The Purpose of COSPAR, by its Charter from the International Council for Science (ICSU), now the International Science Council (ISC), is “to promote at an international level scientific research in space, with emphasis on the exchange of results, information and opinions, and to provide a forum, open to all scientists, for the discussion of problems that may affect scientific space research. The objectives of COSPAR are to be achieved through the organization of scientific assemblies, publications, or any other means.”
COSPAR was born just after the launch of Sputnik-1 and its Scientific Assemblies soon became the cradle from which the space research community developed and gave rise to many international projects from which we continue to benefit. Today, there are even more promising opportunities for COSPAR to be of service to space scientists worldwide. We are living in an era when the capabilities to pursue scientific space research are spreading throughout the world. Opportunities abound to cooperate, to maximize resources, to pursue ever more complex and challenging projects, to spread the development of technology to all nations, and to employ the contributions of all their talents to exploit the wealth of data that national and international missions have delivered.
Indeed, COSPAR has an important role to play in the future stability of the world, and should approach its mission understanding that by its actions and its successes, a better world can result. COSPAR is not only essential to the pursuit of international space research, with all the benefits resulting therefrom, but also COSPAR can and should be the bridge by which the nations of the world come to understand that cooperation not competition is essential to the future of humanity.
Thus, the Mission of COSPAR is first and foremost Service to the International Space Science Community, in their pursuit of a vibrant international space research effort, conducted without impediment from geopolitical tensions or differences. The space science community, in turn, is dependent upon the space programs of their nation or region, and thus the Mission of COSPAR also includes Service to Developed Space Programs and Service to Developing Space Programs.
Service to the International Space Science Community
Over the years, COSPAR has developed various capabilities to serve the international space science community, along with either developed or developing space programs. These capabilities and how they are deployed to achieve the COSPAR Missions are illustrated in the attached figure.
The fundamental organizational structure of COSPAR consists of its Scientific Commissions, in which all international space scientists participate, and which represent each and every scientific discipline involved in space, for the purpose of coordinating the activities of, promoting the interests of, and exploiting the synergies among the Commissions. The COSPAR Panels are designed to deal with crosscutting issues that can affect particular segments of the international space research community, and often for which there is an urgent need for input.
The publications of COSPAR, Advances in Space Research and the new Life Sciences in Space Research journal, provide peer-reviewed publications, in which all international space scientists can disseminate the results of their research.
The Roadmaps, in which the international space science community comes together and documents the state of particular disciplines and state what is possible and needs now to be undertaken, are designed to allow scientists from around the world to know the aspirations of all nations, and to influence the planning processes of space agencies.
Education and outreach to the youth and the general public are also an integral part of COSPAR’s mission of spreading knowledge and information about space research and its benefits to humankind.
Service to Developed Space Programs
The capabilities of COSPAR that are designed to serve the international space science community, with aspects of particular importance to the developed space programs, include:
- The biennial Assemblies, which are required to take place in the best possible conditions in order to guarantee maximum visibility and attendance, from all countries interested in space research and in particular from those with major space agencies and well-established programs, provide the environment for the worldwide space research community to gather and share scientific results, to discuss ongoing and potential cooperative projects, and to offer the leaders of space agencies a forum in which to share their plans, and to interact with and to learn from the broad international space science community.
- The Panel on Planetary Protection, which is designed to fulfill the mandate granted to COSPAR to insure that nations capable of planetary exploration protect these pristine environments from human contamination.
Service to Developing Space Programs
The capabilities of COSPAR that are designed to serve the international space science community, with aspects of particular importance to the developing space programs, include:
- The Off-Assembly-Year Symposia, which consider broad, interdisciplinary topics in venues not suitable for the larger Assemblies, are designed to promote space research and encourage the development of space science communities in nations with developing space programs.
- The Capacity Building Workshops, and the Capacity Building Fellowships that allow young scientists to build on the skills gained at the Workshops, are designed to extend the benefits of participation in space research to developing nations.
By no means should the current capabilities of COSPAR to pursue its three-facet Mission be considered sufficient. Rather, COSPAR needs continuously to evaluate the effectiveness of its current capabilities and introduce new ones, always with the goal of ever enhancing the unique role of COSPAR to promote international cooperation in space research through service to the international space science community and the space programs on which the community depends.