WASHINGTON — FOR space-faring nations, the watchword is "togetherness." It was heard throughout the cavernous Washington Convention Center as the World Space Congress got under way.
For the first time, virtually every nation with interest in space or its practical benefits has sent delegates to an international space conference. Almost 4,000 representatives have settled into a week of meetings that have the air of a celebration in honor of a historic change of eras.
The opening phase of the space age, with the cold-war hostilities that restricted free sharing of knowledge and technology, is over. A new era in which nations will cooperate much more freely in developing the space frontier has begun.
"If the future holds Mars and beyond ... we can only do that through international cooperation, says astronaut Charles Bolden, assistant deputy administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Recognizing this, the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) of the International Council of Scientific Unions, the leading agency in organizing much international space research, has just revised its charter. Prof. John Carver of the Australian National University at Canberra announced that old limitations, such as restrictions on technology transfer, are now gone. Now, Professor Carver said, all nation will participate on an equal basis.
COSPAR joined NASA, the US National Academy of Sciences, the International Astronautical Federation (IAG), and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in sponsoring the congress.
This is the first time COSPAR and IAG have combined their international meetings. The congress is being held here in response to President Bush's invitation to make it the main event in the United States celebration of 1992 as International Space Year.
There is a strong sense here that this is not just another gathering of experts. Both sponsors and participants seem determined to realize the conference literature's goal of making it "a landmark in the historic trend towards global cooperation in space." And again there seems to be determination to make that "global cooperation" more meaningful for third-world countries that may have benefited only marginally, if at all, from space technology up to now.
A symposium specifically dedicated to this purpose was held over the weekend before the official opening of the congress today. Nandasiri Jasentuliyana, chief of the United Nations Office for Outer Space, told participants that the symposium was aimed at encouraging developing countries to participate more in the meetings and work of COSPAR and the International Astronautical Federation. He noted that such countries have been underrepresented. Yet because of the cost and complexity of space activities,
they may best benefit through international partnerships.
To participate fully, however, they first need to understand its benefits. Mr. Jasentuliyana and other speakers noted that the first priority for helping these nations is to supply the education and training that will enable them to take advantage of what space activity offers.
Prof. U.R. Rao, chairman of the India Space Research Organization, explained that space activity touches every aspect of living for such countries today.
Remote sensing satellites can help bring better resource and agricultural management. Communications satellites can tie together remote areas. Space technology, he said, can provide needed tools to help such countries - a well as advanced space-faring nations - to manage their deteriorating environments.