70 Years of the International Astronautical Federation

 70 Years of the International Astronautical Federation

The International Astronautical Federation (IAF), the world’s leading space advocacy organisation was founded in 1951. Shortly delayed by the Covid pandemic, the federation held its 70th anniversary celebration in Paris last week, in the same city where it was founded 71 years ago.

IAF Anniversary Event on 26 March 2022

In her celebration speech, IAF President Pascale Ehrenfreund looked back at the IAF past, present and future. Even though the federation has seen several challenges over its 71 year existence, little can compare to the challenges for the global space sector in 2022, with the pandemic still gripping the world and two important space faring nations at war.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine overshadows everything, including this year’s IAF anniversary celebration. The topic would loomed heavily over this year’s anniversary events and subsequent IAF Spring Meetings. Outgoing IAF president Ehrenfreund gave a much anticipated, impassioned speech extalling the IAF’s achievements over the past 70 years, without avoiding the burning issue.

“I want to express my deepest concern about the current tragedy unfolding in Ukraine.” “Created at a time of fierce international tensions,” she continued, “the IAF was able to always provide a safe platform for the worldwide space community, to meet, to engage, to discuss, to exchange ideas.”

“As inspired by the same values and principles that we have held for the past 70 years, I firmly believe that the Federation has always, in times of conflict and disagreement. A continuous dialogue remains the foundation of a peaceful coexistence cooperation and de-escalation.” Today, more than ever, she continued, “The space community has achieved this, and together, we find a way to de-escalate this tragic situation.”

Although she made clear that she could not speak for all 433 IAF members, she hoped the 2022 IAF Spring Meetings would make a “special effort to help in achieving a peaceful resolution of the current conflict and will continue to do so in the next 70 years, tackling the challenges facing the world today.”

70 Years of space history in a 4.5 minute video

One of the highlights of the celebration was the release of a special video, summarising the 70-year long history of the IAF in a 4.5 minute video:

In the foreword to a commemorative book, published for the occasion of the 70th anniversary, IAF President Ehrenfreund recited the story of the IAF:

The Origins

During the mid-20th Century, the rapid development of military rockets during and after World War II and their potential led toa growing public interest in rocketry and in the possible use of rocket power for the attainment of space flight. Flight outside the Earth’s atmosphere has been a dream of human beings for generations. The advancing rocket technology, together with other rapid innovation in electronics, supersonic flight, and atomic power, led professional scientists and engineers to a startling conclusion: space flight could be achieved within their generation.

When dealing with rocket technology, those pioneers were able to see beyond the use for merely military purposes but aimed at something much greater: the realization of space flight and space research as a peaceful enterprise. Although national pride and competition were the main drivers of space research, many experts in astronautics soon realized that the implementation of space flights was a scientific, technical, and economic challenge of such magnitude that it could not be solved by one single nation.

Some space enthusiasts started to look for an international platform where they could meet, share, connect, and exchange their studies, their thoughts, their visions beyond the limits of national ambitions and politics.

The initiative leading to the foundation of the International Astronautical Federation {IAF) dates back to the summer of 1949, when the Board of Directors of the German Gesellschaft fur Weltraumforschung {GfW) adopted a resolution stating that “the push into interplanetary space and the future research by space flight is an international task.” and recommended an international meeting of all societies researching in this field to ?oster friendly relations and an exchange of experiences and ideas. This resolution was circulated to the astronautical societies around the world, to immediately find positive feedback, which led to the organ1zation of their first public gathering in Paris in 1950, known as the first International Astronautical Congress. At this first Congress the delegates unanimously voted a resolution in which they expressed wishes to create an international federation to keep contact and secure future international cooperation.

The positive outcome of this experience led to a second Congress in 1951 in London, where the original participants, along with new delegations from other countries, officially founded the International Astronautical Federation (IAF).

The founding members from Argentina, Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and United States, committed to organize the International Astronautical Congress on a yearly basis and meet regularly. During the Cold War period, the IAF Congress soon became the one and only forum where space enthusiasts from all over the world could meet.

Origins of the International Astronautical Federation in the 1950s (click to see the entire photo album – image: IAF)


Since its establishment, the IAF has been promoting dialogue and cooperation, establishing itself as a key actor in the space community. Today, with its 433 members from 72 countries, the IAF is truly the world’s leading space advocacy body. Following its theme – “A space-faring world cooperating for the benefit of humanity” and its motto “Connecting @II Space People” – the Federation keeps advancing knowledge about space and fostering the development and application of space assets by promoting global cooperation. As organizer of the world’s premier space event, the International Astronautical Congress (IAC), and other gatherings on specific topics, the IAF is at the heart of the international space dialogue.

Capitalizing on its many years of expertise and relying on its worldwide network of volunteers, the IAF over the past years has been expanding its scope and reach, focusing also on inclusiveness in the space sector, through its “3G” (Geography, Generation, Gender) Diversity initiative, creating a butterfly effect resonating within the global space community.

Entrance to the 72nd International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Dubai in October 2021 (photo: author)

The Future

Bringing with us our 70 years of history, we look now to the future: a future that will surely be exciting but also challenging, with many revolutionary developments in technology, science, society, and geopolitics.

I am convinced that the IAF will continue to play a major role in the global space arena by supporting global space governance, propelling the global space economy, and fostering global space advocacy.

No matter what the future will hold, the IAF is committed to connecting @II space people for a space faring world cooperating for the benefit of humankind.

Elon Musk at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Adelaide in 2017 (photo: author)

Future IAF events

Groundstation.Space attends several IAF events every year, including the International Astronautical Congress IAC 2022 in Paris and IAC 2023 in Baku.

See our events page for the next IAF events and meet us there!

Remco Timmermans

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