Divided on Earth, united in space: Global community comes together on World Space Week to discuss the impact of outer space on the human race

New Delhi | Published: November 7, 2018 12:21:52 AM

This year has been particularly eventful in outer space affairs, with NASA sending its Parker Solar Probe with the aim to assess the Sun’s atmosphere more deeply.

How space can unite the world

By Martand Jha

Last month was the 19th anniversary of the World Space Week. The theme for this year was “Space Unites the World”. According to the United Nations, “It celebrates the role of space in bringing the world closer together. The theme was inspired by UNISPACE+50, a historic gathering of world space leaders which took place in June 2018. UNISPACE+50 promotes cooperation between spacefaring and emerging space nations and helps space exploration activities become open and inclusive on a global scale.”

Each year since 1999, the week from October 4-October 10 is celebrated to mark the contributions of space science and technology to the betterment of the human race. There are two reasons why a week has been specifically chosen by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). One, October 4 commemorates the launch of Sputnik 1 (first-ever artificial satellite) by erstwhile USSR in 1957. Two, October 10 marks the signing of the Outer Space Treaty (also known as the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies) in 1967. The UNGA passed the Resolution 54/68 on December 6, 1999, to celebrate this week every year.

One might wonder what is so special about outer space that an entire week is dedicated to it? The aim is not only to commemorate the historical landmarks in the arena of outer space, but more importantly to educate and aware people across the globe about the benefits they receive from space.

According to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), the aim of celebrating the week ranges from fostering international cooperation in space outreach and cooperation to encouraging the greater use of space for sustainable economic development. Over the years, this week has become the largest global annual event, with thousands of events being held by various space agencies, aerospace companies, schools, planetaria, museums and astronomy clubs around the world to educate people about outer space. Therefore, in a unique way, the week celebrates both the historical landmarks and futuristic aspects of space affairs.

This year, the World Space Week was celebrated on a record-breaking scale. The World Space Week Association reported that a total of 4,413 events were reported in 93 countries by over 3,000 organisations. This is a staggering record that speaks volumes about the involvement of civilian interests in outer space affairs.

Outer space has been a strategic domain since the time of the Cold War when the space race kicked off between the then superpowers, i.e. the US and erstwhile Soviet Union. The UN has played an important role in preventing weaponisation of space, which could have seriously threatened global security at large. The idea is to make people aware that the constructive potential of outer space outweighs its destructive potential. The classic example of this can be witnessed throughout the genesis and history of Indian space programme. India has always used its space capabilities for developmental purposes, be it in the field of agriculture or telecommunications.

Therefore, it becomes imperative for space enthusiasts in particular and masses in general (especially in India) to understand the role of outer space in providing solutions to global challenges.
Next year, the 20th anniversary of the World Space Week will be observed with the theme “The Moon: Gateway to the Stars”. This theme signifies that space agencies are re-looking to focus on sending humans back to the moon. This has been evident by decisions of both the US and India this year, where both countries have decided to send astronauts to the moon and outer space, respectively. While India has started planning its mission Gaganyaan to send astronauts for the first-time ever by year 2022, NASA is planning to send astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972.

This year has been particularly eventful in outer space affairs, with NASA sending its Parker Solar Probe with the aim to assess the Sun’s atmosphere more deeply. Also, the discovery of water on the surface of Mars, as reported by the journal Science in its article titled “Radar evidence of subglacial liquid water on Mars”, has resurfaced the debate on the politics of space colonisation. This politics refers to the old ambition of great powers like the US, Russia and China to search for conditions of human survival on other celestial bodies.

The vastness of outer space makes it nearly impossible for anyone to make any claims or predict the future of human race out there. In such a scenario, the annual World Space Week gains even more importance as it makes the global community come together and discuss about the impact of outer space on their lives.

The author is Junior Research Fellow, School of International Studies, JNU.

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