Sure, everyone knows NASA. They used to send people into space, inspiring millions and performing the kind of scientific exploration that just isn’t possible with long-range remote controlled cars. But after fifty years of increasingly crippling budget cuts imposed by shortsighted, petty bureaucrats, they’ve become the outfit that runs a couple of really neat museums. Thankfully, not all of humanity’s eggs are in one lunar module. Here are 22 space agencies that aren’t NASA.
1. Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales, France
France established its space program in 1961. Everything but the CNES’s launches are handled at Toulouse Space Centre. Its spaceport is Centre Spatial Guyanais, located in French Guiana. I could write about France’s contribution to the International Space Station, or its astronauts and satellites, but let’s get to the good stuff: CNES is the only space program in the world with an acknowledged UFO investigation agency. The irony here is that if Independence Day ever became a reality, Bill Pullman would have to give his rousing speech on July 14th—Bastille Day.
2. Lithuanian Space Association
Over the years, hundreds of Lithuanian scientists and engineers have worked with NASA. The first Lithuanian cosmonaut was Aleksey Yeliseyev-Kuraitis, who was part of the 1969 Soyuz mission. Rimantas Stankevičius, another famous Lithuanian cosmonaut, died in Italy in the Salgareda Air Show. He went out a hero. While flying a Su-27 fighter, a loop went wrong and the aircraft went down. He could have bailed, but the plane would have crashed into a crowd of onlookers. Instead, he spent his last moments veering the plane toward relative safety.
3. Space Research and Remote Sensing Organization, Bangladesh
Places you are not likely to find someone from Bangladesh: Space. That said, the country has a capable space research program that has participated in the Landsat program, and works with foreign space agencies to survey its own natural resources and local ecosystem.
4. Sri Lanka Space Agency
In 2015, Sri Lanka will launch a geostationary communications satellite from Xichang Satellite Launch Center. This is the country’s first foray into space, and will mark the culmination of long ambitions for a space program. Its partnership with China is worth noting; China has spent quite some time helping smaller, poorer nations develop their own space programs, using “space diplomacy” as a means of making strategic inroads into South Asia.
5. The Hungarian Space Office
The Hungarian Space Office was founded in 1992 and is part of Hungary’s Ministry of National Development. The general operation of Hungarian space program works something like this: Dr. Előd Both is the HSO’s director, and actually runs the program. He reports to Zsuzsa Németh, the Minister of National Development, who is in turn advised by the Scientific Council on Space Research. The Hungarian Space Board works with the ministry in “strategic cases,” which pretty much means spy satellites and missile defense.
6. Israel Space Agency
The Israel Space Agency was founded in 1983 to organize and implement a space program. The agency found great success, and presently has a robust satellite launch capability. (Israel is the smallest country in the world with its own spaceport.) The first Israeli astronaut was Ilan Ramon, who died tragically on the Space Shuttle Columbia.
7. TÜBİTAK Space Technologies Research Institute, Turkey
TÜBİTAK Space Technologies Research Institute started out in 1985 as Ankara Electronics Research and Development Institute, and was part of Middle East Technical University. The agency is serious business—it has put a couple of reconnaissance satellites in space. It was recently announced that Turkey plans to construct a spaceport in its territory.
8. United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs
UNOOSA, which sounds like a Linux distribution, is the United Nations agency that maintains the registry of objects launched into outer space. That’s a pretty big deal because there’s a lot of stuff up there, and the last thing anyone wants to do is to live out Clint Eastwood’s underrated 2000 film, Space Cowboys. The downside of UNOOSA is that it’s totally against any country building a Death Star, or laying territorial claim to the Moon. (What’s worse: The Moon Treaty or the Khitomer Accords? Discuss.)
9. National Remote Sensing Center, Mongolia
Mongolia has a space program? Yep! The National Remote Sensing Center is Mongolia’s agency to coordinate remote sensing applications with foreign space programs. The big deal about sensors (this also applies to Bangladesh, for example) is that they help governments map their territory and monitor their natural hazards. Things like wildfires and snow cover need good, accurate eye-in-the-sky imagery and long-term studies with data sets of the highest quality.
10. Institute for Astronomy, Astrophysics, Space Applications & Remote Sensing, Greece
The Institute for Astronomy, Astrophysics, Space Applications & Remote Sensing, in addition to being the best space program to help me meet this article’s word count, is Greece’s space agency for doing all of those things in its name. It is part of the National Observatory of Athens, and is primarily a research institute.
11. Belarus Space Agency
The Belarus Space Agency is mostly interested in sensory applications and satellites, and has plans to build a flight control center next year. Belarus has fielded two astronauts: Pyotr Klimuk and Vladimir Kovalyonok.
12. Canadian Space Agency
Three words: Commander Chris Hadfield.[drops the mic and walks away]
13. UK Space Agency
The UK Space Agency was established in 2010 to unify the various research and spacefaring organizations of the United Kingdom. Satellites, research, probes, droids—the usual. Presently, the UKSA is working on establishing a spaceport and space tourism capabilities.
14. China National Space Administration
Now, I’m not saying that China is the future of human space travel, but go ahead and click here to check out their logo. Look familiar? While America is busy investing time and resources into Toddlers & Tiaras, China has built a massive space infrastructure, put men in orbit, mounted a spacewalk, launched a space station, and planned a manned lunar mission with the intention of establishing a base on the moon. Oh, and the moon thing? It’s to prepare them for a Mars expedition.
15. Azerbaijan National Aerospace Agency
The Azerbaijan National Aerospace Agency was founded in 1975. Like most space programs, sensing technology is a primary mission, and it has made great strides in remote analysis and, according to its website, “the study of spectrometric, meteorological and radiation characters of different natural territorial and industrial objects.”
16. Brazilian Space Agency
The Brazilian Space Agency operates both a spaceport and a rocket launch site, which makes it a key player in South American space affairs. The agency launched its first rocket in 2004. Two years later, the first Brazilian astronaut, Marcos Pontes, served on the International Space Station.
17. Croatian Space Agency
Croatia has serious space ambitions. In 2007, it hosted a summit of space travelers, “to inspire the next generation of scientists in Europe and Croatia, and to chart the future role of smaller countries in human spaceflight.” While no Croatian has yet been to space, it is home to the Zagreb Astronomical Observatory. As a prospective member of the European Union, there has been discussion of Croatia eventually joining the European Space Agency.
18. European Space Agency
Twenty member states of Europe comprise the European Space Agency, and each contributes science, research, technology, manpower, and money. (France, for example, brings the Centre Spatial Guyanais spaceport to the table; Italy is responsible for the Vega payload launcher.) The ESA has an astronaut corps of 22, its roster almost indistinguishable from the character names and nationalities of the characters in Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six.
19. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (独立行政法人宇宙航空研究開発機構)
In 2005, a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency unmanned spacecraft called the Peregrine Falcon landed on 25143 Itokawa, a near-Earth asteroid. It took samples and then returned to Earth. Look, even though we don’t have flying cars, things like that make me think we really are living in the future. JAXA developed solar sails and successfully deployed them in 2010. The current plan is to sail to Jupiter. Remember how I mentioned that China’s working on building a moon colony? Well, so is Japan! That’s impressive, but they’re probably jealous of the sweet museums we made out of our space shuttles.
20. State Space Agency of Ukraine
As any fan of Seinfeld can attest, “you not say Ukraine is weak!” Its space program is focused on research, remote sensing, and telecommunications satellites. In 1997, Leonid K. Kadenyuk became the first and only astronaut to fly into space under the independent Ukranian flag. He served on NASA's STS-87 Space Shuttle mission.
21. National Space Agency, Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan’s National Space Agency focuses on two key areas: monitoring the atmosphere and environment of the Earth from space, and researching space-based materials science. The first Kazakh cosmonaut was Tokhtar Aubakirov. He later became director of the National Space Agency.
22. Korean Committee of Space Technology, North Korea
In 2012, North Korea put the Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 Unit 2 observation satellite into orbit—the first such successful launch by North Korea. The general suspicion going into the mission was that it was a test run of a long-range ballistic missile. The North Korean government dismissed such suspicions as lies being told by Western Imperialists. The North Koreans didn’t really help themselves, however, when they proceeded to release a statement which read in part: “We do not hide that a variety of satellites and long-range rockets, which will be launched by the DPRK one after another and a nuclear test of higher level which will be carried out by it in the upcoming all-out action, a new phase of the anti-U.S. struggle that has lasted century after century, will target against the U.S., the sworn enemy of the Korean people.”