Celebrating a #YearinSpace

On March 27, 2015, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko launched to the International Space Station (ISS), beginning a one-year mission in space, furthering research and space exploration, and testing the human spirit. Last night, Kelly and Kornienko returned to Earth, landing in Kazakhstan. This evening, Kelly is scheduled to arrive in Houston.  You can watch his trip home, from the ISS to Kazakhstan to Houston, on NASA TV

If you’re like me, you’re not just tuning into Kelly and Kornienko’s journey now; you’ve tracked their mission with great interest and admiration all year.  Maybe you’ve even followed Commander Kelly on Twitter, where he has shared 1,000 photos of his mission -– many of which capture the breathtaking beauty of our planet. And while I certainly followed this mission for the incredible images Commander Kelly captured and the remarkable human interest story it represents, I also tracked it, because it’s related to my job, a fact that still surprises even my family and friends.  Like them, you might ask: what does the Department of State have to do with space exploration?  My answer: more than you think!

I work in the State Department’s Office of Space and Advanced Technology (OES/SAT), an office that ensures U.S. space policies and multilateral science activities support U.S. foreign policy objectives and enhance U.S. space and technological competitiveness. So what does that mean? Well, first, OES/SAT has primary responsibility for U.S. representation to the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS), where a wide range of space policy issues are discussed. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Committee developed the Outer Space Treaty and three related UN conventions, which still serve as the bedrock of international space law. More recently, UNCOPUOS has been a vital forum for U.S. efforts to develop new international guidelines on emerging issues such as minimizing the generation of orbital debris and ensuring safe space operations and sustainable access to space. OES/SAT led the negotiation of the 1998 Intergovernmental Agreement on the International Space Station, which was home to Commander Kelly and Cosmonaut Kornienko this past year.

The International Space Station is just that: international. And Kelly and Kornienko’s mission embodies the spirit of collaboration across countries. As NASA has said, their mission represents an “effort to mitigate as many risks as possible for humans on long-duration missions. Data collected on both Kelly and Kornienko will be shared between the United States and Russia, and international partners. These kinds of collaborations help increase more rapidly the biomedical knowledge necessary for human exploration, reduce costs, improve processes and procedures, and improve efficiency on future space station missions.”

As Commander Kelly makes his way to Houston, I am impressed by what he and Kornienko accomplished during their year in space and can’t wait to see what the outcomes of their mission teaches us. I’m also proud of how American diplomacy supports NASA’s mission and promotes international cooperation in space, an objective that is in the interest of all of us who call planet Earth home.

About the Author: Amber Charlesworth serves as a Foreign Affairs Officer in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs’ (OES) Office of Space and Advanced Technology at the Department of State.

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Patrick W.
Maryland, USA
March 2, 2016
Welcome Home ! Congratulations on completing your year long mission successfully ! :)
Astronaut Scott Kelly takes a photo of himself inside the Cupola, a Special Module of the International Space Station [Photo courtesy of NASA via AP]
March 2, 2016


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