PROPHETS of 21st century spaceflight talk of moon bases, Mars missions, and a host of Earth-orbiting spacecraft. But the essential foundation for that future is the space-oriented infrastructure being built right now, right here on the ground. This is the fast-developing array of industries, official agencies, policies, laws, and human talent that will make space endeavors an integral part of the ``world's work'' rather than being largely an adventure on the fringes of the ``final frontier.''
The key ingredient in this foundation is the emerging network of scientists, engineers, business people, government officials, politicians, and others who will make the space future happen. Of necessity, they are learning to work together internationally even while pursuing national goals. Economic, logistic, legal, environmental, and other aspects of space activity extend beyond the capacity and sovereignty of any one nation to manage them.
A major catalyst in creating this network is the International Space University (ISU). This month, it began its second, eight-week summer session at the Universit'e Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France, with 128 graduate students and young space professionals from 28 nations. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) hosted the first session last year with 104 participants from 21 countries.
ISU students represent the emerging new generation of space leadership. Their expertise ranges from technical specialities to law, policy formation, and even journalism. In the summer sessions, they have an opportunity to live and work together as they broaden their professional backgrounds under the guidance of a faculty made up of leading international experts. Prof. Gerhard Haerendel of the Technical University of Braunschweig, West Germany, is dean of faculty for the 1989 session.
But this is just a beginning. ISU's official goal is to dedicate a permanent campus in 1992 - International Space Year - and begin a full academic program leading to a masters degree.
That's ambitious. Yet, given ISU's track record, it may well be realized. ISU officials say that, even before issuing formal requests, they have received informal offers of land and buildings in several countries.
A few years ago, ISU was only a dream promoted mainly by a group of students and recent graduates, many from Harvard University and MIT. Yet two years after its founding conference at MIT in April 1987, it is a going concern. Contributions from companies, government agencies, other institutions, and individuals fund its activities. It has strong support from the major space-faring nations - European Space Agency, Japan, Soviet Union, and United States. Support, in some cases, includes provision of faculty for the summer sessions.
With such encouragement, ISU is moving toward its goal of becoming a full-fledged, degree-granting institution. Arthur C. Clarke, an author and communications satellite inventor who has supported ISU from its start, recently accepted formal appointment as its chancellor. James S. Logan has left his job as chief of aerospace medicine in the life sciences division at NASA headquarters to become ISU's provost. He will oversee its academic development.
Whether ISU can meet its ambitious schedule is an open question. Three years is a short time to establish a permanent campus. But every country with a serious desire to engage in space activities is feeling the need to develop a professional cadre that can operate in the international arena. And ISU offers a way to help meet that need.