Representatives from two of the world’s major space agencies, the Russian and the Chinese ones, were absent due to visa problems from “the world's premier space event”[1], the International Astronautical Congress (IAC), whose 65th annual meeting took place in Toronto, Canada from September 29 to October 3, 2014. Russians said that space exploration is excessively politicized over the conflict in Ukraine[2], while the Canadian government has refused to discuss the visa issue citing privacy laws, andthe president of the Canadian Space Agency said he was not made aware of the visa issue until a few days before the moment when the IAC 2014 started.

The International Astronautical Congress (IAC), founded in 1951, has now 246 members, including all major space agencies, companies, research institutions, societies and associations worldwide[3].

Visa problems prevented Russian and Chinese engineers and other professionals related to space programs from participating in this international event. There was some representation from both countries, but nevertheless the absence of the heads of their Space Agencies was strongly remarked. At a panel featuring the heads of the world’s major space agencies, the Mexican Space Agency stood in for the missing Chinese and Russian participants and almost all of those making speeches stressed “the need for international collaboration at a time when no nation can go it alone”. And “NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said that, if one looked only at the way the international space station is being managed — both in orbit and in terms of astronaut launches and returns aboard Soyuz capsules — one would have no idea of the tensions now stressing relations between Russia and the West” [4].

“The annual IAC has always prided itself on being an island of nearly pure engineering and future-think in a world of political upheaval. Iranian delegates have been regular attendees, as have representatives from other nations whose space programs have zero contact with the West”[5], a very recent article states.

Based on the catalog of authors and co-authors published by the official site of the Conference[6], the following map shows the countries represented (at different levels) at the event.


Based on the same list, there should have been more than 5.000 authors and co-authors of academic studies from 87 countries, including more than 250 Russians and more than 900 Chinese. Media releases that actually about 3,000 delegates from about 70 countries around the world have attended the event[7].

“It's not clear why China had visa issues as Canada has just completed a new trade agreement with them. The agreement was seen as a first step in warming up relations between the two nations after a frosty few years”[8], a media report says. NASA is strictly prohibited, by law, to cooperate with China in space matters of any sort[9] (unlike the Energy Department, as well as the U.S. military and other U.S. government organizations), but “the space agencies of NASA’s traditional partners are increasingly looking to China for access to space”[10]. On the other hand, at the IAC 2014 other geo-strategically significant events took place, as well: for example, the heads of US’s and India’s Space Agencies signed two documents to launch a NASA-ISRO satellite mission to observe Earth and establish a pathway for future joint missions to explore Mars[11]. India is considered as being involved in a space race with China, in Asia (a space competition which strongly augments the already obvious and very complex geo-strategic competition for both regional mastery and control of the high seas linking Asia and the Middle East).

Regarding Russia, we have to take into account that “Canada is the only Western government to have extended Russian sanctions to barring a satellite from being exported to Russia for launch aboard a Soyuz rocket. A Canadian maritime monitoring satellite, which was financed by the government […] was denied an export license at the last minute, apparently because of pressure from Canada’s large Ukrainian expatriate community”[12]. At IAC 2014, it was released to the public that a deal for launching the Canadian satellite has been signed with India, “a few days after Canada refused to allow Russian delegates to attend”[13].

Between October 4 and 10 2014, many countries are hosting World Space Week events (in 2013, the previous edition generated “1,420 events in 80 nations” – 239 in India, 134 in France, 125 in Romania, 123 in Pakistan, 115 in Germany, 111 in Spain, 99 in Brazil, 72 in the UK, 34 in the U.S and 24 in Israel[14]) and is notable that at the IAC 2014, Bill Gerstenmaier, who heads NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, “talked about how ISS crew members landing in Kazakhstan say they are ‘home’ no matter where on Earth they are from”[15]. In speeches, ‘planetary fraternity’ might be an attractive formula, and clearly is a politically correct idea, but in real life national interests (vital ones in some occasions) generate a lot of very tense events. The visa problems of the Russians and Chinese at the 65th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) are vividly illustrating that the logic of geo-strategic competition and tensions simply have the upper hand.


[1] “Welcome to IAC”, at the Internet address

[2] Jim BRONSKILL, Stephanie LEVITZ, “Russia upset over space conference visa denials”, CBC News, September 30, 2014, at the Internet address

[3] “ROSA President is participating at the 65th International Astronautical Congress, between 29 September - 3 October 2014”, Romanian Space Agency, October 2, 2014, at the internet address

[4]Peter B. de SELDING, “Visa Issues Keep Russian, Chinese Engineers Away from IAC 2014”, 2014, SpaceNews, September 29, at the Internet address

[5] Peter B. de SELDING, “Visa Issues Keep Russian, Chinese Engineers Away from IAC 2014”, 2014, SpaceNews, September 29, at the Internet address


[7] Idem 2

[8]Marc BOUCHER, “International Astronautical Congress Opens with Fanfare But Russia and China Have Visa Issues”, SpaceRef, September 30, 2014, at the Internet address

[9] “A law passed in 2013 at the behest of Frank Wolf, a Republican congressman who chairs the congressional committee with jurisdiction over NASA, and who has a history of worrying about China… forbids NASA from co-operating with the Chinese state or any Chinese company. It also prohibits hosting official Chinese visitors at any NASA facility” – see “Chinese? You’re not welcome: A row over a ban on Chinese Researchers”, The Economist, October 12, 2013, at the Internet address

[10] Frank MORRING and Amy SVITAK, “Flat Space Budget Make Cooperation Tricky”, Aviation Week, September 29, 2014, at the Internet address

[11] “U.S., India to Collaborate on Mars Exploration, Earth-Observing Mission”, NASA, September 30, 2014, at the Internet address

[12] Idem 3

[13] “India Will Launch Canadian Satellite Amid Tensions With Russia”, CBC News, October 3, 2014, text accessed at the Internet address

[14] “World Space Weeek 2013 Highlights”, at the Internet address

[15] Marcia S. SMITH, “IAC2014 Day Four Opens with Diverse Views on the Post-ISS Future”, SpacePolicyOnline, October 2, 2014, at the Internet address

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...