Monday, January 11, 2010
Plans for Mars exploration offer hope for international cooperation in space travel
If there's ever going to be a United Federation of Planets or anything like it with human beings involved, the next step -- fairly obviously -- has to be cooperation on space exploration between beings on this planet. Toward that end, apparently, comes word from NASA's Mars Exploration Program in Sunnyvale, Calif., that a merger between the U.S. and European Union space programs is being planned, according to Cable News Network (CNN). Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars program at the Ames Research Center, told CNN that an agreement could take a year to complete and joint missions could begin by 2016. "The European Space Agency's council and their program board have agreed to the terms that we're working with and have endorsed this partnership to go forward," McCuistion said. "So we are starting the new year with a renewed excitement for missions beginning in 2016 to be done in a joint partnership between Europe and NASA." Such an agreement would have the twin advantages of sharing the cost of the multibillion-dollar missions and assuring that any knowledge gained does not benefit one nation over another but contributes to overall human understanding of the universe. "That's a very challenging mission of launching something from here, putting it into orbit at Mars, getting it to the surface and collecting samples, getting those samples back into orbit, then return them to Earth," McCuistion said. "This is a mission that will change our understanding of Mars and change our understanding of planetary science significantly. It really needs to be a global effort." But understanding that means the integration of the space programs of the Soviet Union and China, something that could be decades away given the current state of international relations on the third planet.