12 April 2001


NEW YORK, 11 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following is a text of a message from Secretary-General Kofi Annan, on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s flight and the twentieth anniversary of the launch of the first United States space shuttle (12 April 2001):

Today is a special day in the history of space exploration. Forty years ago, Yuri Gagarin became the first person to travel to outer space, and the first to witness the beauty of our planet from space. Twenty years ago, on the same day, the first manned reusable spacecraft, the space shuttle, was successfully launched, inspiring people everywhere to dream of travelling to outer space. And today, we find both astronauts and cosmonauts working together on the International Space Station, an extraordinary project involving 16 nations.

Outer space was once seen as a potential source of conflicts. But happily, it has become a source of cooperation. Many scientific achievements in outer space were possible because scientists from different countries worked together. Permanent human presence in outer space has become a reality as nations pool their expertise and resources.

The exploration of outer space has already revolutionized life on our planet in many ways. Observations from outer space have enhanced our understanding of our common environment, for example, by providing images of the ozone layer and world climate conditions. Space technology has led to advances in fields ranging from the monitoring of natural disasters to the development of navigational systems. These examples of the benefits of space technology -- some immediately apparent, some much less so -- provide a powerful justification for the peaceful exploration of outer space.

We must all work to ensure that the possibilities offered by technology, both in outer space and here on Earth, are used to foster tolerance, trust and shared values. They must not be allowed to become instruments of discord or division. We must guard against the misuse of outer space, and, in particular, against the creation of an arms race in outer space. The international community recognized early on that a legal regime for outer space was needed to prevent it from becoming another arena of military confrontation. It is important to find ways to reinforce the legal regime and enhance its effectiveness. Space exploration should advance the twin objectives of maintaining international peace and security and promoting international cooperation.

Space science and technology have a great potential for enriching the lives of people around the world. Today, one can talk to people on the other side of the planet, thanks to satellite communications. One can get information on the weather in any part of the world, thanks to Earth observation satellites. Some of us no longer have to worry about getting lost on the roads, thanks to satellite navigation.

But how useful are these tools to people in developing countries? The challenge for us today is to make sure they, too, benefit from space science and technology in coping with a range of challenges from natural disasters to modern communications.

In a matter of minutes, severe disasters may destroy all the progress made over years in social and economic development. But space technologies can significantly mitigate this damage. Earth observation satellites provide essential data to give early warnings for extreme weather phenomena. People can then take timely action to minimize damages. Later, when a natural disaster hits society and destroys infrastructure, communications satellites provide means to disseminate and exchange vital information. This can help contain further damage and loss of human life.

In some parts of the world, people enjoy instant access to a vast amount of information and easy communications with their friends on the other side of the world, thanks to the Internet. At the same time, one half of the world’s population has never made a telephone call. Satellite communications can help us close this gap, to help the world move forward from "digital divide" to "digital bridge".

The use of space technologies will be part of some of the new initiatives that I announced in my Millennium Report. Communications satellites will be useful for the Health InterNetwork, to establish 10,000 on-line health information centres at hospitals and clinics in the developing world. The "First on the Ground" disaster response programme will provide mobile and satellite telephones for humanitarian relief workers to help the victims after disasters.

Space utilization and exploration is not a special programme with limited implications on human activities. It should not be a privilege of a limited few. Space is the eternal frontier which promises to help of all of humanity create a safer, more prosperous and better connected world.

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