Co-operate to keep the peace in space

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:23pm


Man can be most effective in unlocking the secrets of the universe if he keeps his feet on the ground and lets science and technology do the field work. Then his safety and endurance need not hinder exploration, research and discovery. The successful Mars landing of the planet rover Curiosity is a leap forward in that regard. In the next year or so the largest and most expensive and intelligent machine sent to another planet could tell us more about Mars than we have learned from six previous American missions over nearly 40 years. And its plutonium batteries could provide enough power to keep the car-sized robotic laboratory, packed with ingenious new instruments, in commission for a decade or two.

Whether or not Curiosity finds evidence of life on Mars past or present, it has breathed life into Nasa. Hitherto the US space agency has been most identified with the manned space programme, now in limbo following retirement of the space shuttles. It had a huge stake in a successful landing. Had anything gone seriously wrong, it would have made it more difficult to ensure funding for future missions.

Curiosity will analyse rock, soil and the atmosphere to try to determine whether conditions that would support life existed. Meanwhile, China is catching up fast in space. Three new rockets in development include a Long March 5 with the capacity to launch a manned orbital space station by 2020. By this time it also expects to have the technology for putting men on the moon. By then China too will have had to weigh manned exploration against the potential benefits of science-driven missions.

The world needs peaceful co-operation in space. The ban on nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction in space should be extended to conventional weapons. This could help bring the great powers together for the betterment of mankind through advances in science and technology.