A new UNOOSA head is to be appointed soon
By Aurora Weiss
VIENNA (IDN) — Legend has it that a young Isaac Newton was sitting beneath an apple tree contemplating the mysterious universe. Suddenly —”boink!”—an apple unexpectedly hit him on the head. He experienced his “aha moment!”. In a flash of light, he understood that the same force that brought the apple crashing toward the ground also keeps the moon falling toward the Earth and the Earth falling toward the sun: gravity. We are talking about real space Affairs in practice, which debuted in his book Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1869).
Governed by law, “What goes up must come down” a magical example of that theory grows in the yard in front of the Vienna International Centre (VIC). A special apple tree from seeds, which were taken into space, is being planted by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) to inspire future generations of space scientists.
The “baby apple tree” is a descendant of the 400-year-old tree still growing at Woolsthorpe Manor in the United Kingdom that motivated Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity. The sapling was cultivated from one of the 26 seeds taken to the International Space Station by British/European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake during his ‘Principia’ mission in 2015. The mission’s name refers to Isaac Newton’s world-changing three-part text on physics, Naturalis Principia Mathematica, describing the principal laws of motion and gravity.
It’s a common misconception that there is no gravity in space, and in fact, gravity is everywhere! The great Sir Isaac Newton published his law of universal gravitation in 1687, supposedly after a close encounter with an apple. Newton described gravity as a force, stating that a particle attracts every other particle in the universe with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.
This means that the force of attraction between two objects reduces (rather rapidly) the farther apart, but it never completely disappears. In this sense, gravity is the force that connects all matter in the universe.
However, in 1916 another genius, Albert Einstein, complicated matters somewhat when he published his theory of general relativity. This had enormous implications for gravity. In essence, we now understand gravity not as a force but as the curvature of space-time. Matter causes space-time to bend, warping the shape of the universe.
Newton’s law remains an excellent approximation of the effects of gravity in most cases. Still, when there is a need for extreme precision, or when dealing with powerful gravitational fields, Einstein’s relativity is required—Tim Peake concluded that we still don’t know what gravity is; we only know how it behaves.
During his ‘Principia’ mission in 2015. he took the apple seeds. It spent six months floating in microgravity before returning to Earth in 2016, and an open competition was launched in 2019 by the National Trust and the UK Space Agency to find a home for each of the trees.
Newton space sapling has found a home and is growing on the grounds of the Vienna International Centre, where diplomats meet to negotiate international law for using and exploring space safely and sustainably. It is in front of one of the most abstract offices within the United Nations -The Office for Outer Space Affairs.
Italian astrophysicist Simonetta Di Pippo, who headed UNOOSA from 2014 until the first quarter of 2022, said that she hopes it will inspire new generations of bright minds to ask the right questions and seek answers so many have done in the past. In the words of Sir Isaac Newton himself, “If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants”.
Niklas Hedman was designated Acting Director of the UNOOS on March 23, 2022. According to UNOOSA spokesperson Martin Stasko, Mr Hedman will be replaced by a new director in the next few months. The person is still unknown to the public.
The Office for Outer Space Affairs is responsible for promoting international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space and space science and technology to foster sustainable economic and social development.
It was established on December 13, 1958, as a small expert unit within the UN Secretariat in New York to assist the Committee in its work. In the 1960s, UNOOSA brought about the creation of the United Nations Committee on Outer Space Colonization.
In 1993, the Office was relocated to the United Nations Office in Vienna. At that time, the Office also assumed responsibility for substantive secretariat services to the Legal Subcommittee, which had previously been provided by the Office of Legal Affairs in New York.
Today UNOOSA also serves as the executive secretariat of the International Committee on GNSS (ICG), through which GNSS providers coordinate to advance GNSS technology, compatibility and interoperability, and the use of GNSS to promote sustainable development. Through the Committee, Policy, and Legal Affairs, UNOOSA supports UN member states with drafting and adopting legal instruments and regulatory frameworks to govern their activities relating to the peaceful exploration and use of space in conformity with international space law.
A Space Law for New Space Actors project was initiated in November 2019 to provide bespoke capacity-building support to member states in formulating national space legislation. The Office for Outer Space Affairs implements the United Nations Programme on Space Applications (PSA). It works to improve the use of space science and technology for the economic and social development of all countries, particularly developing countries.
Under the Programme, the Office conducts training courses, workshops, seminars and other activities in subject areas such as remote sensing, communications, satellite meteorology, search and rescue, basic space science and satellite navigation. It works toward this goal through various activities covering all aspects of space, from space law to space applications.
It helps countries build their capacity to develop and make the most out of the space sector through a two-fold approach: on the one hand, it provides resources such as training, workshops, conferences and knowledge-sharing portals; on the other, UNOOSA complements these with concrete opportunities for countries to expand their space capabilities, such as fellowships and competitive programmes, some of which targeting explicitly developing countries, for example under Access to Space 4 All Initiative.
In disaster risk reduction, UN-SPIDER helps countries use space data and technologies, such as satellite imagery to prevent and manage disasters. It also helps governments understand the fundamentals of international space law and increase their capacity to draft or revise national space law and policy in line with international normative frameworks on space. This is particularly important as more and more actors enter the space arena.
That’s why there is focused support for transparency in space activities through measures such as the Registry of Objects Launched in Outer Space, which links each object to its responsible country. The Office works with space agencies and space leaders worldwide to devise solutions to challenges that require an international response, such as the threat of a Near-Earth Object impact and the need to accelerate the compatibility of GNSS systems.
Maybe to us who walk on planet Earth, the universe seems small because we have never had the opportunity to look at our planet from other space. However, in the vastness of the universe, the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs is trying to bring the benefits and peace of that space to humanity. [IDN-InDepthNews – 16 August 2022]
Image: A collage of Tim Peake, an astronaut of the International Space Station by the British/European Space Agency (timpeake.com), with a special apple tree grown from seeds taken into space. The tree was planted on the Vienna International Centre (VIC) grounds on 26 September 2021 to inspire future generations of space scientists.
IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.
This article was produced as a part of the joint media project between The Non-profit International Press Syndicate Group and Soka Gakkai International in Consultative Status with ECOSOC on 16 August 2022.
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