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Czech Republic: Argentinian Scientists To Collaborate With Czechs On Space Projects

Juan Eduardo Fleming, Argentina's ambassador to Prague, had an idea -- to bring together top Czech and Argentinian scientists to collaborate in space exploration. In an interview with RFE/RL, Fleming reveals how he brought the two nations together, and what they hope to accomplish.

London, 7 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The Czech Republic -- and before that, Czechoslovakia -- has over the years successfully had five of its own satellites placed in orbit. The country also has participated in a number of interplanetary missions, with experiments, for example, on board Soviet Mars probes.

A device to measure cosmic dust, developed by a Czech scientist in collaboration with Germany, is currently on its way to Saturn on the U.S.-European "Cassini" probe.

Argentina, for its part, has been developing a small launcher rocket. It has been trying to participate in international missions, too, and is currently working on large Earth observation satellites.

"It seemed to me to be quite natural," explained Juan Eduardo Fleming, Argentina's ambassador to Prague, "that both countries -- apart from collaborating with the European Space Agency and the American NASA -- ought to do things together."

So, he started working on the idea and the results are beginning to show. "As a result of a visit made to Argentina by the president of the [Czech] Academy of Sciences, Doctor Helena Ilnerova, accompanied by the chairman of the Council for International Affairs of the Academy, professor Jiri Niederle, and also professor Jiri Wiedermann, who is the head of the Department of Computers of the Academy, there was a meeting -- taking advantage of their presence there -- with the National Space Committee of Argentina," Fleming said.

The original purpose of the Czech delegation's visit to Argentina, at the beginning of October, was not about space collaboration, Fleming explained. It was about an extensive international project "involving computers and the impact they have on society in a number of countries."

Fleming, however, saw this visit as an opportunity to realize his idea. So, with his help, the Czech delegation also met the executive head of the Argentinian space committee, Conrado Varotto; Raul Colomb, principal researcher in optical satellite construction; and Alberto Jiraldes, head of research in satellite building for radar tracking. The discussions were fruitful, Fleming said.

"They discussed different possibilities, as a result of which there was shown that there are fields in which both countries could -- for their mutual benefit -- join efforts in space research in the field of satellites," he said.

Fleming added that there are several specialized fields of satellite construction where collaboration seems most likely possible and useful. "Argentina has a big requirement concerning satellite surveillance because of the size of the country," he said. "It was discussed with Dr. Ilnerova by Dr. Varotto, in the sense that the techniques and the technologies applied in the Czech Republic and in Argentina could be of mutual interest. Our satellites tend to be of bigger size and proportions than the ones being produced in the Czech Republic. Ours weigh about a ton, and these satellites produced here weigh about 100 to 200 kilograms, but that has to do with a different technique for surveillance."

Fleming pointed out that collaboration was also discussed in the field of early warning satellites "because this is something both countries are very much in need of. But this would depend on the success of the first phase of collaboration." He explained: "In this first phase, there was consideration that Czech scientists participate in the space mission from Argentina, or vice versa. Also, making use of a place in one of the satellites to put in equipment of one or the other country, in order to monitor and see and put it to an effective use. And another field of interest that we considered was a possibility of mathematical modeling for the purpose of mapping and early warning, so there is a considerably big field open."

Fleming thinks that, as the collaboration develops, there could be "other exciting possibilities for joint projects." He noted the Czechs have so far produced their satellites at a fraction of the cost that they do in the West -- in the order of a few million U.S. dollars. This advantage of "huge cost-effectiveness should be also appropriately exploited to benefit the country," he said.

"I do not discount at all the possibility of joining efforts and producing satellites for third countries, but I would suppose that all that would depend on the success that this first phase would have," Fleming said.

He explained that this activity would require changes in the Czech educational thinking. This is because the concept of "science parks" of high-tech businesses linked to technical universities, developing their research ideas into new technologies and products -- like in many Western countries -- "is so far something very little known in the Czech Republic and elsewhere in the East."

"And Argentina has some way to go, too," he said. Fleming feels this concept must be developed, "because it affects and interests both Europe and Latin America as well." It is, in fact, "crucial."

"In the case of the Czech Republic and Argentina more specifically, if we succeed in combining government, academia and business by joining efforts and setting up joint goals and charting courses to arrive to these goals, then we would have really hit the most important way to modernization and further development," he said.

As for the first phase of Czech-Argentinian collaboration in space, another meeting of their top scientists should take place "within a couple of weeks," Fleming concluded with a proud smile. His idea is about to "take off." Literally.