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Space Solutions to Earth’s Global Challenges

ISU’s 12th Annual Symposium

ISU’s 12th Annual Symposium, addressing the question of how space can help top tackle Earth’s global challenges in the 21st century, will be held from Wednesday 20th to Friday 22nd February 2008 in Strasbourg. A summary of the scope is provided below and further details appear at the ISU website.

In each academic year the International Space University (ISU) organizes a three-day symposium at its Central Campus in Strasbourg on a topical theme. Our previous symposia have addressed subjects as diverse as commercialization of the International Space Station, small satellite design and applications, and future navigation systems. At our 10th Annual Symposium in late 2005, we posed the set of questions ‘Space Exploration: Who, What, When, Where, Why?’ since exploration of the solar system had become, by then, the most exciting topic on the space agenda. Building on the success of that event, our most recent symposium in early 2007 took the title ‘Why the Moon?’ and focused attention on our nearest neighbor recognizing the central role it occupies in the program plans of the main space-faring nations.

Our 12 th Annual Symposium in early 2008, proclaimed by the United Nations as The International Year of Planet Earth, will emphasize the benefits of the space program for society. This time we are asking the question ‘How can space address Earth’s global challenges in the 21st century?’. In this context ‘space’ can be interpreted in a wide sense encompassing observations of our home planet and more distant worlds by human and robotic missions as well as the technologies developed in support of these programs.

As for Earth’s global challenges, we think first of areas where knowledge and technology gained from space are most directly transferable in addressing issues such as climate change and environmental degradation, or impending energy crises and resource depletion. But there are many other potential problems facing our planet, even threatening the very survival of our civilization, if we look at the darker prophecies of scientists such as Lord Rees (‘Our Final Century’) or James Lovelock (‘The Revenge of Gaia’). On the other hand, a more positive view of our future prospects can be found in recent books by William Burroughs (‘The Survival Imperative: Using Space to Protect Earth’) and by Charles Cockell (‘Space on Earth: Saving our World by Seeking Others’).

Professor Cockell, himself an alumnus of ISU’s Summer Session Program, makes the point that “Many environmentalists think going into space detracts from solving problems here on Earth. Many astrophysicists feel environmentalism hampers their exploration and settlement of space. Actually environmentalism and space exploration have one and the same objective: to ensure humanity has a home”. He calls for a fusion of the two movements as the only way forward – and it is that theme that we want to explore at our 12th Annual Symposium. Our objective is to attract members of both the environmental and space communities which, though sometimes seen as being at cross purposes, may well offer different yet complementary solutions to global challenges that we all face.