In October 1957, the USSR launched the first Sputnik into orbit around the earth. In the following year, the General Assembly for the first time debated the question of outer space. Two items were proposed for inclusion on the agenda: "The Banning of the Use of Cosmic Space for Military Purposes, the Elimination of Foreign Bases on the Territories of Other Countries, and International Cooperation on the Study of Cosmic Space," proposed by the USSR; and a "Program for International Cooperation in the Field of Outer Space," proposed by the US. The very titles of these items indicate the differences that initially existed between the two powers in regard to an international accord on the uses of outer space. The USSR proposed that the first order of business should be a ban on armaments in space but wished to link this goal with the dismantling of US overseas military bases. The US preferred to avoid the disarmament issue altogether in this connection and wished merely to emphasize that it was the common aim of mankind to ensure the use of outer space for peaceful purposes. This disagreement provoked a series of disputes over the composition and terms of reference of the special UN body that should be established to deal with outer space problems. The USSR wanted a body with East-West parity, while the US preferred a body more broadly geographical in representation.

Owing to these differences, the 1958 General Assembly merely set up an 18-member ad hoc committee to deal with questions of outer space. It included only three member states from the Soviet bloc, which, because of the composition of the committee, declared that they would not take part in its work. The committee eventually was reduced to 13 participants.

After intensive negotiations, the 1959 General Assembly set up the permanent 24-nation Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS). Its membership was increased to 28 in 1962, 37 in 1973, 47 in 1977, and 53 in 1980. In 2002, membership was expanded to 64. In 1962, the committee organized itself into two subcommittees of the whole, one to deal with scientific and technical cooperation and the other with the task of evolving outer space law. The committee has also set up working groups of the whole to deal with navigation satellites, direct broadcasting satellites, remote sensing satellites, and the use of nuclear power sources in outer space. The UN Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) is the office that serves as the secretariat for UNCOPUOS.

DEVELOPMENTS IN SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNICAL COOPERATION Scientific and technical cooperation within the framework of the UN grew out of General Assembly action on the basis of recommendations of the committee and has increased over the years. It covers various fields of activity, including the following.

Exchange of Information . The UN Secretariat produces annual reports on national and cooperative international projects. Since 1961, a growing number of countries and international organizations have provided the committee with information on space activities and programs.

Public Registry of Launchings of Space Vehicles . An essential requirement for international cooperation in outer space development is that launchings of space vehicles, together with scientific data on the results of such launchings, be made public. In 1961, the General Assembly decided unanimously that the UN "should provide a focal point" for such information and requested the Secretary-General to open a public registry for this purpose. The information is transmitted to the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space for review and is then placed in the registry.

The Russian Federation and the US regularly supply appropriate data, as do Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Cooperation with Specialized Agencies and Other International Organizations. By the terms of its 1961 resolution on outer space, the General Assembly requested the WMO to submit reports to the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space on the international cooperation required in weather research. In the following year, it endorsed steps taken under WMO auspices that resulted in the establishment of the World Weather Watch, incorporating meteorological satellites into its operational system. The same resolution also requested the ITU to submit reports on cooperation required to develop effective space communications. In the ensuing years, this cooperative effort embraced other agencies and international organizations having special interests in matters related to outer space, including UNEP, FAO, UNESCO, ESA, the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (INTELSAT), and the International Maritime Satellite Organization (INMARSAT).

Education and Training . The General Assembly has emphasized the need to train personnel from countries not yet advanced in space activities. The secretariat distributes a periodically revised directory of information taken from UN documents and carries out an educational program on space applications. The program creates an awareness of the potential of space applications for development, especially in developing countries, through technical advisory services, seminars, and workshops and the administration of fellowships offered by member states and international organizations for education and training.

Under the United Nations Programme on Space Applications, the latest efforts are being directed towards the development and enhancement of knowledge and skills in the discipline through the establishment and operation of centers for space science and technology education at the regional level.

INTERNATIONAL SPACE YEAR AND THE UNITED NATIONS CONFERENCE ON ENVIRONMENT In 1989, the General Assembly recommended that more attention be paid to all aspects related to the protection and preservation of the outer space environment, especially those potentially affecting the earth's environment. In the same year, the General Assembly also endorsed the designation of the year 1992 as International Space Year and its use as a vehicle for promotion of international cooperation, which should be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all states, with particular emphasis on the needs of developing countries.

Numerous programs were carried out in support of International Space Year and culminated in 1992. "Mission to Planet Earth," which was a central focus of the International Space Year, saw scientists worldwide using space technologies to assess such threats to the earth's environment as global warming, deforestation, and ozone depletion. Subsequently, the General Assembly recommended that the United Nations should actively encourage the continuation of activities initiated for International Space Year and promote broader involvement in those activities by more nations.

Reflecting the growing concern of the international community on environmental security, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development took place also in 1992 at Rio de Janeiro. Such concern for the protection of environment also was a focus of the activities for International Space Year. The following year, the Secretary-General suggested in his report that it might also be time to examine ways to formalize international cooperation in the utilization of space systems and space technology for environmental purposes, particularly the implementation of the programs recommended in Agenda 21. The product of the Rio conference, Agenda 21 lays out a detailed program of action to be taken by the United Nations, other international organizations, national governments, and intergovernmental organizations. In response to the request by the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, which was subsequently endorsed by the General Assembly, the Secretary-General prepared an analytical report on the role that the committee could play in view of the decisions and recommendations of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.

User Contributions:

This is a great article. Most people do not realize the importance of keeping a peaceful outerspace. If one country starts, the rest of the world will and we will all be living in fear.
mark joel

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: