Next 50 Years of Space Research

R.-M. Bonnet

Executive Director of the International Space Science Institute, Bern Switzerland
President of COSPAR

Fifty years after the launch of Sputnik-1, Space research has blossomed and reached a number of scientific discoveries difficult to imagine when it started. We have traveled through the Solar System observing all its planets including of course our own; we have landed on the Moon, on Mars, Venus, Titan, and on asteroids. With the ''Pioneers'' and the ''Voyagers'' we are reaching the limits of the heliosphere and explore the virgin territories of deep space. By observing the sky from above the Earth's atmosphere we have accessed the UV, the X and the gamma rays, the infrared, and the sub-millimetric wavelengths. We have accessed the most thinkable extremes: extremes of distances, of temperature -from the several million degrees of the solar corona to the near absolute cold of the deep universe-, of vacuum, of density and gravity, and of time. We have discovered black holes everywhere confirming in an unprecedented way the prediction of Einstein's theory of Relativity. We have discovered water everywhere, in our Solar System as well as in the Universe.

In the next 50 years, most likely, we will continue observing our Solar System with the permanent concern of detecting whether life has developed elsewhere than on the third planet. We will go back to the Moon, and we will explore Mars extensively, as well as the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, we will land again on asteroids and on comets. Technical progress will hopefully allow us to continue the exploration of the heliosphere and deepen our understanding of the physical processes at play in interplanetary space, in and around the Sun and in thee nearby interstellar medium. It is hoped that some missions that have been under consideration in the past 50 years such as a Solar Probe or an Interstellar probe and an Out-of-Ecliptic mission with imaging capabilities will be launched. These plans will be reviewed in a context where priorities will become more and more dominated by national and international political consideration rather than just pure scientific interests.