Paul Weissenberg, is the Deputy Director-General of Enterprise and Industry.  Japan, however, was represented by its Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), Hakubun Shimomura.

Holdren was scheduled to speak later in the day, but ISEF moderator Jonathan Margolis explained that Holdren’s White House duties required him to speak earlier and, therefore, the speech took place during the part of the program open to the press.   Holdren touted the four-year extension of ISS operations announced yesterday and the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) proposed by the Obama Administration a year ago.   Congress has had a mixed reaction to ARM and its decision on whether to allow NASA to proceed presumably will be known when FY2014 appropriations are finalized, hopefully later this month.  Today, however, Holdren made clear his enthusiasm for the mission and said that he knew NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden would be happy to hear from any countries that would like to be involved.

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