THE UNITED NATIONS AND OUTER SPACE
|| INTERNATIONAL INSTRUMENTS || UNISPACE CONFERENCES ||
|| INTERNATIONAL SPACE YEAR (1992) : 'MISSION TO PLANET EARTH' ||
The United Nations has been committed to space being used for peaceful purposes since the launch of the first man-made satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1957. This launch, as part of International Geophysical Year, marked the dawn of the space age, the first use of satellite technology for the advancement of science, and the beginning of human efforts to ensure the peaceful uses of outer space. This was followed in the 1960s by a rapid expansion in the exploration of space, starting in April 1961 when Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to orbit the Earth, and culminating in Neil Armstrong's 'giant leap for mankind', in July 1969. Since that time, all the planets in the solar system, except Pluto, have been visited by spacecraft. Celestial phenomena, such as Halley's comet, are closely observed through huge space telescopes, like the Hubble Space Telescope, which facilitate man's curiosity about fundamental questions such as the origins of the universe. The setting up of the General Assembly's Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) in 1959, with its two subcommittees, one concerned with legal, the other with technical matters, formalized the United Nations commitment to the use of outer space for peaceful purposes. The complex issues which have arisen alongside the development of space technology are the main concern of the two COPUOS Subcommittees. They have also developed principles on:
The Office for Outer Space Affairs (OOSA) provides secretariat services to the Committee, its Scientific Subcommittee and its Legal Subcommittee. The Office also implements the United Nations Programme on Space Applications.
Discussions and recommendations of COPUOS, particularly through its Legal Subcommittee have led to the formulation and adoption of the five international treaties that serve as the legal framework for countries to observe in the development and use of space technology. In 1966, the Committee and the General Assembly negotiated the Outer Space Treaty which entered into force in 1968 and has been ratified by 91 countries. The basic principles contained in the Treaty were later elaborated by the Committee in four other legal instruments: the Rescue Agreement (1967), Liability Convention (1971), Registration Convention (1974) and Moon Agreement (1979). The Committee has also negotiated Direct Broadcasting Principles (1982) and Principles on the Use of Nuclear Power Sources (1992). The Legal Subcommittee is currently reviewing and critically evaluating the implementation of these treaties and will report to UNISPACE III on its work.
The United Nations has held two previous global Conferences on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, both held in Vienna. The first, in 1968, reviewed progress in space science, technology and applications and called for increased international cooperation, with particular regard to the benefit of developing nations. The Conference recommended the creation of the post of Expert on Space Applications which in turn led to the creation, in 1970, of the Space Applications Programme. Throughout the 1970s the programme implemented programmes using space technology in such diverse areas as telecommunications, environmental monitoring and weather forecasting, remote sensing for disaster mitigation and management, agricultural and forestry development, cartography, geology and other resource development applications.
The second Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space reviewed progress in space activities and strengthened the United Nations' commitment to promoting international cooperation to enable developing countries to benefit from the peaceful uses of space technology. From 1971 to 1997, the Programme organized 143 workshops, training courses and meetings of experts involving some 7,500 participants. These workshops have led to the implementation of training programmes as well as the establishment of practical projects such as the establishment of an astronomical telescope facility in Sri Lanka in 1996, the inauguration of the astronomical observatory for Central America in Honduras in 1997, and the publication of a newsletter (African Skies) for the astronomical community in Africa also in 1996. In view of the rapid progress in space exploration and technology following the first and second UN Conferences on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space,a third Conference (UNISPACE III), will be held in Vienna between July 19 and 30,1999. This Conference is convened as a special session of COPUOS, thus within existing resources. The Conference's objective is to create a blueprint for the peaceful uses of space in the 21st century. Ways of promoting the use of space technology across a range of issues, such as protecting the environment and the development of education programmes, will be examined. The Conference will also critically evaluate the work of the United Nations in this field, pointing the way to more effective uses of space technology in the pursuit of economic, social and cultural development.
INTERNATIONAL SPACE YEAR (1992) : 'MISSION TO PLANET EARTH'
The United Nations and the international space community named 1992 as International Space Year giving it the theme 'Mission to Planet Earth', as a way of focusing attention on the benefits that space technology can bring to life on Earth. A variety of ongoing international cooperative projects were established to be coordinated through the Space Agency Forum, which is a permanent organization of space agencies.