Nations must work together to finance expensive space
missions that ultimately will help scientists preserve the
environment and ensure the survival of the human race, a
high-ranking NASA official said last week at Johns Hopkins.
Some encouraging environmental benefits already have been derived from spacecraft data, but an international effort must be organized to safeguard the world's ecosystems, said Joseph H. Rothenberg, director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
Rothenberg said that future generations are depending on the scientists and world leaders of today to begin reversing dangerous environmental trends.
"International cooperation is critical to sustain the development of the human race and the planet," said Rothenberg, who spoke to about 75 people in Schafler Auditorium, at the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy. He spoke as part of the 1996 Woodrow Wilson Symposium, sponsored by undergraduates of the International Studies Program.
He noted that manned space flight has led to profound realizations about the fragile nature of Earth's atmosphere and ecosystems; spacecraft must be used to monitor environmental conditions if scientists are to identify trends and predict future developments. But the costs cannot be borne by any single nation; space missions are considered low-cost at $20 million to $100 million, Rothenberg said.
International cooperation already has led to a reduction of the rate of ozone depletion in the stratosphere, he said. During the late 1980s, governments around the globe agreed to stop using chlorofluorocarbons for air-conditioning and for various industrial applications. The chemicals have been a major culprit behind an alarming "hole" in a layer of ozone, a form of oxygen in the upper atmosphere where dangerous ultraviolet radiation is filtered. Since the chemicals were banned, research has shown that the rate of ozone depletion already has slowed down, Rothenberg said.
He called the early success "a pathfinder for international cooperation" and an important step along the road toward building public trust in such global efforts.
One of the biggest scientific challenges will be to determine whether changing conditions represent trends or natural cycles, but such assessments are not possible without solid global data and models, he noted.
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