In the world of Star Trek we know that eventually the Earth is united both with a single government and a single space agency. This agency called ‘The United Earth Space Probe Agency‘ and ‘Starfleet‘ even predates the formation of the United Federation of Planets. To date in the real world there have been many forays into international cooperation between agencies, but they are still fully independent. Now comes news that some of that may change. This week thirteen space agencies (including those of the USA, Russia, Europe, China and Japan) have agreed to co-ordinate future exploration – including the Moon and Mars. They have agreed to a (sadly non binding) document called "The Global Exploration Strategy: The Framework for Co-ordination." It is said to help with the exchange for information and most importantly "identify gaps, duplication and potential areas for collaboration."
The UK’s minister of science herald’s the agreement as "a new era of international collaboration." A statement from NASA calls the document "an important step in an evolving process towards a comprehensive global approach to space exploration." There have been some recent successes in international cooperation, such as the Cassini-Huygens mission, but it is not all sweetness and light. For example, just last month the Russian space agency accused NASA of refusing to allow cooperation on the planned Moon base, something NASA now denies. However there has been a marked move within NASA to go its own way lately. The former director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center George Abbey has voiced concerns that NASA is actually tightening restrictions on the exchange of information. He tells NewScientist "if we’re going to the moon or Mars, trying to go ourselves is not realistic…I think the cost as well as other factors make it such that you need to work with other countries."
A united crew
Any Trek fan knows that eventually humans will work together in the exploration of space. To have various groups of humans duplicate effort and cost is clearly illogical, and lets face it…there has been an astouding lack of progress. The last episode of Star Trek aired just one month before Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. Who would have believed that almost 40 years later there would be no manned presence on the Moon and Mars would still be a long lost dream. NASA has recently outlined a ‘new vision’ for sending men back to the Moon and on to Mars. This is a laudable goal, but for now it appears that the goal is cutting into important science missions. For example the mission to explore Jupiter’s moons (JIMO) and a space telescope to search for Earth like planets in other solar systems (TPF) have both been delayed/canceled to make room for new manned missions. These actions have actually got the Planetary Society so concerned they have issued the SOS: Save Our Sciences initiative. The obvious solution to all of this is a new level of cooperation where all agencies and countries of the world can work together and share both the burdens and the benefits of the exploration of space. Let us all band together and begin to discover all the strange new worlds that await us.
the canceled nuclear powered Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter
Trekkies are famous for protests and letter writing campaigns to save fictional TV series. How about turning those energies into getting involved in real public policy. Let your government know that you support the human exploration of space and unmanned space science. Hopefully through the cooperation with international partners one does not have to come at the cost of the other.