History of the United Nations Programme on Space Applications

The United Nations Programme on Space Applications was established in 1971 on the recommendation of the first United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE) that took place in Vienna, Austria in 1968. The Programme's initial mandate was to create awareness among policy makers and government agencies of the benefits of space technology and to assist people from developing countries in acquiring the knowledge, skills and practical experience necessary for their application. A United Nations Expert on Space Applications was also appointed at this time to oversee the Programme. Between 1972 and 1981, the Programme organized 45 events, including training courses, workshops, seminars and panel meetings, on a variety of space-related issues, and these were attended by over 1800 people. As the Programme's budget was limited, however, demand for places far outstripped supply and many qualified candidates were unable to participate.

The Programme expands: UNISPACE-82

The Second United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer (UNISPACE-82), held in 1982 in Vienna, recommended the expansion of the Programme and a broadening of its mandate.

As a result of UNISPACE-82, the Programme focussed on strengthening international cooperation, not only between the industrialized and developing countries, but among the developing countries themselves. To carry out the capacity-building required to enable countries to benefit from space science and technology, firm foundations were also laid for future cooperation between the Programme and other UN agencies, Member States and members of specialized agencies. This included the organization of a fellowship programme for in-depth training of specialists in space technologies and applications, as well as the holding of seminars, conferences and training courses on advanced space applications and new system developments.

Such innovations, together with improved dissemination of information on new and advanced technologies and applications - also recommended by the UNISPACE-82 Conference - have all led to greater awareness on the part of Member States, especially developing countries, of the benefits of space technology and of the many ways in which it can promote sustainable development at the local level.

Into the Third Millennium: UNISPACE III

Since the UNISPACE-82 Conference, significant changes have taken place in space activities. The decline in cold-war tensions and the considerable growth in the number of participants in space activities have led to greatly enhanced international cooperation. The private sector, for example, often in partnership with Governments, has played an increasingly important role in defining and implementing space programmes. Hand in hand with such changes has come a growing realization that space science and technology can address issues of common concern to all humanity.

The United Nations, recognizing that global challenges can best be met by a global dialogue, organized Third Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III), which was held in Vienna in July 1999. UNISPACE III had two main goals:

  • To promote the use of space technology in solving problems of a regional and global nature; and
  • To further strengthen the capability of Member States, particularly developing countries, in the use of space-related technologies for economic, social and cultural development.

Prior to UNISPACE III, regional preparatory conferences that took into account the distinctive characteristics and needs of each geographical region were held on various important issues. The regional conferences will gave the developing countries an opportunity to define their needs for space technology, as well as enabling the UNISPACE III conference to consider the most effective ways of expediting the use of space technology for sustainable development.

The UNISPACE III had a significant impact on the Programme's development and provided guidance for further strengthening the activities of the Programme on Space Applications.


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