International Cooperation: Critical on Our Human Journey to Mars

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As I reflect on my multiple international engagements over the past month, including discussions on the human Journey to Mars with representatives from 17 space agencies at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara Mexico, and participating this week in the second U.S.-China Civil Space Dialogue, I can’t help but feel deep pride in NASA’s accomplishments as a global leader in space and aeronautics research.  Currently, NASA has over 750 active agreements with more than 120 nations around the world for cooperation that contributes to almost all aspects of NASA’s activities.  The relationships NASA has developed over more than 50 years of international cooperation and successful implementation of thousands of international agreements have set the stage for robust international participation in NASA’s plans for the human Journey to Mars.

One key aspect of our exploration program is a sustainable, affordable expansion of human presence into the solar system – not a piecemeal mission or two, but a foundation for ongoing pioneering efforts that will evolve as we learn from earlier missions.  NASA is proud of the substantial progress we have made in developing the next generation of human spaceflight assets – the Orion crew capsule, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) to support their launch.  Working closely with partners from 14 nations we’ve also been using the International Space Station (ISS) to prepare our astronauts to explore beyond low-Earth orbit (LEO) and into the proving ground of cislunar space.

I was pleased this week to participate in the second U.S.-China Civil Space Dialogue along with the State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary Jonathan Margolis, Mr. Tian Yulong, Secretary-General of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), and distinguished members of the Chinese and American delegations.

I expressed my congratulations on behalf of the entire NASA family to Mr. Tian on last month’s launch of the Tiangong-2 laboratory and the recent launch of the Shenzhou-11 crewed mission — major milestones in China’s human space flight program.

I visited China this past August and one of the main goals of that visit was to conclude the Air Traffic Management agreement between NASA and the Chinese Aeronautical Establishment (CAE).  While not a topic included under the Civil Space Dialogue, this agreement is an important milestone for NASA’s cooperation with its Chinese counterparts.  While I was in China, I was also pleased to discuss the progress in several areas of our cooperation in Earth and space science and to hear about recent developments and plans for China’s human space flight program.

Our human Journey to Mars requires collaboration with many nations, each with their own interests and expertise.  Right now, the European Space Agency is providing the service module for the Orion spacecraft that will carry astronauts to deep space in the coming years.  We also have hundreds of agreements with other nations in science, such as the many partners providing support and instrumentation for every one of NASA’s missions to Mars, including the Mars 2020 rover, one of many precursors planned to support humans visiting the Red Planet.

NASA’s international partnerships are strong and our exploration strategy is consistent with the Global Exploration Roadmap (GER), released by the international space agencies participating in the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG).  The GER reflects a common vision for deep-space exploration shared by NASA and our international partners and defines common goals for missions to cislunar space, near-Earth asteroids, the moon and Mars.

NASA is well positioned to continue to lead the world to new heights in space and innovations in technology.  We have a sustainable plan to extend humanity’s presence into the solar system, advance our capabilities in aeronautics and understand our universe and the planet on which we live that is technically sound and fiscally reasonable.  Advancing humanity’s reach is truly a global endeavor and I am confident NASA will maintain its constancy of purpose as we lead by example and engage nations around the world in continuing to make the impossible, possible.