NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr at ESA Council – will ESA still participate in ISS ?

Multithreaded and enthusiastic speech given by NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr at ESA Council on June 15, 2016, put new light on NASA intentions as far as ISS is concerned. Now it is time for ESA response!

On June 15, 2016 during final day of ESA Council meeting in ESA headquarters in Paris, one of the key moments was speech given by visitor from NASA – current Administrator of NASA and former astronaut, Charles F. Bolden Jr. Focal point of the speech was future of the International Space Station and European presence in ISS program after 2020. It should not be surprising, because already on December 2016 governments of countries which are associated in ESA will discuss on mid-term budget which covers among other financial participation in ISS. It is worth to remind that on previous budget discussion, which took place on 2014, governments did not achieve any compromise; it was even unclear if ESA would like to continue cooperation with NASA under ISS program after 2020. It was bad news for NASA, which already declared that it will participate in ISS program until at least 2024.

Charles F. Bolden Jr had difficult task; he should convince representatives of countries participating in ISS program along with rest of the representatives from countries which are members of ESA and their presence in ISS program was rather limited. In his speech he put particular stress on history of the cooperation between NASA and ESA, which in fact dates since ESA was established-NASA was strong partner which supported ESA programs from the beginning. Both agencies are still extending cooperation on different levels, but still ISS remains one of the most impressive examples of multinational space projects which is still developing in spite of political situation on Earth. It is bright example that humanity is able to rise above divisions to achieve ambitious goals which will serve mankind:

"I would like to leave you with just a few more important thoughts and considerations. We live in turbulent times. There is anger and extremism permeating our lives and political discourse. There is terror and intolerance. Values and ideals that our parents and their parents paid for in blood and tears are in peril. I submit to you that the International Space Station represents what is best in humankind. It represents engagement rather than isolation, openness rather than building walls and it is worthwhile to continue as long as we are maximizing its utilization and return, which I am convinced we can do easily until 2024"

In his speech, Charles Bolden remind also number of experiments performed on ISS which resulted in creating new technologies which are currently adapted to our daily life. Canadarm2 robotic arm, which is used during every docking of cargo spacecrafts, give impulse for developing MRI machines which are saving life on Earth during surgeries. Different materials used during manufacturing ISS modules are now used in different applications which are improving our life. ISS crew is also monitoring climate changes on Earth, deploying number of small satellites with science experiments onboard. Daily hard work of crew members, which are working in the separation from their families, improved our knowledge about Earth and is giving chance for better understanding ourselves. International Space Station gives us also opportunity to monitor natural disasters and help in preventing natural environment:

"The ISS is also a global observation and diagnosis station collecting data about global climate and environmental change and natural hazards, utilizing both crew-operated and automated Earth observation payloads. Cameras on the Space Station contribute to a global network that provides data and imagery targeted at natural or technological disasters. Unique to the Space Station is the presence of crew that can react to unfolding events in real time.
Immediate adjustments can be critical for gathering time sensitive information during an emergency and when lives are at stake"

It is worth reminding that global industry which is operating for impressive scale on Earth is also thread for natural environment; in case of disaster like Deepwater Horizon oil spill, space observation performed from space is key factor in effective reducing harmful effects of this catastrophe. Pictures taken by ISS crew members along with satellite imaging helped in reducing pollution of the Mexican Bay. Without ISS we will be limited to satellites and robotic spacecrafts performing experiments in space. They are of course able to perform experiments and send results to Earth but are not able to analyze data or modify program of the research on a regular basis as needed. Charles Bolden described ISS as one of the most important steps of mankind in future deep space exploration-without successful experiments like "One year in space" with Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko or growing lettuce in zero gravity conditions give us a chance to plan future Mars exploration or improving quality of life in space for further generation of astronauts or space colonization personnel. According to Charles Bolden ISS is also inspiration for young generations which who grow up in consciousness that humanity created place to live and work in space-our responsibility is not to disappoint their hopes for peaceful space exploration:

"I submit to you that beyond being a technological marvel, beyond being essential in our joint endeavors to reach further into the cosmos on behalf of the human race, it represents scientific discovery and enlightenment. It represents collaboration and tolerance, inspires and motivates our children and grandchildren and provides hope. That, indeed, is a beacon for humanity and civilization.

Let us not extinguish this beacon, until we have secured our foothold in space and until we are ready – together – to take the next steps in space exploration for the benefit of our citizens and all humankind."

Particularly in this point it is hard to not agree with Charles Bolden-ISS is an international project which is showing that there is chance for peaceful cooperation between nations and people as soon as they unite are able to achieve almost everything.

It is worth to remind that ESA is only country participating in ISS program which still is considering extending cooperation to 2024. NASA is one of the most important partners for ESA, but it also works in the opposite direction. NASA agreed that ESA will not pay for using ISS and instead, it will design and manufacture service module for NASA Orion spacecraft. It is clear sign how important for NASA is partnership with ESA and how much is appreciated European space industry by NASA:

"Our Space Station Partnership enabled cooperation between our two agencies for the Orion Service Module. Together we are creating a vehicle that can travel farther than humans have gone in a generation. Last month the European Service Module that will fly on Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) in 2018, was delivered to Airbus. This marks a major milestone on its journey to the Kennedy Space Center in 2017, where it will be mated with the crew module in preparation for its maiden launch."

For ESA it is unique chance to participate in Mars missions in future, including possible manned mission. Without NASA this chance will be certainly more distant in time.

Now it is time for ESA response-after meeting and budget discussion scheduled for December 2016, we will see if arguments presented by Charles Bolden brought the desired effect.