On 27 October 2017 in Paris, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) awarded its UNESCO Space Science Medals for the first time.
The Medal, established this year as part of an agreement with the world’s “first space nation” Asgardia, awards prominent scientists, public figures and organizations who have contributed to the development of space science.
In its first installment, four individuals were awarded the Medal: (1) Cuba’s Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez, the first Cuban, and the first person of African heritage to go to space, having participated in the Soyuz 38 Mission, (2) Japan’s Koichi Wakata, the first Japanese commander of the ISS, with a 20-year career in spaceflight, (3) China’s Yang Liwei, the country’s first astronaut, and (4) Russia’s Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to go to space.
At the ceremony, at which Tereshkova and Mendez were present, Tereshkova said, “Now we are all living through turbulent times, but I think that all the member-countries of UNESCO can do quite a lot so that people can better understand each other.”
Mendez highlighted the importance of scientific collaboration, “which allowed countries such as our small Caribbean island to participate to space programmes, an example of cooperation that went well beyond borders and into space”.
According to UNESCO, this “Medal aims to support UNESCO’s broader work in capacity building in the basic sciences and science education….and encourage male and female scientists to serve as role models and to pass their skills and know-how to younger generations”.