The EU and Space: Reaping the Benefits of Space Exploration and Technology

Foreign Policy, July-August 2009 | Go to article overview

The EU and Space: Reaping the Benefits of Space Exploration and Technology


Forty years ago, the world watched in awe as the first humans stepped foot on the moon. Today, nations routinely rely on space-based technology in areas including communications, navigation, and earth observation. No longer the sole domain of Cold War superpowers, space activities have become strategic and economic priorities not only for the U.S. and Russia, but also for the European Union, Japan, and the emerging economies of China and India.

From satellite communications to weather forecasting, from earth observation satellites monitoring climate change to global positioning satellites that help planes navigate safely, the technological offshoots of space activities offer important benefits to 21st century citizens. Space exploration programs help to develop human understanding of both the universe and our own planet; they help our search for answers to fundamental questions: "Where did life come from? Is human life possible in extraterrestrial environments?" and "How can we harness the natural resources of Mars or other bodies? Can knowledge of and solutions for earthly challenges be found in space?"

However, by their very nature, space ventures are often massive, costly, and complex; they require long-term planning, substantial investment, and strategic vision. Very few nations can accomplish this alone. Even the two original space powers--the U.S. and Russia--are engaged in international cooperation to further their space goals.

European nations long ago joined forces to reap the full benefits of space for their citizens. The European Union's collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) provides the scale and expertise necessary to drive European space applications, exploration, science, and technology, and together the EU and ESA have launched a forward-looking vision for European Space Policy. …

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