Scientific and technological progress has been one of the driving forces behind modern human development. Its ends and means will undoubtedly shape our collective future way of life, which is inextricably linked to space research. In the past, humans always experienced, if one may so describe it, the attraction of stars, both before and after Newton’s discovery of the law of mutual attraction between all bodies in the universe. Over the centuries, Icarus’ dream of breaking free of the Earth’s gravity and ascending into the vastness of space did not fade; with ever greater enthusiasm, the thorny path to the stars was cleared, thanks to the providential genius of famous luminaries such as Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and Tsiolkovsky, the last of whom gave us these famous words: “Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot remain in the cradle forever.”
Fifty years ago, for the first time in the history of civilization, this surmountable barrier was overcome, heralding no more or less than a new evolutionary twist in the development of our planet. Humankind stubbornly and persistently struggled and faltered before that historic moment, possessed always by the idea of learning about space, laying the foundations for astronomy, physics, mathematics and engineering, and we are now, just as extensively and ambitiously and ever faster, harnessing the potential of space exploration in a variety of areas, from bringing about advances in meteorology and communications, to putting economic or cultural assets to everyday use, to large-scale international programmes aimed at establishing long-term presence in space stations or embarking on interplanetary space flight.
The first human space flight, by Yuri Gagarin on 12 April 1961, signified the start of the space age, and has forever remained in people’s minds as an example of courage, bravery and heroism in the name of service to humankind. It was hard to imagine going into space, where there is no atmosphere softened by changes of temperature, where the pressure is completely different from on Earth, where there is no up and no down, where air does not exist, where all around there is only risk and danger. It was even harder to take that very first step and turn theory into reality. Thanks to this greatest of humankind’s victories so far over the forces of nature, new, endless horizons and the most fascinating perspectives opened up in the minds of the scientific and technological world.
It is no exaggeration to say that the prospects space holds out to us are vitally necessary for the current inhabitants of Earth, and even more so for future generations. In setting “space policy” priorities for the introduction and application of space technologies, one aspect stands out among others in its importance: we must not forget the ethical dimension – the social, legal and moral factors. It cannot be denied that, in relations between the two space superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States of America, an element of national competition once prevailed. Much though it sustained extensive academic effort and space-based technological advance in both countries, and in a number of others, it could never, for a variety of reasons, have formed a solid underpinning for successful space exploration. Such feats required the united forces of all humanity, and I believe that only close cooperation and collaboration between nations, as seen in the International Space Station and the Mars500 programme, can guide human society to genuinely new horizons in our common space odyssey.
The United Nations General Assembly resolution adopted at the start of this month, proclaiming 12 April as International Day of Human Space Flight, again underlines the international community’s determination to use outer space for peaceful purposes. We may recall that, back in September 1963, a little over two years after his legendary “Here we go!”, Yuri Gagarin, who visited the UNESCO Executive Board during its 66th session, underlined how necessary the contribution of UNESCO was “to the science of space” and called for “genuine international cooperation to be established in the fields of science, culture and education”.
Today, many governmental and non-governmental organizations are involved in space research, with their own individual specializations. The activities of UNESCO itself in this area are many and varied. By virtue of its specific mandate, the Organization has always been closely linked to the study of the opportunities offered by space technologies for the needs of mass information, education, science and culture. To this day, one of our Organization’s main activities is striving to make advances in its fields of competence to all. For the last 50 years, UNESCO, always keeping pace with the times, has organized, participated in and supported many international science and education programmes in the field of space technology, with the aim of achieving sustainable development on our planet, as yet the only one inhabited, and assessing the suitability of other planets for the needs of humans.
Today’s anniversary events demonstrate that UNESCO provides a constant forum for discussion and consideration of space issues, opening up international cooperation to countries without space programmes, including developing countries, that could benefit from emerging possibilities, particularly in the areas of education and development. Space brings together the inexhaustible laboratory of nature and the never-ending process of human enquiry in the search for answers to mundane, practical questions for the good of one and all. Much has already been done, but even more awaits us, for, as the distinguished designer Korolev said, “The future of space exploration is limitless and its prospects are infinite, just like the universe.”
It is an equal pleasure for me as Chairperson of the UNESCO Executive Board and as Permanent Delegate of the Russian Federation to the Organization, to have the opportunity to take part in today’s international forum, to address you, and, with eternal gratitude, to express once more the deepest respect and admiration for the talent and selfless work of every single pioneer of peaceful space exploration: scientists, designers, engineers, workers and, of course, the cosmonauts and astronauts themselves, and, above all, those who are present here today.
I would also like to take this opportunity to urge you all not to forget that the Earth and the universe around us do not belong to us, but are rather a symbolic property and treasure that we share, in trust to us for our children and our children’s children. Our actions will have a great influence on their future and the future of all humankind. I wish you a successful and fruitful debate.