Charlie Bolden, the administrator of the US space agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), is currently visiting the Middle East to discuss possible cooperation on exploration of the planet Mars with regional space agencies.
Mr. Bolden has already visited Israel, and will next visit Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and then to France for a European Space Agency (ESA) Council meeting in Paris on his way back to the United States.
Writing in his blog, Mr. Bolden said on 3 June 2016, “Today, I’m embarking on a journey of my own — to meet with our global friends in international space agencies, governments, private companies, universities and other forums; folks who are eager to be part of NASA’s Journey to Mars. I plan to carry with me a message of partnership as I remind them of how much the American people value their friendship, especially when it comes to space – which in many ways is the great global connector.”
“I’m a firm believer in the soft power that our country is able to demonstrate when we engage in space diplomacy,” added Mr. Bolden before leaving for Israel. “From our perspective at NASA, one of the most gratifying developments over the past few years has been the increasing number of nations who have joined the global exploration endeavor. Nations large and small, both with and without formal space agencies, have all come to the conclusion that everyone who has a passion for space can find a role and a place where their expertise is critical. In short, every single nation can play a part in our journey to Mars, in our scientific journey of discovery and in the next phase of humanity’s development as a spacefaring people.”
While in Israel, Mr. Bolden has met with Israeli Minister for Science, Technology, and Space Ofir Akunis as well as officials from the Israel Space Agency, to discuss passible areas of cooperation between the two countries in the exploration of Mars.
After Israel, Mr. Bolden will visit the UAE Space Agency in Abu Dhabi to have similar discussions, as well as to receive updates on the Emirati Hope Mission to Mars, to be launched in 2020.
Mr. Bolden will also visit Jordan where he will be hosted by the Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II. Both Mr. Bolden and the Crown Prince will participate in a public dialogue about NASA’s future plans to explore Mars.
Under Mr. Bolden’s leadership, NASA has come under increasing criticism in recent months for talking a big game on Mars exploration yet not ensuring sufficient funding for its plans from the US Congress.
NASA is also under international pressure for prioritizing Mars exploration over going back to the Moon. Many space agencies around the world believe that going to Mars can only be possible if the Moon is made a staging post.