Conversations in (de)Confinement

During the pandemic, COSPAR will be inviting COSPAR Associates and our broader constituency to comment and provide their thoughts on how COSPAR can best fulfill its mission after the crisis is over, and how our space research community should use lessons learned from the crisis to help society meet future challenges such as climate change. Please send your comments to:

The first letter in this series appears immediately below, followed by the responses received.

COSPAR in the Post-Pandemic Era

As I sit here in my home office, fulfilling my professional responsibilities only through Zoom, and unable to leave my home on any errand that will place me within 6 feet of another human being, there is ample time for contemplation. What better then should the President contemplate than the role of COSPAR after the pandemic subsides? It is, after all, the responsibility of the President to think strategically, to assess the role that we should have in the post-pandemic era, and to plan for how to achieve this role.

While this may be the responsibility of the President, I would be unwise to assume that I have any unique knowledge of what the future holds, or a unique skill to prepare for an uncertain future. So this essay begins a process in which we solicit from the COSPAR community any input they would like to share or advice they would like to give on preparing COSPAR for the post-pandemic era.

Obviously, to prepare for the post-pandemic era, we have to imagine what the post-pandemic era will be like, and for that we should examine how our lives have and are being changed by the pandemic, and which, if any, of these changes will be permanent. We are currently living lives of isolation as individuals and as whole countries. We have effectively placed borders around our homes, borders around our countries, internal and external travel is discouraged or restricted. We communicate through social media. We perform normal, in-person tasks, for work and for education, remotely.

In my judgement, such isolation is unlikely to become the new norm.  We have a global, intertwined economy. Manufacturing occurs worldwide. There are global supply chains and interconnected financial systems. The pandemic has caused enormous financial damage and could result in a worldwide depression on the scale of the 1930s. It seems unlikely that to recover from this financial maelstrom we will develop an entirely new global economy, since the current one was not at fault.  Rather, we will move as quickly as we can to restore, hopefully, the best parts of the global economy.

Humans are social creatures. We do not live in isolation. There may be efficiencies and conveniences that are revealed by working remotely, and these will continue. However, gatherings and social interactions will resume as soon as possible. The education system in the United States, and I presume in other countries, is dependent on in-person interactions. I cannot imagine educating undergraduate or graduate scientists and engineers with whom I never interact, except by video link. In the United States the financial model of every major university would collapse if students did not avail themselves of the extraordinary facilities that have been constructed to educate them.

It is possible that international travel will not fully recover, but here too I have doubts. I don’t plan to take a cruise for fear they are death traps seeking a port, any port, in which to land. However, cruise ships grew to enormous sizes and cruise lines profitable because there was demand. When the danger is perceived as passed, the demand will return. 

We should also recognize that the COSPAR community, the science community in general, indeed many professionals assume that extensive international travel is an essential part of their lives. There is an entire generation of professionals who expect international travel in their work, and for pleasure, and then there are the armies of tourists, who, like the passengers on cruise ships, will demand that they can continue to do what they have enjoyed.

However, it would be a tragedy if we are only able to recreate the pre-pandemic world. As Winston Churchill said, “never waste a good crisis”. There are growing inequities in our financial system. There are inequities in access to health care. There is, as always, injustice. There is a rise in nationalism and totalitarianism, which works against the clear and present need for a coordinated response to a global crisis. There are countries where the leaders have a resistance to facts, particularly ones that do not support their political narratives. Let us hope that we do not waste the pandemic crisis; rather, we must use our response to the crisis to make a better world.

We need first to contain the virus and use the full power of the world’s biomedical research capabilities to develop cures and vaccines. We then have to assess how much economic damage has been done.  How many businesses have been lost, how many jobs have been lost, how much personal and national debt has been accumulated? There will be nations that are winners and losers. The nations that best protected their workers and their economy will emerge first, perhaps changing the world order.  All nations will need to examine their resiliency, and prepare to be more resilient to the inevitable crises of the future.

Although nations are now isolated from each other, there is coordination. With almost no exceptions, nations are all attempting to stop the spread of Covid-19, using similar means of social distancing and lock downs. Within the United States, each day I see a remarkable community response to the pandemic: most people rigorously following the social distancing requirements and offering assistance to the less fortunate, medical workers volunteering to serve in the most impacted hospitals. There is extraordinary coordination among scientists from around the world seeking cures and vaccines. They are forgoing the need for academic recognition, and are readily sharing knowledge of what is happening, what is working, and what is not.

We can hope that the global efforts to contain and ultimately eliminate Covid-19 will serve as a lesson that it is possible for the world to unite in defeating an enemy that threatens all of humanity. We can also hope that we will apply this lesson to defeat the enemy that relentlessly bears down upon us, the pending disaster of global climate change. The enemies are different: a pandemic, a threat to the environment of Earth. However, the response needs to be the same.  All nations and all people need to coordinate their behavior to protect all of humanity.

What then is the role of COSPAR in this world in crisis, as it evolves into an uncertain future? The mission of COSPAR is clear: we encourage and facilitate international cooperation in space research. We recognize that observations of the Earth from space are essential to understand and predict global climate change. We recognize that observations and studies of space weather are essential to protect our technological civilization, that observations and studies of the solar system and the knowledge provided on the evolution of life, and of the universe beyond and the knowledge provided on its governing physics, are essential for a forward-looking civilization. In a world that finally discovers the essential value of coordination among nations, our role in coordinating the nations of the world to derive from space all the benefits that are available is ever more important.

Given the importance of our mission, we have to find a way to pursue it no matter what impediments against international interactions are inflicted on us.  Our Assemblies and Symposia will need to remain in-person, to provide the informal interactions that connect and bind us in the pursuit of our common goal of space research. COSPAR already holds many smaller meetings remotely, and could hold more if needed. We need to pledge ourselves to increased activity, by whatever means necessary, because we are needed so that space and the benefits available therefrom can contribute to the recovery from the damage of the pandemic and to the building of a better world.

Please be reminded that the COSPAR community is asked for input as we chart our future through these difficult times. Anything that you would like to share or advice you would like to give on preparing COSPAR for the post-pandemic era is most welcome, and should be submitted to Selected submissions will be published in the future, and all submissions will be used to help guide COSPAR as we move forward.

Len A. Fisk
President of COSPAR


A recurring thought in my mind is that there is an essential need for critical thinking skills now that misinformation and disinformation, some with malicious intent, is in wide circulation. The COSPAR community is comprised of people who have these skills in great measure, but for us to accomplish the goals you envisage, such as measuring and mitigating the effects of global climate change, we depend on nations to make the right investments in our planet’s future. At least in democratic societies, evidence-based decision making can only thrive if voters are good critical thinkers. Thus, it seems imperative that educational systems in the US and elsewhere around the world teach good critical thinking skills to all students, enabling them to distinguish reality from fantasy, question authority figures when appropriate, and elect executive and legislative officials who would apply evidence-based reasoning when making decisions. This is foundational and a far bigger issue than COSPAR can tackle, but I would humbly suggest that COSPAR could play a role in helping, in partnership with other international organizations and educational institutions.

Dave Leisawitz (USA)

While travel and international cooperation is an integral part of science, we should not forget that for most scientists who try to live sustainably, international travel is the largest source of Carbon emission. Keeping that in mind, it is almost imperative to look into alternate technologies like Virtual/Augmented Reality headsets and high speed 5G networking to be able to have virtual discussions and virtual meetings without leaving the confines of our offices and homes. If there is anything positive to be taken out of this pandemic, it is that it may stimulate the upgrading of technologies to enable this. While some of the hardware exists, the software is woefully poor, as those who teach have discovered.  The COSPAR and other scientific communities can be a very useful testbed for such infrastructure development, first trying out such technologies with small, but geographically distributed groups and then testing out the scaling to large, virtual meetings. This will enable us to reduce the carbon footprint of our research while maintaining the interactions that are crucial for stimulating original thinking.

Ranga-Ram CHARY (USA)

Many thanks for your stimulating thoughts in the first “Conversations in Confinement” and for emphasizing the parallel global crisis relating to climate change.  As you note, COSPAR’s mission is clear – to encourage and facilitate international cooperation in space research.  In my opinion, COSPAR continues to very effectively fulfill this mission to the global scientific community, however, I would question as to whether the wider public is aware of the continuous, significant advances being made through this cooperation.  As you also note, we are currently forced to communicate almost entirely through social media that facilitates almost instantaneous connectivity.  In fact, we have been doing this for some time.  We read our journals and scholarly articles online; we peruse blogs, newsletters, and relevant news that interests us on our devices; and we communicate almost exclusively by electronic means.  Every morning when we click the mouse on our computers or wake up our tablets or smart ‘phones, many of us first off peruse the news – local, national, international.  We then groan at the number of email messages received and, after cleaning up as many of them as we are able or want to, we often turn to the regularly posted updates in areas of specific interest to our backgrounds – for me, as I suspect it is for many COSPAR associates, it is science and space (personally, being a bit of a dinosaur in these matters, I do not subscribe to Facebook or to Twitter).  We each have our favourite sites that provide (mostly) reliable and factual information of what’s happening in these professionally active areas.  While breaking space science news is often embedded in these regular sources, it is not currently the focus of any daily or weekly report, as far as I am aware.  You state that “We need to pledge ourselves to increased activity, by whatever means necessary, because we are needed so that space and the benefits available therefrom can contribute to the recovery from the damage of the pandemic and to the building of a better world”.  I applaud this statement although I would emphasize that while “space” provides many significant benefits contributing to building a better world, in many instances, it is space science that is the main driver of these benefits.  Given the above, one area of increased activity that I believe COSPAR should consider would be providing to a connected world a précis of news and relevant articles relating to space science activity across all of the discipline areas that COSPAR covers.  My example would be something similar to the daily Nature Briefing that is, perhaps, familiar to many readers.  In my mind, such a regular news update would both provide a significant source of information to the very large public that is interested in such stories, but also highlight the importance of COSPAR as the leading global organization engaged in bringing the benefit of space science to the building of a better world. 

David Kendall (Canada)

Space ecoliteracy and Climate Change and Public Health Resilient life style greetings.  Space age in the past 50 years has sustained  over 500 astronauts who embarked space as an endeavour Therefore,  inhabitants  on planet earth have phenotype endurance of social isolation for survival.  Few insights for present  and future of COSPAR by way of loud thinking.  Lock down is a blessing in disguise. Because only in eco sense it is true ” make difficulties and problems as opportunities of growth and development”. At times, confinement as a proactive response is the right thing to happen. No action is action only in ecosystems. Money minded business as usual has left us to this situation by abusing the word and spirit of ecosystem.  As an associate member, COSPAR feel proud and happy to share few things from Our eco home Terra  with over ten best practices such as 1)Solar and wind for lighting,2) kitchen biogas for cooking,  3)grey water recycling  by wetland for non potable uses, 4) composting,5) rain water direct bore well recharge, 6) solar water heater, 7) hollow clay blocks structure, 8) filler roof slab, 9)tree as rainwater recharge point,10) plinth protection as rain water recharge points  and now 11)space ecoliteracy library and Sky watch Lab.  I feel moved and happy for President COSPAR for motivating to respond so that as a team the COSPAR lives through the present gauntlet.  # 01 : I am following almost all WHO press briefing on a daily basis. Slippage in  world today is the collapse of  public health architecture and is the primary cause for pandemics today. Defence and curative health care the culprits.  # 02 : Ofcourse a historical slippage of Chinese abuse of wild life in quest for hunger for over 5 decades  has been suspected for the past and future variants of CoVid viruses. A hillock has been made and tunnel effect searched as a vaccine.  # 03 : Now, about living through…I am getting good food, and stay at  home  as a retired space scientist/engineer from  ISRO after serving  over 32 years as a manager in ground support for Satellite Control Centre, along with wife a professor in botany at University, we share all chores of home work, cooking, cleaning, gardening etc., # 04:  Do  lot of reading and writing a long pending PhD thesis on Climate Resilient urban water security and drafting reports on a recent 43 Indian Social Science Congress as a Life Fellow and local joint Organising Secretary Academic., # 05 : Within home get about 175 steps from front of  compound wall to backside compound. 10 rounds every day is 0.04 calories burnt pet step,. May be little more than at ISS up above, I could weed out 21 shirts and 12 pants which were kept and not disposed, #06: I can go out and fetch ration, milk and other essentials every day, but prefer to do once in two days to comply with social distancing to defeat the pandemic, # 07: See popular TV serial, listen to official radio news, phone calls, # 08 ; Update with 1) Architect daughter now a PhD Scholar in Environmmental Psychology at UK, 2) MS in Surgery Student second daughter at New Delhi and 3) An alumni at ISU Strasbourg France MS2011 third daughter who was  a COSPAR LOC member 2012 at Mysuru India  now a health fitness Zumba trainer at Bengaluru, #,09: Incidentally,  ours is a family with all participants or contributors in  space meetings as a ritual Viz all participated as authors of a space education outreach zero cost informal model paper in home pitch at COSPAR 12 Mysuru, India, later together or alone at   COSPAR 16 Pasadena USA, IAF 13 Beijing, PRC, IAF 16 Gudalahara, Mexico,  IAA PDC 19, Maryland University, USA 19 and now COSPAR 21, Sydney, Australia, # 10 : Notwithstanding, the best part was first Student of 2nd generation at ISU SHSP11 UoSA Adelaide, with 50 percent financial support and the rest by bank loan with wife collateral surety at the age of 53 yrs..a participant at CNE hq COSPAR space exploration workshop in 2015 on own but to be readily supported by  COSPAR and Dr Pascale kind encouragement.  The best part however was, paper on “best practices in space empowering community” at 5th Manfred Conference at Montreal Canada on UNSDG in 2017.  Dr Chris Furedy, an emiritus professor in sociology, Canada supporting my participation. Dr. Chris lives in Sydney.  In a way, it is a fact in a space domain too ” our elders live in us, and science is in our breath.’.  Few distinguished space Scientists who facilitated a diehard poor primary school teacher son to be on striving in space education outreach being a civil engineer is social engineering. I am proud of them:  Prof Satish Dhawan, Ex Chairman ISRO, Prof U R Rao, Ex Chairman ISRO, Prof Michael Simpson, Ex VC, ISU.  Now, based on my past experience as Planning Member, UN University internet Conferences on Material Flow analysis of integrated biosystems, 2000, Panel Member, UN University internet Conferences on Eco city Development, 2000, Zoom Work shop on examining socio economic benefits of international space station 29 Jan 20 by SETI NASA/SWF, webinar on Threats, Challenges an opportunities in Space by US with CISS and SWF, I am convinced and propose  that as  pre Congress and  precursor to  COSPAR 21 a series of internet Conferences can be organised with space academic and research hubs in each continents till we meet at Sydney for COSPAR 21. 

V Jagannatha (India)

I recently authored these two stories:  1)  Reduce Red Tape for the Red Planet, Report Says Regulations governing the responsible exploration of Mars and other worlds require regular, frequent updates, according to a new NASA review. 2) Could Mars samples brought to Earth pose a threat to our planet? What the coronavirus (and ‘Andromeda Strain’) can teach us. The coronavirus pandemic reinforces that it’s best to be prepared.  In covering Mars exploration for decades, I am very concerned about what appears to be a trend in supporting relaxed rules regarding Red Planet investigation in that NASA is reconsidering how much of the Martian surface and subsurface could be Category II vs. IV.  Furthermore, the advice that “NASA should review COSPAR’s humans to Mars principles and guidelines to assess which should be followed, discarded, or updated for NASA’s first human Mars expedition.”  These views have been percolating for an extended period of time, and contained within the document attached.  Toss in for good measure SpaceX and other private sector groups following planetary protection edicts.  So my advice to COSPAR is to remain steadfast in evaluating these emerging views – particularly given the international scene of governmental and private sector activities focused on Mars.  Thanks for your message…and I appreciate your outreach. 

Leonard David (USA)

Response from the COSPAR Panel on Planetary Protection (PPP) Chair and Vice-Chairs:

The international standard for planetary protection has been developed by the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) which provides a forum for international consultation and has formulated a Planetary Protection Policy with associated requirements that are put in place after examination of the most updated relevant scientific studies and recommendations made by the COSPAR Panel on Planetary Protection. The current members of the COSPAR Panel on Planetary Protection are thematic experts from the science community of different countries (e.g. China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Russian Federation and the United States) and representatives from their national space agencies and other stakeholders for a total of about 20 members. The COSPAR Panel on Planetary Protection maintains and updates the COSPAR Planetary Protection Policy, and its associated requirements, regularly in various ways after reviewing all available scientific knowledge through existing or commandeered studies performed by a group or committees of experts. Workshops, dedicated scientific and technical meetings and independent peer review are all integral part in updating the COSPAR Planetary Protection Policy, and its associated requirements. Taking these documented inputs into account, the Panel will recommend (or not) to the COSPAR Bureau and Council possible modifications to the policy. Such updates are done in a careful and balanced way to ensure that the right measures are envisaged to fulfil the rationales for planetary protection. The purpose obviously is to respond to the needs of space missions and enable space exploration, while applying due diligence and expertise in the process. At the end the updated Policy is published.  The structure and composition of the panel, as well as recent meetings notes, recommendations and the Policy can be found at the COSPAR web site dedicated page:

I read your words with big appreciation, most people talk about curves and numbers, but you point out to what we can learn to face the era after this time of isolation. I would like to add a contribution to the present to your contribution on the future. As already ESA mentioned with the astronauts talk “Space Connect us”, we can learn from the Astronauts how we can approach this time of isolation. I work as researcher of Human Factors and habitability in isolation for DLR, ESA, ILEWG since more then 15 years. Isolation is my field of research and I think we must motivate us and find a new life structure, ritual and meaning also now during this time, this will let us experience the present and learn from it for our future. We should not try to live somehow as before but take the change to experience what’s happened taking the isolation as a big chance for renounce to guide new discoveries.

Irene Schlacht (Italy)

We must think about the future today if we did not think yesterday or did not present possible challenges!  I have no doubt that the role of COSPAR in the Post-Pandemic Era should be strengthened and expanded after the pandemic subsides  and in the post-epidemiological period! COSPAR should continue to popularize science, work to promote scientific research in space at the international level, with emphasis on the free exchange of results, information and opinions, as well as providing a forum open to all scientists to discuss issues that could affect space research, to strengthen international science for the benefit of society, mobilized the knowledge and resources of the international scientific community.  I believe that it is necessary to implement some of the techniques that are used in manned space missions and in their preparation! I mean, for example, psychological support, the use of computer, telemedicine technologies, the creation of stocks, including personal hygiene products, etc. Computer technologies aimed at communication of people in isolation, telemedicine, psychological support techniques in isolation, etc. should be developed!  A pandemic and isolation should bring the Earth’s population closer to the understanding that space research is necessary and its results are applied on Earth and the results of space research should be more widely applied to Earth conditions, and COSPAR should contribute to this!  I believe that research is now being conducted in many countries on the topic “where did the COVID-19 (COrona VIrus Disease 2019 –  2019-nCoV)  come from?” What it is? How effective were countries that did not introduce self-isolation for the majority of the population? “. After the pandemic, an official, universally recognized position of the scientific community should be published, which will need to be popularized so that the world is ready for such challenges.  I am from Moscow, Russia, I work at the Institute of Biomedical Problems (The IMBP). The Institute of Biomedical Problems is engaged in the biomedical support of manned space flights, for many years conducted ground-based isolation experiments, for example, the MARS-500 project and our organization has rich practical experience in isolation-related work, which is especially relevant in the current situation the COVID-19 pandemic.  Now, I mainly work remotely, because the COVID-19  pandemic reached our country.  Unfortunately, many institutions in Russia do not work or work remotely because of the pandemic, many people are self-isolated, some people are sick, in quarantine.  But everything will work out! No doubt!  Space exploration continues, cosmonauts and astronauts work at the International Space Station, international cooperation in the field of astronautics continues, launches do not stop, Russian and foreign scientists and specialists continue to work in difficult conditions! This is encouraging that we will overcome all hardships and the world will return to normal life in the Post-Pandemic Era, the lives of people on planet Earth will become better and we will master other planets!  Congratulations to all on the upcoming April 12, 2020 World Aviation and Space Day! Life and space exploration continues!  I wish you all good health! 

Irina  V. Shumilina (Russia)

Let us resolve to minimize our carbon foot print and work for a society which is not a consumerist society but rather a goal oriented society. The climate change has to be reversed, green house gases have to be minimized and we must consume just what is needed for comfortable living.

Bijay Kumar Sharma (India)

First of all, let me say that organizing this exchange of notes while being in _confinement _is an excellent idea; I do insist on the word confinement and not /containment /since the latter implies a notion of isolationism i.e. having people or countries behind physical and/or administrative walls. There exist too many such examples in the present world!  This being said, I think the ideas developed by COSPAR’s President Len Fisk are interesting, although slightly US-oriented and giving a bit the impression that at the end of the pandemic we will go back to “business as usual”.  I am not at all convinced that travels will re-start full speed, nor that the flight possibilities will be as numerous as before, not to mention the question of their prices. There will most probably exist several restructurings, if not disappearance of some airlines……  It thus becomes necessary to innovate!  Although I am not longer active in astrophysics (actually I ended my career more as an /astro-politician than /an astrophysicist ) I wish to suggest a couple of ideas:  (1) Why not ensure that the COSPAR sections play a larger role, possibly like the divisions/commissions of the International Astronomical Union which sponsor meetings? (2) What I consider important is to develop more extensive pluri-disciplinary exchanges between different scientific domains, or between sciences and related technologies, while always keeping in mind the complementarity between space-borne and ground-based activities. (3) I guess that most of the activities mentioned above could be performed remotely, by visio-conferences etc. (4) I definitely do not wish to suggest abandoning General Assemblies where the human attendance is mandatory and most fruitful.  On a more practical point, it is to be remembered that many COSPAR activities are made possible through the revenues from such assemblies ….

Jean-Pierre Swings (Belgium)

I suggest: 1) With a probable decrease of national space budgets, to encourage further international cooperation between ALL countries at least at the level of the missions. 2) Upstream: with a probable decrease of space budgets, to put more emphasis on largely agreed-upon international roadmaps: more “constraining” COSPAR roadmaps? involvement of COSPAR in national roadmaps? …  3) Involvement of COSPAR at an audience-level “lower” than the one intended by the Capacity Building for  masters students in major universities in ALL countries: could be through dedicated conferences by COSPAR colleagues, connection with Academia, association of COSPAR with initiatives from space-interested national bodies, …  4) Comment:  everyone may not agree with the statement “the current one (new global economy) was not at fault”.  There are so many counter-examples:  lack of foresight (masks, respirators, tests, …) in most countries, decrease of biodiversity (deforestation, pesticides, …) due to short-term profit motivations, neglect of global warming (danger of bacteria and virus having a new life when permafrost melts, …), dependency on foreign countries’ economy implying many commercial exchanges.

Jean-Claude Vial (France)

As COSPAR moves forward, I would like COSPAR to consider revising the terms of reference for “COSPAR Associate.”  Attending a Scientific Assembly at least once every six years (or four years) to remain a COSPAR Associate may not be the optimal way to grow the foundation of COSPAR Associates.  For example, past COSPAR Associates should be able to receive inspiring presidential messages.  I suggest for your consideration a new definition of COSPAR Associate: a person interested in the COSPAR Mission.  I do not imagine that cost would be a critical factor in having a large number of COSPAR Associates because all announcements could be made freely available on the Internet or for a small fee for paper versions. 

David Halpern (USA)

Response from the COSPAR Secretariat:

A planned update of the COSPAR by-laws will take into account the suggestions above.

Discussing how major scientific meetings, such as our COSPAR, must and can work in the remote model is indispensable in this pandemic moment.  COSPAR Assembly, as well as the general meetings of the IAU and AGU (to give examples in our areas of activity), need now that their respective communities invest time and resources for the study and improvement of information technology tools that allow the holding of large scientific meetings effectively (preserving audience and quality).  Therefore, perhaps it is time to create special commissions to start these initiatives.  Some colleagues pointed out on this forum that there are some positive factors in adopting large remote meetings.  For example, related to the environment issues, as the colleague Ranga-Ram Chary rightly pointed out.  On the other hand, from a practical and human point of view, we know the importance of having physical face-to-face meetings.  But from now on, how often? The alternatives are under discussion.  Perhaps, for example, remote meetings can be annual, however, counting on a large physical meeting, as our COSPAR general scientific Assembly, every four years.  This is an extremely important point whose discussion must begin and mature as soon as possible.  To conclude, I absolutely agree with Jean-Pierre Swings that we must not abandon the large scientific assemblies where human attendance is not only mandatory, but above all more pleasurable and more fruitful.

Reinaldo R. Rosa (Brazil)

Moment of Truth

US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt enacted between 1933 and 1939 a series of programs, dubbed “The New Deal,” consisting of state-subsidized public projects, financial reforms and regulations, as a way to recover from the 1929 crisis. Major federal programs were implemented, including in the area of social security. The New Deal supported various categories of professions, but also the unemployed, youth and elderly citizens. In other countries in the wake of the Great Depression or of World War II, similar approaches were undertaken and also gave rise to programs significantly supported by the State: healthcare, education, employment, science, etc.

It is not within the purview of this article–the author is not an economist–to claim that such programs should be re-enacted as such today. The question is, rather: is this the right time to think again about significant intervention of the State(s) as the only way to solve global problems such as climate change or major health crises? The way to formulate this debate is not new, but the current context of the international covid-19 pandemic (no capital ‘C’ please…) has the particular merit of shedding a useful light on what can be achieved when governments decide to take unprecedented measures to tackle global problems.

In his television allocution on 13 April 2020, French President Emmanuel Macron stressed that we were facing a “…moment of truth imposing an obligation of more ambition, audacity and refounding”. He talked about the need for massive cancellation of the debt of African countries. He called for each one of us to reinvent him/herself (and added that he should start by himself). He also vouched to initiate a massive emergency plan for the health system, for research and for our elderly citizens. The direction is clearly laid out: some change is needed in the system.

The period that has elapsed since the 80’s has seen a shift in control over several areas that were traditionally the purview of nations. The implementation and management of national assets, such as health systems, public transportation, or even in some cases education and defense, have become influenced ever more greatly by private sector methods and objectives.

I believe it is indeed ample time to reinvent ourselves, not in a New Age type approach somehow implying that the fault lies with our inner selves–although that may be partially true–but through some reinvention of the system itself, of its goals and its methods of execution.

What I think today’s health crisis shows is indeed that this system is at fault, at least in some areas. While several experts had warned for years of impending disasters through the spreading of deadly viruses, it remains the sad truth that most countries entered the covid-19 crisis blatantly unprepared: not enough masks, not enough tests, not enough medical gear, no adequate emergency planning.

Let’s pause to consider the ensuing governmental responses. Huge immediate investments were and are being made to curb the health aspects of the crisis, i.e., urgent production of medical gear or emergency beds. This is good, and it must be done. Nevertheless, the bulk of these investments will be made to salvage the economy from the blow it took after billions of people were forced to stay at home for weeks for the first time in human history.

This represents a change in paradigm as well as an opportunity. Health-related aspects that have so far been considered by planners as a cost are becoming with today’s crisis an investment in terms of managing socio-economic risks. Insurance brokers, for instance, have started to view these aspects of their business as such. And at the same time the situation has demonstrated that governmental responses in times of crisis can mobilize resources in an unprecedented fashion to face those crises. This is important beyond covid-19 because there will be other such health crises in the future. But the biggest challenge that lies ahead of us is the fight against global climate change for which the investments made today to stem the coronavirus will pale in comparison to what will be needed in the next two or three decades.

Another clear lesson to me is that salvation will be made possible by the very factor that had started to become suspicious to a growing share of the public over the past years: science or, at least, scientific expert advice. It is indeed through expert scientific advice that governments took the first successful countermeasures, and it is through research that a cure and vaccine will eventually be found and applied. It is through modelling that projections are being made to inform decision-makers on the progression of the virus, the need for confinement, accompanying social distancing and hygienic measures. Equally importantly, it is those same models that will inform on the best way to end the confinement.

Finally, it is through research as a whole that progress will be achieved to avert or fight future such crises. This includes bio-medical research certainly, but also chemistry, physics, statistics, Earth observation from space, political sciences, social sciences, etc.

The world during confinement seems to be split between those who, with the experience borne out of the management of many crises and perhaps a realistic appraisal of humankind, believe that once the crisis is over, we will be back to “business as usual”, and those who think that nothing can remain as it was before. In support of the former side, it seems obvious that companies will resume as soon as possible their activities and attempt to recover from the heavy economic blow they suffered. Airlines, hotels and tour operators will rival in creativity to bring back a fear-laden society to the feeling that it is once again safe to roam the world. Restaurants and shops will invent alternatives–or rather additions–to Happy Hours, Black Fridays and other seasonal sales and bargains. And so on.

Perhaps those who think this way are right. The others are perhaps too optimistic, or idealistic, in thinking that this unique period–the first real ‘pan-crisis’–cannot result in anything else than a world which will have to make adjustments to account for such extreme events and plan against their reappearance in one form or another. Perhaps these people are indeed wrong. However, I don’t think anybody can provide a definitive response at this time. The actual outcome will possibly be a compromise between a strong resistance to change by some and measures borne out of a yearning for new approaches by others. I am only sure about one thing: we cannot let ‘business as usual’ take precedence!

Business as usual means that, after a respectful pause, areas that require society’s investments such as health, environmental issues, education, etc. will again be considered as a cost by some. Business as usual means that only timid countermeasures against global warming will be undertaken, while all respectable experts world-wide know that unprecedented energetic action must be taken now, with hundreds of billions invested to face the challenge. And yet, the change of paradigm addressed above can apply to the climate crisis as well: as insurance brokers have realized that they need to treat health aspects as investments in terms of managing socio-economic risks, industrial players can–and some have begun to–treat the necessary changes as an opportunity to invest in a new ‘green economy’.

None of that will be possible however with current policies limiting R&D to a modest share of countries’ GDP. Decision-makers should understand the absolute need to divert funds and invest massively greater sums in the science that is required to solve the major challenge of fighting global climate change, just as they were able today to divert massive funds to fight covid-19.

Perhaps science budgets can only remain more or less fixed in ‘normal times’, and sustaining a particular effort in one area means depriving another area. But we don’t live in normal times. Science funding cannot remain a zero-sum game anymore.

As it was deemed necessary and therefore possible to invest hundreds of billions in today’s crisis, it must become doable for scientists to face the people and the governments of the Earth and, once again, explain the necessity–and therefore the possibility–of diverting thousands of billions to save the Earth. This is a moment of truth, indeed.

I believe it is also our responsibility.

Jean-Claude Worms (COSPAR Executive Director, France)

PROLOGUE:  Dialogue in Lock Down, .# I am fondly remembering Padma Vibhushsn Late  Prof CD Narasimhaiah. CDN was  one of our most respected common wealth literature  Professor of English and a  teacher.  Prof  used to inspire us in people Science Forum a community literacy Sunday activity during 2000 to 2019. PSF was basically going to community in the neighborhood of Kukkarahally lake, for community empowerment through informal Environmental education guidelines. Some thing like Space Education Outreach . The guideline adopted  was  UNESCO UNEP IEEP Tbilisi 1977 conference objectives of informal environmental education.  Prof CDN liked Sir Henry David Thoreau so much and his classical words and deeds in Walden were stories told many times.Incidentally, one of the Pioneer in environmental movement as we were taught in academics. As you may know, Thoreau is also remembered as moral teacher for Gandhi in learning non violent and non cooperation civic rights.. As told by Prof CDN, Thoreau was imprisoned for refusing to pay tax as a protest against US attack on Mexico. Thomas Jefferson  a close friend of Thoreau comes to meet Thoreau in the Jail. The conversion it seems were like. Jefferson asking Oh. *Henry..why are you here ?*.Quick was the reply, it seems .*Tell me buddy, why you are not here !*. The other story Prof CDN used to tell volunteers of PSF  was Albert Einstein saying to Prof CDN in one of later’s visit to USA was  that ” *we must earn wisdom from Elders’ * Relevance of the above stories to conversion in confinement is, President Sir ‘ Stories can only make sense to build Conscience in society and COSPAR with its mandates to take space and society,  time has come to converge and show the way’    

ACTION: I am enclosing two pages of a pamphlet prepared for Climate change and CoVid 19 resilient life style.  # 01 : On Space Education and Outreach by COSPAR.. In a small way one pamphlet enclosed is proposed in Hindi, Kannada, Telugu and Urdu languages for Students and Parents as a popular science or space education. Outreach complying with WHO and COSPAR and nation compliance could be one way out.  # 02   Intensively focus on Community Prevention of Pandemic. There could be many internet conferences by COSPAR on *Space and Covid 19 Resilience*. Here I remember academic  work *SHINE* MSS 2011 Student project  at ISU. Attachment 1, Attachment 2, Attachment 3

These pamphlets may motivate the most enlightened members of COSPAR so that similar education material can be brought out in as many language as possible. At least in India, social distancing is helping now. Empowering community through sustaining a neglected Public Health Architecture could be worthwhile. A professional Partnership with WHO shall be historical and meaningful.  The next versions of Virus..only time can guide us may be manage better than any of the repeating pandemics almost once in a century.. I am with wife, in  a red zone at Mysuru, India. After no positive case for 8 days we get into yellow zone and later 28 days no case reporting we step in to green ..for phasing to normalcy.. Yet life goes on and definitely, life is a struggle against disintegration. Hopelessly hopeful, I am. With best space eco literacy greetings,

V Jagannatha (India)

Since the Ides of March I am in social confinement, since 45 days my wife is the only person I have physical contact with. Initially I thought that this situation of isolation is unbearable, but then I discovered the new situation as a most interesting experiment, space experiment. We call it the Flying-to-Mars-Experiment. Except some spacewalks and excursions to the external pantry we did not leave our home-ship. The first major experience: social distancing is a horrible misnomer. Thanks to modern technology we had much more contact with many of our friends, of course keeping the physical distance of 6 feet, and not under. My recent palindromic birthday I celebrated having almost 10 hours of telephone and video conferences. The usual big party turned into a most rewarding social enterprise. Mediated person-to-person communication replaced usual group talks. Friends presented their gardens, described the smells of their favourite flowers, the taste of their latest vegetarian dish, tried to provide tactile information on what they do. The new social closeness was impressive, exciting.  So everything seems fine, the confinement in our Flying-to-Mars-Experiment no problem. But the need for technical progress is immediately evident. For example, the description of smell and taste with words is rather limited, haptically experiencing another person when sitting in the Martian spaceship even more. One of the tele-conversations focused on the consequences of having available technology to serve all of our sensory organs, not only eyes and ears, but also skin, the inner ear, nose, and mouth. The discourse took an unexpected turn. Of course, for the Flying-to-MarsExperiment this possibility would be a tremendous step forward. We would no more feel isolated. Social confinement would not exist, re-inclusion of our space island into our real social world possible. But, why flying to Mars, if we have all these artificial sensory organs available? Shouldn’t we send a self-aware space vehicle to Mars, collecting all the sensor signals, sending them back to Earth, where we feed our virtual reality setups? This is the argument of my partner in discourse. For God’s sake, we do not have these artificial sensory yet. Otherwise our Flying-to-Mars-Experiment would run into an identity crisis. Why sending a manned spaceship to extreme worlds, if a self-aware robotic mission can do the same job?  Trying to leave the trap he caught me in, I reminded him on our actual pandemic situation. My, honestly speaking, polemic argument: Ok, let us not search for a corona vaccine, but work on appropriate sensory means, and stay all together in a safe physical distance situation. Silence! We both felt that our reality, our social life cannot be replaced by any kind of technically mediated contact. Genuine person-to-person interaction is what we need and what we are missing. Deconfinement is mandatory, meeting at COSPAR 2021 a look-forward. The orbit manoeuvre of my spaceship has already been initiated for return to Earth. And I already instructed my travel agent to rebook my flight to Sydney, using email. Travelling back to Earth I shall have sufficient time to start a discourse on sustainability of scientific conferences. More about that later. Stay happy and healthy!

Karl-Heinz Glassmeier (COSPAR Vice-President, Germany)

I think that COSPAR should be involved in the process of writing the orderly protocols as outcome of the world wide reports about the different aspects of the corona event, which will help humanity to deal with the result of the global warming and other catastrophes/disasters especially pandemics. Beyond the necessary protocols there should be response to the moral way of the human population reaction during the corona time. I hope to take part in this COSPAR’s involvement.

Zvi Sever (Israel)

It appears that the battle to contain covid-19 would be long drawn and in the immediate future, lasting for at least a few years, international travel might be severely curtailed or become quite expensive. Travel, however, is the bedrock of the activities of COSPAR and it is very indispensable.  Space research, being one of the most intricate and fascinating subjects in the frontiers of human knowledge, need to be nurtured and internationalised, and, it apparently looks inevitable that we try to maintain the status quo by lobbying for a larger chunk of funds to maintain the high level of interaction demanded by the activities of COSPAR.  Elite activities like Space Research need to expand and diversify very rapidly, as indeed many other activities at the pinnacles of human knowledge and expertise. If, however, the exponential growth of human knowledge to the whole of humanity is based on replicating the existing model of using personal and physical interaction among experts, the result would surely be an environmental disaster. Hopefully, the covid-19 era will help nudge humanity towards an equilibrium where the benefits of travel can be replicated by a suitable alternative based on internet. It can, in principle, have two possible positive benefits: one, the barrier to knowledge can be minimised and two, knowledge gain can be environmentally friendly.     The covid-19 era will surely push humanity to a more digitally connected world. COSPAR, as the pioneers in internationalising a front-line activity like Space Research, can seize this opportunity to be pioneers in providing a seamless digital experience in sharing, teaching, and advancing the highest level of research activity.  It must be borne in mind that replicating the benefits of travel (for knowledge growth) is non-trivial and requires a very planned and dedicated effort to realise it involving multiple levels of experimentation, innovation and execution. A few examples, involving some thought experiments in conducting COSPAR Capacity Building Workshops, are given in the write-up.

A R Rao (India)

Covid-19 pandemic has made us start questioning and change the usual ways we follow to connect with people. We have started taking online courses, arranging webinars instead of seminars, online meetings instead of holding meetings in person, online quiz sessions etc. Virtual meetings can save us a great deal of time since we do not need to be present physically in these meetings.It has its pros and cons but, I personally feel that it has more pros, because as a student if I have to attend a conference there are so many issues that I have to deal with. Issues like arranging finance for International travel which may not always be available in countries like India. Besides there are also so many people like, mom’s with newborn babies who cannot travel as their kids are very small or scientists who cannot travel because of their health issues. I am sure that post pandemic the scenario of conference meetings is going to change a great deal, It will take time for us to make these changes but there is no doubt that we scientists are going to overcome the obstacles and rise to be much better and efficient in managing our conference proceedings which may not be completely virtual, but based on a combination of attending those physically or virtually, depending on one’s choice!

Sandhya Singh (India)

Nowadays it is technically possible to organise a conference through internet. May be it will be longer than when we are  physically there but all reports and lectures can be recorded and everyone can listen to it at any time when it is more comfortable. It will be cheaper for participance, because not everyone can go physically to America or Australia. I beleive that this restrictions related to pandemy are not forever. And ofcourse such virtual conference can’t substitude exciting trip to another country, seeing another nature and culture. But for now it can be really helpful for many scientists around the world. 

E. Shklavtsova (Russia)

I have read with great interest the recent Conversations in Confinement and, as Chair, submit on behalf of the National Committee for Space and Radio Science of the Australian Academy of Science the following observations.

The pandemic has profoundly affected all aspects of life and is testing social and economic resilience. The primary responses involve social distancing and tracking, and urgent efforts to develop effective treatments and vaccines. These approaches are underpinned by modern technology and robust, evidence-based science. Governments, policy makers and the broader community appreciate the need for informed voices from science, and the importance of international scientific collaboration. Furthermore, the road to economic recovery may be facilitated by new approaches, innovations and technologies to replace outmoded ways of working.

This changing landscape provides new opportunities for COSPAR, which was founded at the beginning of the space age. Since then space science has become fundamental to technologies and services underpinning modern societies and economies. Current trends include the growing importance of Earth observation and precise positioning and timing services, increased reliance of critical infrastructure on space-based services including commercial operators, vast increases in satellite numbers escalating on-orbit risk and impacting on astronomy, competition for spectrum space, development of space-based global communication networks, and militarization of space. Low probability high impact scenarios include asteroid impact, a Carrington event, and the Kessler syndrome, while climate change science relies upon satellite data.

The role of an impartial, international science-based body such as COSPAR is more important than ever. Alongside its mission to facilitate collaborative international science for public good, it can also provide science-based leadership and advocacy. This will assist national bodies in providing strategic guidance to agencies, scientists and policy makers, and in turn support implementation of multinational projects.


Professor Fred Menk Chair, National Committee for Space and Radio Science, Australian Academy of Science (i.e., the Australian National Committee to COSPAR)

Several COSPAR colleagues have already discussed options to pursue and even enhance COSPAR activities in the new era opened by the pandemic. Even when looking optimistically into the future, it seems that social distancing, uneasy travel, restriction to large gatherings, fear and other features are here to stay – at least for a few years. The obvious way forward is to rely more broadly on electronic communication and virtual meetings, using already powerful tools which are likely to rapidly improve. COSPAR is one out of many organizations facing this change in paradigm. COSPAR Associates are frequently involved in other professional societies which are trying to resolve this vital issue. All thirteen international scientific organization members of COSPAR are experiencing the same challenge. Our mother institution, the International Science Council, is deeply concerned by the critical situation created by the covid-19 for its scientific union members and interdisciplinary bodies. COSPAR works since many years with a partner, ZARM, which has accumulated a large expertise in organizing big scientific events.  The point I am trying to make is that we are not alone in this dramatic context. We should join forces with our members, partners, we should build upon the creativeness and imagination of our Scientific Commissions, Panels, Associates, we should work with our Associated Supporters and Industry Partners. And then we should rethink COSPAR activities in a way that combines practical solutions for our various classes of events – starting from the easy ones, capacity building workshops and Symposia, to the more complex one, the Scientific Assembly – and the need to secure resources that are essential to COSPAR activities – currently, Member annual contributions, publications, abstract fees, and rebate from Assembly organizers. Let alone the CB workshops and Symposia, which can find ad hoc solutions, as discussed earlier by Rao. The Scientific Assembly poses a more difficult problem, if we want to maintain the concept of a one-week event, with thirty sessions in parallel. The European Geophysical Union is experiencing the electronic scheme. This is made possible thanks to the fact that most European countries share the same local time. With a participation in COSPAR from people all around the globe, one could think of recorded sessions, that participants can follow online at any time during a period of, say, two or three weeks, with special time slots when the presenters would be available for Q/A in real time. Less parallel sessions, longer virtual Assembly, many new features to figure out. Even if practicable, such a scheme leaves unsolved the problems of an organizing host country, of registration fees, of the collection of resources that are crucial to maintaining COSPAR baseline activities. The solution may lie in the savings made by the participants, who will not pay for travel and accommodation. Part of this savings can be collected to feed the COSPAR general budget, e.g., in the form of a COSPAR Associate fee. Same could be true with part of the money usually allocated to fellowships. Just food for thought, all this needs time and in-depth analysis. COSPAR should mandate a group to investigate these things.  The key issue that will not find a solution will remain the lack of personal contacts which are the core of COSPAR, as well as other scientific convention’s, attractiveness. You want to cooperate with people that you meet, that you like, with whom you go for a beer after a session, who become friends in the end. I am afraid that there may be years before we go back to the world where such simple things were possible. In the meantime, international cooperation in space research will have to rely on electronic communication means and virtual meetings. Stay safe and be well!

Jean-Louis Fellous (France)

Has the COSPAR organization considered having the option of conducting COSPAR symposia using all-posters via on-line presentations?  that would avoid spread of epidemics, pandemics and obviate the large long, hard-to-fund international travel.   this is clearly doable, except for well-healed organizers and sentiments of insiders who easily can tap into public funding — since clearly in-person symposia tend to exclude those who are not so well endowed, especially when symposia are located on the other side of our planet.  Please give it serious thought.

W. Spjeldvik (USA)

I have read with interest some of the ideas presented in the “Conversations in Containment”.  From a scientist who attended her first COSPAR meeting in 1965, here are some perspectives,

1.         We should not abandon the General Assemblies.  These are very important particularly for younger scientists to meet and exchange ideas, not only with their own age group but also with established scientists in the same field, 
2.         We should give more emphasis to the role of the Commissions and Panels.  When I became more active in COSPAR activities (1970) the Commission Meetings were a very important part of the COSPAR assemblies.  One of the main activities was to plan for special projects that could be conducted (via postal mail in those days) over the next 2-4 years.  Younger scientists were encouraged to get involved.
3.         The COSPAR Bureau should ask itself “What is the role of the Commissions”?  Over the years the commission and panel meetings seem to be relegated to “planning for the next assembly” although there are exceptions.  It is difficult to squeeze into the crowded commission meeting agenda any additional item asking for suggestions, plans and organizers for a special project or workshop given only 60-90 minutes during lunchtime.  There should be definite times (minimum 90 minutes for a commission meeting, 60 for a sub commission meeting) other than lunch times. Another idea is to initiate commission plenary meetings with an invited speaker appropriate for the commission.  These could be rotated from Assembly to Assembly depending on the hot topic of the time period. 
4.         I suggest the following:  Each Commission (and Panel) be tasked to undertake, over a 4-year period, one special project or virtual workshop (or meeting) of interest to the overall commission members.  Young scientists should be encouraged to participate.  If a virtual workshop is held, papers can be presented and the power point presentations available for a selected time period for comments.  I would then suggest these papers be written and submitted to ASR – either as a special issue (with additional submissions from the community) or as regular papers.  Each project or workshop could be given publicity via SRT, COSPAR news or the COSPAR web site as appropriate.  In essence these projects or virtual workshops would probably be equivalent to smaller topical meetings.  (Note that all special issues of ASR must be open to the entire community; it cannot be exclusively a conference or workshop set of papers.)

Peggy Ann Shea (ASR co-editor for Special Issues, USA)

Thanks for sharing some conversations with us. It is really a difficult and different stage for all of us.  We try to continue our online courses, exams, and all official meetings either at home or at the university. We had been invited to many webinars, on line seminars and we take these opportunities by trying to participate in these meetings. It is really great opportunity to have some compact info in a specific topic and in a short time. But we also miss to be together, to share our discussions face to face. We wish we will have these opportunities again.

Zafer ASLAN (Turkey)