50th Anniversary of First Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space

Blue Marble image of the Earth taken by the crew of Apollo 17 on Dec. 7 1972.
Image Credit: NASA

A celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the first United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE) takes place in Vienna next week. Since the first one in 1968, there have only been two further UNISPACE Conferences. The UNISPACE+50 is bringing together member states and international organisations to further cooperation on the peaceful use of outer space. There are three aspects to the event:

  • A UNISPACE+50 Symposium on 18 and 19 June; and
  • A special UNISPACE+50 High-level Segment of the 61st session of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) on 20 and 21 June.
  • A UNISPACE+50 exhibition will be held from 18 to 23 June, with the exhibition open to the public on its final day.

The inaugural UNISPACE I took place from the 14th to the 27th August 1968 and examined space technology, space science and space applications. It asked for greater international co-operation to ensure that the potential of space benefitted the whole world.  It was attended by 78 Member States, 9 specialized UN agencies and 4 other international organizations.

The 78 attendees are interesting as according to United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), who are organising UNISPACE+50, there are only 74 countries who have ever launched objects into space. Whilst all the expected bigger players were involved in the first conference it is interesting to see that countries such as Burma, Madagascar, Uganda and the Vatican City were all present at this first meeting.

The proceedings from UNISPACE I can be found here, and they had 199 papers presented at the event which covered areas such as telecommunications, satellite television, rockets, medicine and education. As you would expect we had a really good look through for Earth Observation (EO) papers, and whilst they weren’t described as EO they were there. Use of satellites to support meteorology had a strong focus, but it was really interesting to see papers such as:

  • Aerospace applications in agriculture and forestry
  • Space Applications in water resource developments
  • Space craft oceanography

UNISPACE II took place from 9th to 21st August 1982, and focussed on maintaining outer space for peaceful purposes and preventing a space arms. It was attended 94 Member States and 45 other organizations. Whereas, UNISPACE III was held from 19th to 30th July 1999 and focussed on aspects of protecting the global environment; managing natural resources; increasing the use of space applications for human security, development and welfare; protecting the space environment; and increasing developing countries’ access to space science and its benefits. It was attended by 97 Member States, 9 UN agencies and 15 organizations.

UNISPACE+50 aims to look at how wider society can benefit from space innovation, investment and technology with a focus on how to use space as a driver for sustainable development. There are seven strands for the event:

  1. Global partnership in space exploration and innovation
  2. Legal regime of outer space and global space governance: current and future perspectives
  3. Enhanced information exchange on space objects and events
  4. International framework for space weather services
  5. Strengthened space cooperation for global health
  6. International cooperation towards low-emission and resilient societies
  7. Capacity-building for the twenty-first century

The UNISPACE conferences focus on the exploration and peaceful uses of outer space, an aim which is all the more important in the current era. The numbers of satellites being launched are increasing, potential development of space tourism, plans for Moon bases and Mars missions to name a few, all demonstrate how the world as a whole needs to work together in outer space.

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