Brussels, 17 Feb 2004
A new committee created by the European Commission and the European Space Agency (ESA) is to examine the consequences of the recently announced US space strategy for Europe, it was announced on 16 February.
The joint EU-ESA 'evaluation group' was announced by EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin and ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain as they spoke to the media about Europe's reaction to the new US space strategy.
Mr Dordain highlighted the 'many positive elements' in the 14 January speech by American President George Bush, which contained plans for a new space exploration programme for 'human missions to Mars and to worlds beyond'. For example, Mr Bush reiterated a commitment to international cooperation, saying 'The vision I outline today is a journey, not a race, and I call on other nations to join us on this journey, in a spirit of cooperation and friendship.'
One of the consequences of the US strategy which is likely to affect Europe relates to the International Space Station (ISS). 'We need to look at how the ISS will be used. Bush would like to see a reorientation towards exploration research,' said Mr Dordain. Another aspect to be considered is how the timescale foreseen by Mr Bush, which includes the development of a crew exploration vehicle by 2008, will affect Europe's work in related fields.
Mr Dordain emphasised that while Europe's space community will assess how the new US priorities should affect those of Europe, 'Europe will keep its right to do what it wants' in terms of space activities. He conceded that in terms of human missions, Europe is reliant upon the US as Europe is unable to transport crews, but that this is not the case for all space activities.
The ESA Director General was keen to point out that Europe is a very capable partner in space, and is not being left behind. ESA has had huge success recently with Mars Express, and has been in a position to offer data obtained by the orbiter to non-European countries. Moreover, the fact that ESA recently took over the command of the US Mars rover Spirit for pre-arranged period illustrates the extent to which other countries have confidence in Europe as a space power. Mars Express was used to transfer commands from Earth to the rover, and relayed data from the rover back to Earth, demonstrating the interoperability of the ESA and NASA systems.
This recent experience epitomises what both Mr Dordain and Mr Busquin are hoping to see in the future: continued international cooperation. Mr Dordain welcomed indications that Mr Bush is thinking along the same lines, and added that 'you cannot define a European space policy without mentioning the international dimension.'
For further information on the EU's space activities, please consult the following web address: