JAPANESE astronaut Mamoru Mohri, who flew on the space shuttle Endeavor last week, has joined a unique fellowship: the company of men and women who have crossed the threshold of outer space.
Thanks to the American and Russian guest cosmonaut and space partnership programs, there now are enough of them to have their own professional society - the Association of Space Explorers, with headquarters in San Francisco. They represent some two dozen nationalities and a diversity of cultures. They have undergone the experience of seeing Earth in a cosmic perspective that emphasizes the essential unity of its people.
"I cannot forget our motto `Only One Earth the guiding principle of the Association of Space Explorers," Polish cosmonaut M. Hermaszewski told the audience of a symposium the association held during the recent World Space Congress here. American astronaut Charles Bolden explained that, when you look at "the blue marble" from a spaceship, you realize that our planet is "a very small fragile body in the cosmic universe."
This realization has given association members a new sense of purpose. American astronaut Frederick Hauck, who chaired the symposium, explained that they are dedicated to stewardship of the environment, encouraging spaceflight as a cooperative world endeavor, and educating the public. As French astronaut Jean-Loup Cretien put it: "We hope to give impetus to cooperative space exploration - to exploit ... the best in each other."
One area where cooperation and planetary stewardship come together is in monitoring Earth from orbit. Hungarian cosmonaut Bertalan Farkas says this "has emerged as one of the most important" space efforts. He explains: "It's a science where we must work with other countries.... None of us can work in a vacuum."
Many association members are high-ranking military officers or space officials, or both. But those who took part in the symposium made it clear that they see themselves as fellow explorers who have a common purpose with a common obligation to humanity and not as national representatives. They spoke of their own or others' space exploits as events in a general human endeavor and not as elements of national achievement.
It was not always thus. Russian cosmonaut Alexi Leonov recalls the atmosphere of suspicion and rivalry that surrounded the joint flight of the American Apollo and Soviet Soyuz spacecraft, in which he took part 17 years ago. Yet, he says, "The Apollo-Soyuz program was a school where we learned two things: We learned to work with each other. We learned to help each other." He adds that those lessons will be put to use now that the two countries "exactly 17 years later ... have signed a new document of coop eration."
These eager space explorers don't buy the argument that it's better to send robots rather than people into space.
General Cretien insists that we have come too far in space to quit now. He explains: "[W]e are now in a situation where we must say `yes' or `no'.... Future generations will remember those who say `yes' to going farther [in space].... If we say `no,' no one will remember the end of the century." Reflecting a conviction held by many of his colleagues, he adds, "If there is a key to eternity, it's probably in space."