Ambassador Richard Verma Promotes U.S.-India Space Engagement, Looking Forward to Visits from NASA Deputy Newman, Astronaut Williams

“The United States and India have a long and successful history of space cooperation. … Auspicious would be a good way to describe the cooperation between India and the United States on space science.”  Ambassador Richard R. Verma said these words almost a year ago, and they still hold true as he looks to welcome a number of key visitors this month who will lead several engagements to enhance the already impressive U.S.-India space relationship.

Space has captured the imaginations of people for thousands of years, and it continues to offer a limitless frontier for scientists to study and explore.  As we push forward to tackle challenges on Earth, we should remember the importance of space research and exploration to drive innovation and technology development for the benefit of all people – from satellite navigation and smart cities, to water purification technology and medical imaging.  Space also inspires young minds and sparks passions, encouraging students to study science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) – skillsets that launch high-tech careers and stimulate entrepreneurship.  Space, as part of the global commons, is a precious frontier that will allow for the continued advancement of mankind.  It is an area in which international cooperation is not only important, it has become a necessity.  As President Obama said “what was once a global competition has long since become a global collaboration.”

The United States and India have a long and successful history of space cooperation, beginning in 1963 when India first launched a U.S.-manufactured sounding rocket from Thumba to study Earth’s magnetic equator.  In the 1970s, India and NASA conducted the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE).  SITE involved deployment of televisions in over 2,400 villages across India to receive educational programs via satellite.  This was followed by the establishment of the Indian National Satellite (INSAT) system in the 1980s.  The first four INSAT satellites were built by U.S. industry, and three of them were put into orbit by U.S. launch vehicles.  This early relationship has subsequently developed in to a robust partnership exemplified by numerous scientific exchanges, dialogues, and joint projects.  This month, several notable visits and exchanges will propel our relationship forward.

First, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Director, Dr. Charles Elachi, and his team will speak with students in Delhi about Earth and space exploration on February 17.  JPL is working with India to jointly develop asynthetic aperture radar satellite that will allow scientists to study natural disasters and global environmental changes.

NASA and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will convene the third face-to-face meeting of the ISRO-NASA Mars Working Group in Bengaluru on February 22-25.  The working group coordinates observations and science analysis between NASA and ISRO’s Mars spacecraft – including India’s Mars Orbiter Mission and NASA’s MAVEN which arrived at Mars within days of each other in September 2014 – and explores potential cooperation on future missions to Mars. NASA Deputy Administrator Dr. Dava Newman will travel to ISRO to open this event and hold discussions with ISRO counterparts. NASA Planetary Science Division Director, Dr. James Green, will lead the U.S. delegation in technical discussions related to Mars findings and collaboration.

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, with the support of India’s Ministry of External Affairs, is organizing a National Conference on Export Controls in Bengaluru February 22-23.  The event is expected to bring together major business entities and relevant government officials from around the world that handle aerospace, defense, and dual-use items and technologies.

The U.S.-India Space Security Dialogue on February 24 in Delhi will bring together our governments to discuss the long-term sustainability and security of the outer space environment.  Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance Frank Rose will lead our delegation to this annual event.

We anticipate that NASA Astronaut Sunita Williams will be in Delhi February 25-26 for engagements with students and space policy thinkers.  She intends to share her impressive experiences from her many spacewalks and inspire students to continue in their STEM pursuits.  Her engagement with the space community would also serve to bolster U.S.-India engagement in space.

The Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation (ORF) will host the second annual Kalpana Chawla Space Policy Dialogue February 24-26.  The dialogue is named in honor of NASA Astronaut Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian-American woman in space, who perished in the Columbia Space Shuttle tragedy.  ORF holds this annual dialogue to create a global platform to exchange views on the civil, security, and commercial aspects of outer space and honor Ms. Chawla’s legacy of bravery and exploration.  The event will host a series of space policy discussions on government, commercial, and civil society issues, and includes speakers from more than five countries.  Ambassador Verma, Assistant Secretary Frank Rose, and NASA’s Dr. Dava Newman and Dr. James Green will speak at this event.

The upcoming events will serve to celebrate our joint successes in space and move us forward to greater heights together.