The Association of Space Explorers, commonly known as ASE, is an international nonprofit professional and educational organization of more than four hundred astronauts from thirty-eight different nations (Afghanistan, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam). The ASE was founded by a small group of American and Russian astronauts in 1985, “when the Cold War between East and West was not yet over“, according to Romanian cosmonaut Dumitru Prunariu at one of the first ASE congresses.
Today, the Association of Space Explorers works to promote space exploration, science, engineering, and environmental protection related to these activities. ASE is an international association whose membership is selective because ASE only accepts individuals who have completed at least one orbit of the Earth in a spacecraft, whereas in common parlance an astronaut is a person trained for flight in outer space. But sometimes astronauts prepare their entire careers to travel in space without ever doing so, since even after fifty years in space, only five hundred people had been in space, on average twice, including about fifty women.
Astronauts were initially chosen among military pilots. Recruitment criteria evolved later and, while good physical condition is still required, the emphasis is now placed on psychological balance, technical or scientific competence depending on the position held, and the ability to express oneself in the languages of the main space nations.
ASE has four main missions: education, cooperation, warning and security. The education mission has an important place for the Association of Space Explorers, as it wishes to train manpower with skills in the fields of Science, Science Technology, Engineering Science and Mathematics (STEM). In particular, in 2013, ASE launched the creation of an international scholarship to support and fund STEM and space science education worldwide. In addition, each year, as part of the Community Day organized during the Congress, astronauts visit schools, universities, associations and meet students, teachers and parents, striving to inspire future scientific explorers by sharing their experiences of working and living in space.
The second mission of collaboration and exchange is to maintain international relations to promote space exploration and to secure funding for it. All its members are collectively committed to improving space exploration and to demonstrating the need for very long-term international cooperation for the development of space and exploration activities. It works to foster international dialogue on key issues such as crew safety, space rescue operations, human performance and NEO hazards. In its third warning mission, ASE enables its members to share their unique perspective on Earth to raise awareness of humankind’s responsibilities towards our planet. To this end, the association has launched the Windows on Earth project and the NEO Committee. It also participated in the publication of the best-seller The Home Planet and sponsors many environmental projects and films. ASE’s fourth and final mission ensures the safety of astronauts.
The association works with other international space organizations on the issue of asteroid hazards and threats, as well as on issues of crew safety and astronaut rescue. It ensures the safety of all space flights. The association also carries out multiple activities in order to carry out its numerous missions. For example, ASE organizes planetary congresses, including a famous annual congress attended by astronaut and cosmonaut members from all over the world. Indeed, in an international framework where cooperation is not an empty word, manned space missions and future exploration projects will indeed be at the heart of discussions with a strong concern of those who have returned from space: to show the usefulness of these missions to better understand the universe but also to better protect the Earth with its fragile environment.
Thus, many conferences are being organized, such as the one on October 16, 2017, where explorer Bertrand Piccard and astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who has just returned from his Proxima mission aboard the International Space Station, addressed this theme of environmental awareness. The astronauts, who are the “sentinels of our planet“, also addressed the coming years with the ambitious Chinese space program that plans to build a space station in low orbit or send robots to the surface of the Moon. The building of a base on the moon, the sending of a man to Mars, space tourism have also been on the agenda of the last ASE annual congresses and are trying to respond to current space issues.
Among its many activities, the Association of Space Explorers has a NEO Committee, which is responsible for promoting international cooperation on NEO deflection. As a reminder, a NEO is an asteroid or comet in the solar system that its orbit around the Sun brings at a short distance from the Earth’s orbit, and therefore potentially close to the Earth, which can be dangerous for the safety of humankind. ASE is particularly active within the United Nations to find an international agreement on the management of these dangerous bodies drifting in space and potentially impacting the Earth.
Moreover, ASE has the permanent observer status in the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space and in the United Nations Economic and Social Council, which gives it the opportunity to participate in discussions with the various Member States and to consult their documentation. It also works closely with the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), a committee established in 1958 following the launch of the first Sputnik satellite into space, to develop an international protocol for action in the event of potential asteroid impacts on Earth.
ASE participates in the Committees on Space Exploration and Space Life Sciences organized by the International Astronautical Federation. All these activities are overseen by the International Executive Committee and regional boards of directors. Faced with the health crisis, ASE has had to organize its activities and congresses differently. The last global congress organized by ASE was the ASE executive committee meeting, which took place on July 13, 2020 by videoconference.
Other congresses and activities had been planned, but due to the Covid-19 crisis, ASE members were forced to cancel several activities such as the ASE 2020 face-to-face scientific sessions that were scheduled to be held in Denver, June 19-22, 2020 and finally held in virtual version from August 8-10, 2020. This premier videography conference will feature forty-four hours of lectures with the ASE President’s address, as well as a lecture on the current state of ASE and the presentation of research awards to astronauts, and will be virtually visible until November 10, 2020. In conclusion, as one of ASE’s founders and astronaut would say, ASE was created to respond to a common vision of astronauts “A world where living, working, and exploring in space will be as familiar to humanity as life on our home planet.
This article was written by Marina NOVAC, Polina SHTEPA, Morgane CAUSSINUS, Jasmine BOUABOUD, Saina BURNASHEVA and Diana DA SILVA (Paris-Saclay).