International Cooperation in Space Shows Ways Forward: A View from Kazakhstan

There was a time when it was strongly feared that space would become the next international battleground. Following the race to put a man into space, its growing militarisation along with increasing tensions was seen as inevitable.

Thankfully, the very opposite has happened. Down on earth, sadly, we have seen new rifts between countries and old ones reopened. But above our planet, we have witnessed a new era of international cooperation.

Nothing highlights this extraordinary and welcome transformation in attitudes better than the International Space Station (ISS). The planning, co-ordination and operation of the station has brought rivals together in the shared search for scientific knowledge. It has been one of the most remarkable – and certainly the most complex – examples of international cooperation.

Operated jointly by the space agencies of the U.S., Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada, the station has now become home to astronauts from 18 different countries since the first arrived in 2000. It is a research facility where American and Russian scientists and members of the armed forces, together with those from other partner countries, are working to improve our understanding of the mysteries of the universe and how to overcome the challenges of space travel.

The latest addition to this international roll call was the U.K.’s Tim Peake, whose safe landing alongside his U.S. and Russia fellow astronauts got remarkable attention on June 18 from the media and wider public. He spent 186 days at the ISS, orbiting the earth approximately 3,000 times. As well as taking part in a variety of research projects, he also successfully engaged with school children around the world to boost their interest in science and space.

Major Peake’s space adventure began and ended, as have so many of his predecessors, here in Kazakhstan. The Baikonur Cosmodrome is now the only launch pad for manned flights, while the wide open spaces of our steppes are the ideal place for the Soyuz capsule to drop slowly and safely back to earth.

This automatically puts our country at the heart of this remarkable international endeavour. But our involvement in space exploration goes further than geography thanks to the increasing role of Kazcosmos, the country’s space agency. Headed until his recent appointment as special advisor to the President by Talgat Musabayev, a veteran of three cosmonaut missions himself, Kazcosmos is forging new partnerships with its counterparts around the world.

This involvement has already seen Kazakhstan’s first official cosmonaut, Aidyn Aimbetov, take part in a 10-day mission to the ISS. In the long run, investment in space research will bring benefits not only in terms of Kazakhstan’s international stature and relationships, but also through scientific and engineering advances which can help drive our industries back on earth.

But what is happening through the work at the ISS and all the agencies involved, of course, also symbolises Kazakhstan’s own determination to promote international cooperation. From our earliest days as a country, we have strived to convince the international community that only by working together can we hope to overcome the world’s challenges.

It has not always been a message, despite Kazakhstan’s efforts, which has fallen on fertile ground. There can be too many vested interests, suspicions and divisions in the way, but overcoming these barriers is essential to delivering the progress we all want to see.

It is here the ISS shows the way forward. If we can work together so successfully in such a difficult environment, it gives us hope for a better future. The space station is the only man-made structure that can be viewed in space with the naked eye. Perhaps if we encourage global leaders to look up more regularly at the night sky and reflect on what’s been achieved, we might see a new era of cooperation on earth in the coming years as well.

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