10 June 2009

Brigadier-General Susan Helms Briefs COPUOS on the Iridium-Cosmos Collision

Call for Mitigation of New Space Debris

VIENNA, 10 June (UN Information Service) - Former US astronaut Susan Helms highlighted how international cooperation between space-faring nations could lead to improved space situational awareness at the fifty-second session of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). Brigadier-General Helms of the United States Strategic Command shared insights on the Iridium-Cosmos collision, which took place on 10 February 2009 at an altitude of 790 km above the Earth.

Ms. Helms described today's space as "an increasingly crowded sea, crisscrossed by shipping lanes, filled with traffic of myriad kinds bound for multiple destinations" and pointed to an important goal to "maintain an acute awareness of space objects, and to recognize potential threats early enough to refine predictions, and take avoidance if possible". Ms. Helms commended COPUOS for its Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines, endorsed by General Assembly in December 2007, and emphasized that "one of the most significant ways to act responsibly in space is to mitigate the generation of new debris under normal operations".

Today, Ms. Helms led the United States delegation in paying a visit to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) to discuss international cooperation in outer space, recent developments in space debris mitigation and registration of space objects. The Director of the Office, Mazlan Othman, thanked the Brigadier-General for the visit and expressed her appreciation for Ms. Helms' statement to COPUOS, which served as a "useful epilogue that provided the constructive basis for transparency in the issue and set a positive tone in COPUOS".

On the space debris threat, Ms. Helms recalled her personal experience as an astronaut, when a mission of taking earth-observation images from the International Space Station had been compromised by the crack in the large observation window, caused by space debris. She further added that "we must encourage all space users to build on the foundations laid during the past half century and to operate responsibly in space so that we can ensure the long-term sustainability of our space activities".

Ms. Othman thanked the United States delegation for its full-hearted cooperation and commended the United States for its "role model implementation of space law treaties and conventions".

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For further information, please contact:

Jamshid Gaziyev
Associate Programme Officer, UNOOSA
Telephone: (+43-1) 26060-4958
Email: jamshid.gaziyev@unoosa.org
Website: www.unoosa.org