25 May 2012
Plenary 5: Building the Political Consensus
This panel, featuring: Augusto Gonzalez, head of the European Communiy Directorate-General Enterprise and Industry’s Space Policy Unit; Hirofumi Katase, deputy secretary-general for the Cabinet Secretariat, Secretariat Headquarters for Space Policy, Government of Japan; and Kenneth Hodgkins, Director, Office of Space and Advanced Technology, U.S. Department of State, explored the political barriers which hamper space exploration, and offered thoughts on how to surmount those barriers to ensure a sustainable future for exploration.
The sessions’ moderator Jeffrey Hoffman, professor of the practice, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), summed up space exploration as: “Taking money, the public’s money, and using it to do things which the public really doesn’t understand for the betterment of the public.” He went on to point out that this lack of understanding can cause political tensions which result in programs not receiving proper funding, and which block international partnerships for further exploration efforts.
Each of the panelists then reviewed the ongoing political efforts in their nations to further exploration efforts. Katase talked about the Japanese experience, where space policy is a major part of national policy and enjoys substantial government and public support, especially after Japan’s successful Hyabusa mission. Gonzalez talked about the value of space to the European Community, and how an integral part of the EU Charter discusses the exploration of space for the benefit of humanity. Hodgkins talked about the need for more international partnerships, and pointed toward the International Experimental Thermonuclear Reactor as a model for future exploration partnerships. He also lamented the International Traffic in Arms Regulations that often hamper U.S. cooperative efforts, especially with the Chinese. One thing that all speakers agreed on was the need for international partnerships to further the exploration enterprise – pointing out that exploration costs now exceed the ability of most nations to pay for them on their own.
All speakers pointed to the International Space Station as the model example of how international partnerships can succeed. All also pointed out that further exploration will be justified by the value of its discoveries, and the benefits those discoveries will bring to humankind. They urged that the international community continue forums like GLEX, to continue talking about exploration and to continue to erode the barriers which prevent true international cooperation.