Skip to main content

Space, Outer

Space, Outer

I. Political and Legal AspectsLeon Lipson


II. Social and Psychological AspectsDonald N. Michael



The fame of the first achievements in outer space in the 1950s and the high cost of space pro-grams have encouraged a general belief that a new and radically different area of human activity has opened up. Yet the scientific principles of space flight were known, even though much new technology was required; communication to and from spacecraft differ more in degree than in kind from communication between other terminals; and the uses of spacecraft as aids to navigation and weather forecasting are extensions of familiar activities. Even the military uses of space, in their best-known applications (missiles, observation), seem to show no qualitative difference from similar activities conducted closer to earth. What distinguishes space activity is a combination of factors: the historic grip of space flight on man‘s imagination, the widespread though premature anxieties over military threat, and the need felt in the Soviet Union and the United States to concentrate national space activities on the space race. The one intrinsically unique aspect of space activity—the possibility of contact with extraterrestrial life, and especially with sentient or intelligent beings—has not yet had important political or legal effects. (See, however, the discussion of “contamination” below.)

After the dawn of space flight (October 4, 1957, Sputnik i) common opinion often held incompatible beliefs: one, that there was a deep and lasting rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States in space technology; two, that space activity so transcended earthly divisions that international political competition was inconceivable. This antinomy in politics was matched by one in law: legal scholars often doubted that man-made law could apply to events in outer space but also insisted that treaties should be made drawing up a detailed code to govern space activities.

The political antinomy came from a figurative flight to Utopia, which wistfully attempted to exclude human politics from the previously unsoiled depths of the universe. The legal antinomy rested on an underestimation of the flexibility and reach of existing law, on the assumption that international lawmaking could achieve results for which the international political climate was not ready, and on exaggeration of the importance of explicit formal agreement. After several years of partial accomplishment and growing familiarity, these contradictions faded.

As the political and legal issues raised by the advent of space flight came into clearer view, the official positions developed by states and (with varying fidelity) espoused by scholars and other citizens fell into several categories marked off by three different principles of cleavage.

The first cleavage separated states along the lines of the cold war: the two leading adversaries in the cold war were also the two space powers, whose allies, friends, and clients rejoiced in their princi-pals‘ respective achievements and tended to agree with their respective contentions on international registration, satellite reconnaissance, the orbiting of nuclear devices, and so forth.

The second cleavage separated the two major space powers from all other states. As launchers, they had a common interest in minimizing the legal problem raised by “overflight” or in obtaining general acknowledgment of a permissive rule. As retrievers, they had a common interest in maintaining a claim to the recovery and return of “their” objects accidentally fallen from space onto the territory of third states or elsewhere. As trackers of spacecraft, they wished to obtain the cooperation of third states, allies as well as the nonaligned. As potential defendants, they wished to keep some limits on the extent or criteria of liability for damage caused by space activities. These common interests sometimes produced tacit agreement, or at least parallel unilateral action, during the bitterest days of the cold war.

The third cleavage, less conspicuous but important in the background, divided jurists according to the propensities of their legal systems and training. Those in the Anglo-American tradition tended to be suspicious of comprehensive codes and to celebrate the virtues of step-by-step experience in the new field of space law. Those trained in Continental legal systems usually assigned more importance to theoretical harmony and to systematic completeness.

Political problems

While the major concern was the threat to national security posed by space flight, attention also focused on the possibilities for international operation, control, regulation, and inspection, and serious consideration was given to the prestige and influence gained by space prowess. Some smaller political problems, not treated here, were raised by economic aspects of space activity and by the use of space for communications.

Some of the political and legal debates in the late 1950s over space flight resembled the discussions that had been held in the first decade of the century about the status and control of aircraft. The most significant differences were due to the intervening historical developments—two world wars, nuclear weapons, increased interdependence of nations, more comprehensive and rapid communication, denser international organization, and the somewhat greater general awareness of political opportunities and difficulties.

The military threat . Weapons of mass destruction were considered the chief space danger to national security (the “drop threat”). Although well-known tests of long-range ballistic missiles had preceded the launching of artificial earth satellites, the apparent separateness of space activity seemed to create an important distinction between the limitation or control of earth-based delivery systems and future bombs in orbit or missiles from the moon. Wide but not universal international agreement was reached on different aspects of the drop threat: in 1963 the agreement to ban nuclear tests included a provision against nuclear weapons test explosions or other nuclear explosions in outer space, and in the same year Resolution 1884 (xvm) of the United Nations General Assembly expressed the unanimous opposition of the member states to the stationing in orbit of weapons of mass destruction. The placing of weapons on the moon or other celestial bodies was also abjured to the extent that a resolution of the General Assembly has a binding effect.

On several occasions some nonlaunching states, supported at first by the Soviet Union, sought to obtain international agreement restricting space to “peaceful uses.” Such a restriction, if put into effect, might have differed from a ban on weapons by prohibiting certain “nonweapons” military uses of space, in particular, the use of satellites for photographic or other observation of the earth. Opponents of the restriction refused to concede the equation of “peaceful” and “nonmilitary” and pointed out that if “peaceful” could be taken to mean “nonaggressive,” the task of characterization of any particular space activity would be as difficult as the notorious problem of characterizing aggression. They also contended that, in the absence of agreement on effective inspection of space payloads and effective data monitoring, an international prohibition would tend to restrain the most conscientious party or the party with the loosest security controls while leaving violators unchecked. The issue lost current political importance in 1963—1964, when, for reasons not yet fully clear, Soviet representatives ceased to press the point in the United Nations. In 1966, the treaty drafts submitted to the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space by both the United States and the Soviet Union provided that celestial bodies should be used for peaceful purposes only; the U.S. draft would have protected the use of military personnel, facilities, or equipment for scientific research or other peaceful purposes. The final text of the treaty, opened for signatures on January 27, 1967, ac-corded with the U.S. draft as to military personnel but protected equipment and facilities only when necessary for peaceful exploration.

International cooperation . Some suggestions were put forward in the late 1950s by private citizens and by officials in a few smaller states for international ownership, launching, guidance, or comprehensive regulation of space flight. These suggestions gained fewer adherents and less prominence than had attended the unsuccessful Acheson-Lilienthal-Baruch proposals, made ten years before, for international control of atomic energy. In the current international atmosphere neither of the two states having launch capability would relinquish its power to an international body, even if such a body, equipped with the necessary strength and skill, could be created.

The participation of some nonlaunching states in space activity was necessary for technical purposes and was thought politically desirable. The United States, and to a far smaller extent the Soviet Union, concluded agreements with third states for the use of their territories (and sometimes of facilities and manpower) to track the flight of space vehicles and spacecraft. The United States, followed to a negligible extent by the Soviet Union, arranged to launch, in U.S. vehicles, pay-loads prepared by scientists and engineers of other states. Some technical training was given to, and some technical assistance was received from, experts from nonlaunching states; again the United States played the leading role.

An international system of limited registration of flight plans and payloads was put into effect under indirect supervision of the United Nations through a voluntary registry maintained by the secretary general. Two overlapping groups of European states formed organizations for cooperative space activity (European Launcher Development Organization, which includes Australia, and European Space Research Organization); they made slow progress against financial and technical difficulties, somewhat increased by political uncertainty in European international relations. Finally, the process of debate carried on in the organs of the UN General Assembly, concerned with space activities from time to time, served as a relatively informal and unorganized means of information, explanation, justification, exhortation, and pressure.

Prestige and influence . The spectacular immediate political effect of the opening of the space age was a gain of prestige for the Soviet Union, immeasurable but generally conceded. The positions were asymmetrical: the United States would not have gained as much had Vanguard preceded Sputnik. In some quarters of international public opinion the Soviet “first” was taken for general technological superiority, or even for scientific superiority, over the United States; remoter inferences were often suggested, and occasionally drawn, in favor of the Soviet social, economic, and political system. As time passed, the effect of this type of political gain receded.

Soviet publicists actively exploited the Soviet lead in propulsion development, calling attention to the connection between satellite launching capability and missile thrust, between earth-to-space guidance of satellites and missile command and control, and between retrieval of satellite capsules and targeting of delivery systems. Space propaganda served as an adjunct to nuclear diplomacy. The United States countered with its conspicuous shift of substantial appropriations to space research and development, its organizational decisions, and the conscientious openness of much (not all) of its space activities.

For several years the Soviet space launches followed an augmented course in which each of the publicized launches was reported as an advance over the last. After 1964 the ostensible frequency of such “topping” launches thinned out; it was not clear whether policy had changed or success had proved more elusive. Space prowess could still be called into political use, however; thus, in 1966, as a mark of special attention and respect, Presi-dent de Gaulle of France was allowed to watch a Soviet space launching.

Legal problems

For descriptive purposes only, some of the problems of what came in 1958-1960 to be known as space law can be artificially separated from their political context, function, and purpose.

The legal question that deserved logical priority, in the opinions of some European and Latin American scholars, was the question whether human law, by its nature, could reach beyond its terrestrial origin. Within a few years this question was either answered in the affirmative or passed over as affording little guidance to those who sought to cope with current and foreseeable problems of space activity. Encounter with new forms of sentient or intelligent life would, it was acknowledged, revive the question in a different form.

A smaller version of this threshold question was whether international law applied of its own force to outer-space activities. Opinion coalesced, holding that international law was relevant where applicable; but this position was necessarily weakened by general doubts about the procedural efficacy of international law to the extent that it could be regarded as a body of rules. State officials dealing with the problem, even indirectly, spoke as if they did not regard international law as irrelevant to space activities, and in the United Nations explicit links between existing international law and the permissibility of space activities received early acknowledgment.

Exclusive sovereignty . The most urgent legal problem in space flight was resolved, at least for the time being, by tacit but widespread agreement. The question was whether overflights at very high altitudes were an impermissible infringement of the exclusive sovereignty of an unconsenting underlying state. Two roughly analogous precedents pointed in different directions. (The Antarctic Treaty of 1959, where previous territorial claims were suspended, represented a somewhat different legal situation.) In the law of the sea, centuries of accommodation had produced a complex of principles, of which the most important was that, beyond internal waters and the territorial sea, the high seas were accessible to all. In air law, after some controversy at the beginning of the twentieth century, a regime of giving nearly absolute airspace sovereignty to underlying states had evolved.

Space flight promised to present many of the same problems of security that had contributed to the establishment of exclusive sovereignty in air space; yet no state protested space overflights officially, and both scholarly and diplomatic opinion developed in the direction of favoring free access. The absence of protest was due in part to the re-ported peaceable character of early satellite pay-loads, and it may have owed something to the nearly world-wide enthusiasm for space exploits. What was decisive, however, in precluding the ex-tension of air-space sovereignty was the awareness of certain physical facts: first, that at very high altitudes the notional cone of hypothetical “national” space would sweep over vast and changing regions with the earth‘s rotation and movement in orbit; second, that the “drop threat” from space weapons would not necessarily come from directly above a state‘s territory until the threatening object had descended to fairly low altitudes; third, that the defensive measures that a threatened state might take against a threat from space might, therefore, have to be applied at a point not directly above that state‘s territory.

Although the time during which unprotested space flights occurred was rather short, and the number of instances perhaps too small for the development of a principle of customary international law, freedom of access was proposed in early discussions in the UN and was accepted by Resolution 1962 (xvm), December 13, 1963, which also declared that celestial bodies were not subject to exclusive appropriation by any state.

Altitude boundary . To many observers, freedom of access in outer space could not be harmonized with a continuing regime of air-space sovereignty unless an altitude boundary were fixed between air space and outer space. Several such boundaries were unofficially suggested. Writers sympathetic to space activities or particularly alert to the interests of launching states tended to favor a lower boundary than did others. Many of the suggestions, framed in candid recognition of the arbitrary character of any demarcation, set boundaries at a round number (20, 50, 100, 200) of miles or kilometers of altitude. One popular figure, 50 miles, would put the boundary well below the perigee of most orbiting satellites. A few proposals, based on physical determinants of orbital and escape velocity, would produce a family of curves of altitude boundaries dependent on physical variables (temperature, metallurgical characteristics, velocity, etc.).

Those who took another approach, loosely termed “functional,” wanted to abandon the effort to arrive at an altitude boundary, on the ground that distinctions so drawn were irrelevant to the objectives underlying the regime of prohibition or per-mission. They recommended a consideration of the functions performed by spacecraft, with a generally permissive rule qualified by exceptions based on particular activities. Discussion of the relative merit of the two main approaches tended to lead to larger questions, also unsolved, of international registration, inspection, and regulation.

Particular issues . Through Resolution 2130 (xx) in 1965 the UN General Assembly urged the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space “to continue with determination” the drafting of agreements on assistance to and return of astronauts and space vehicles and on liability for damage caused by objects launched into outer space. Both major launching powers had proposed provisions for possible international agreements on these subjects.

The major points of controversy over the duty to assist astronauts and to return astronauts and space vehicles were related to apprehensions of military activity. At one point a Soviet draft would have excluded the duty to return a space vehicle on which equipment for the gathering of intelligence data had been found; Soviet drafts were also less exigent with regard to the duty to return astronauts, unless their landing on another state‘s terri-tory or on the high seas should have resulted from accident, distress, or emergency. Draftsmen may have had to balance the national interest in being a space power with the national interest in maintaining secrecy. Minor problems concerned the applicability of duties and rights to astronauts, vehicles, and equipment launched by associations of states or by private entities.

UN Resolution 1962 (xvm) of December 1963 provided that each launching state and each state from whose territory a space object was launched should be liable for damage done to foreign states or their citizens. The resolution did not specify whether liability should be strict or imposed only in the event of fault; whether indirect consequences were to be compensated; whether liability should be unlimited in amount or limited to some predetermined maximum; or whether contributory negligence would be a defense. Rival drafts submitted to UN committees (by Hungary and the United States) took up some of these details. The possibility of agreement on substantive principles was overshadowed by the likelihood that at least some states would not agree in advance to submit disputes to third-party adjudication.

The scientific communities gave early warning to governments that space activities might inadvertently threaten harm to beings other than the astronauts—to other human space users, to extra-terrestrial life, if any, and even (by back-contamination) to life on earth. They also wished to protect for future research the environment of the moon and other celestial bodies. The two large launching states announced from time to time that they were taking precautions to protect the extraterrestrial environment. Agreement on an international standard; to be internationally enforced, was rendered difficult by the fear that arguments against allegedly harmful space activities might be used in an effort to block other states from carrying on activities to which the real objection was based on other motives.

Leon Lipson



American Bar Foundation (1960) 1961 Report to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration on the Law of Outer Space. Chicago: The Foundation. → Prepared by Leon Lipson and Nicholas deB. Katzenbach.

Christol, Carl Q. 1966 The International Law of Outer Space. Washington: Government Printing Office.

Cooper, John C. 1947 The Right to Fly. New York: Holt.

Haley, Andrew G. 1963 Space Law and Government. New York: Appleton.

Jenks, C. Wilfred 1958 The Common Law of Mankind. New York: Praeger.

Jessup, Philip C.; and Taubenfeld, Howard J. 1959 Controls for Outer Space and the Antarctic Analogy. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Mcdougal, Myres S.; Lasswell, Harold D.; and Vlasio, Ivan A. 1963 Law and Public Order in Space. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.

U.S. Library of Congress, Legislative Reference Service 1961 Legal Problems of Space Exploration: A Symposium . . . . Prepared by Eilene Galloway. 87th Congress, 1st Session. Senate Document No. 26. Washington: Government Printing Office.

U.S. Library of Congress, Legislative Reference Service 1965 International Cooperation and Organization for Outer Space: Staff Report. 89th Congress, 1st Session. Senate Document No. 56. Washington: Government Printing Office.


There are few topics in the social sciences without implications for space activities—from the behavior of human nerve fibers exposed to radiation to social systems exposed to ideological competition. Thus, we shall limit this article to research on space activities, as such, that are under way, contemplated, or needed and to those impacts and implications that are, or are expected to be, uniquely related to space activities that have been given special emphasis by them. Under psychological aspects we shall review studies pertinent to astronaut behavior; under social aspects we shall consider various implications of space activities for people and society.

Psychological aspects

Information about psychological challenges for man in space derives from both ground-based studies and actual experiences in space. Neither source of information is presently adequate for estimating the psychological challenges that may face men on flights now expected to be technologically feasible in the next two decades or so. Men have actually been exposed to space for only relatively short periods, but flights are anticipated that will last months, perhaps more than a year. Also, most long flights will have crews of more than one man. But so far, there is limited experience with multiperson crews closely confined in stressful circumstances while deeply dependent on one another. From exposure to the real space environment we have learned little to make us confident about the effects, over long time periods, of isolation, group performance under stress and close confinement, weightlessness, etc. Historical evidence from other unusual environments is suggestive, but these environments appear to differ importantly from the combination of circumstances expected to de-fine the astronauts‘ situation.

Ground-based simulation studies are inherently seriously limited in their predictive utility: the subjects know they are on earth, that the experiment will be terminated at their wish, and that they can never be deliberately threatened with death or even serious physical or psychological damage. Moreover, the utility of present research is limited to some extent by the caution of space program sponsors regarding the publication of data or the under-taking of research that might complicate political or public support assumed to depend on the validity of optimistic assertions about the abilities of man in space or that might give support to those pressing for greater emphasis on unmanned space research. This is not to assert that simulated space environment studies have demonstrated overwhelming human inadequacies or that most of the studies that are reported are inferior in quality. But it is recognized within the small fraternity of re-searchers working on these matters that not all studies are done that ought to be, not all the results are released as quickly as scientific canons require, and not all publicized studies are as definitive or successful as public relations officers claim.

Nevertheless, present studies merit review for what they reveal about both our knowledge and our ignorance and because, while they do not tell us much about what man may not withstand psychologically, they do give us important information about what he can do in this strange and difficult environment. First, we shall review psychological aspects of the manned space experiments and then those ground-based studies not outmoded by actual astronaut experiences.

Space studies . The study of animals played an important part in the preliminary stages of the manned space flight program and will probably do so in more advanced stages, especially when it is time to learn the psychophysiological effects of pro-longed exposure to space radiation, such as that occurring in the Van Allen belts.

Chimpanzee training and performance. One chimpanzee carried out a discrete avoidance procedure superimposed on a schedule requiring continuous avoidance behavior while riding a 136.2-nautical mile-high ballistic trajectory; the other performed a five-component, multiple-operant conditioning schedule while orbiting the earth twice. In addition to demonstrating that men would be able to perform in the capsule environment, the data demonstrated that both behavioral and physio-logical measures must be made in order to evaluate completely space flight performance (Rohles et al. 1963). Perhaps more important in the long run, the success of the total and continuous environment control technique used to program the activities of the chimps provided the design for the 152-day human encapsulation experiment described below. [See Learning, articles on Instrumental Learningand Avoidance Learning.]

Astronaut selection and performance. The experiences of American and Soviet astronauts, the criteria for their selection, and the methods of training seem to have been rather similar, with the exception of the Russians‘ use of conditioned response methodology described below (U.S. Manned Spacecraft Center 1963, pp. 171-198; Volynkin et al. 1962). However, unless otherwise specified, what follows refers to the initial American program, about which there is more detailed information.

Both nations decided that, lacking foreknowledge of required performance characteristics, prospective astronauts should have proven themselves to be highly successful in activities that seemed to have exposed them to not unrelated stresses and performance requirements, for example, piloting high performance jet aircraft.

The psychological study of the first American astronauts was divided into three phases: (1) interviews and tests assessing personality factors possibly relevant to later stress responses, (2) repeated application of tests before and after particular training events and during more relaxed control situations, and (3) intensive evaluation before and after suborbital and orbital flights (Korchin & Ruff 1964).

Psychiatric interviews, psychological tests, and observations of behavior, lasting 30 hours, were made during the screening stress experiments. Out of 55 candidates the 32 chosen for the final phase of the selection program were rated on a 10-point scale in each of 17 psychological categories. They were tested on 13 different measures of motivation and personality and 12 measures of intellectual functions and special aptitudes. Psychological data were also obtained from 6 stress tests: an uncomfortable pressure suit at simulated 65,000-foot altitude, extreme isolation, a complex behavior simulator, acceleration, noise and vibration, and heat.

Tests and interviews revealed that the candidates were comfortable, mature, and well-integrated individuals. Scores on reality testing, adapt-ability, and drive were particularly high. There was little evidence of unresolved conflicts sufficiently serious to interfere with expected functions. Suggestions of overt anxiety were rare. Defenses were effective, tending to be obsessive-compulsive. Most were direct, action-oriented individuals who spent little time introspecting. Unconscious feelings of inadequacy in sexual or other areas appeared to be no more or less common than in other occupational groups. Only 2 of the 32 finalists had lived in large cities before entering college. Twenty were either only or eldest children. (Of the 7 astronauts, 4 were named “Junior.”) Reasons for volunteering for the space program were a combination of professionalism, love of adventure, and anticipated career benefits. The mean full-scale Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) IQ was 133. Reactions to physiological stresses correlated positively with the psychiatric evaluations. Candidates who ranked highest on psychological variables tended to do best in acceleration, noise and vibration, heat, and pres-sure chamber runs. Their stress tolerance levels were among the highest of the hundreds previously subjected to these procedures (Korchin & RufT 1964).

The astronauts themselves showed strong needs for achievement and mastery. They responded to stress with renewed effort and improved performance. Being passed over for the first flight was the hardest problem to cope with for most of them. In most cases, immediate preflight anxiety appeared more related to concern that the flights be a success than to fear of injury or death. Confidence that their past experience and intensive training prepared them for any emergency accounted for much of their ability to control anticipatory anxiety. Preflight to postflight changes in performance were rather small but larger than those produced during training. Compared to the preflight state, after the flights they tended to be somewhat less energetic and clear-thinking and somewhat more anxious; but they were more warmly related to people—according to their estimate of themselves on a four-point scale of adjectives (Ruff & Korchin 1964).

Analysis of the data in the light of actual astronaut performance seems to indicate the following: (1) Excellent health is requisite, but physiological stress tolerance, especially to acceleration and heat, can be somewhat de-emphasized. (2) Because he is involved in a complex organization and in complex technical activities, the astronaut needs technical knowledge and administrative and executive skills. (3) The astronaut‘s role as hero, the related loss of preflight and postflight privacy, and the tense atmosphere when preparing for the flight necessitate considerable social competence. (4) Knowledge of the resources men will use for handling problems seems more useful than knowledge of the problems themselves for predicting how men will tolerate a stressful mission. (5) None of the aptitude, intelligence, or personality variables assessed seems importantly related to performance. Individual differences among the astronauts were not reflected in differences of performance. Since the flights were all successful, the number small, and the men very carefully preselected, even be-fore the final screening, and then intensively trained in specific skills for three and a half years, this is not surprising. [See Engineering Psychology; Industrial Relations, article on Industrial and Business Psychology; Psychology, article on Applied Psychology.]

It remains to be seen whether variations in these personality variables, operating in other astronauts and expressed in future administrative and space environments, will correlate significantly with performance.

Russian astronauts. It appears that the basis for final selection of the Russian astronauts was similar to the American procedures. It was important to identify those candidates with the most superior memories, the greatest presence of mind, the best ability to shift their attention from one concern to another, and the greatest capacity to develop finely coordinated movements (“Pervyi pol‘et cheloveka v kosmicheskoe prostranstvo” 1961).

The important difference in training methods was the extensive use by the Russians of conditioned response methodology to elicit in their astronauts behavior corresponding to that displayed during exposure to training stresses and to build appropriate conditioned responses to them. The same techniques were used to elicit behavior characteristic of previous stressful situations and to inhibit this behavior if it was inappropriate for the space mission or to reinforce it if it was not (Gorbov 1962). The Russians now feel that inadequate training of their cosmonauts‘ vestibular apparatus was the chief shortcoming of early Soviet space flights. Present training programs are rectifying this. [See Learning, especially the article on Classical Conditioning.]

The Russians continuously telemetered 12 measures of biological and psychological states, including electroencephalogram (EEC), electrocardiogram (EKG), electromyogram (EMG), electro-oculargram (EOG), and dermogalvanic response (DGR). They found no significant variations between these measures and data collected in simulated environments during preflight training (Gorbov 1962). The Americans telemetered psychobiological data on bipolar EKG, blood pressure, temperature, and respiration. These provided no special psychological insights (U.S. Manned Space-craft Center 1963, pp. 309-326).

Laboratory studies—isolation . Concern over human performance under lengthy confinement in cramped quarters and with limited sensory stimulation has led to studies in environments reproducing some of the expected circumstances. These studies usually last from a few days to 30 days and use single subjects and two-man to four-man crews; they indicate that operator reliability can be maintained if there is a regular work-rest schedule and a reasonable amount of activity. Subjects‘ morale and motivation have remained unexpectedly high. However, postsimulation studies have demonstrated that during each multiman-crew experiment previously innocuous mannerisms become irritating. Hostility was acknowledged during de-briefings and was reported in diaries but not during the simulated missions. Hostility was overtly expressed toward personnel outside the “space chamber”: as time went on subjects grew to feel that those outside were giving inadequate support. Hostility toward those outside the cabin also gradually built up during the 7-day simulated flights involving single subjects. During the 30-day simulations, subjects experienced various aberrations in different degrees, all of which reduced operator proficiency (Simons et al. 1963; U.S. School of Aerospace Medicine I960; 1961).

The longest time covered by a known encapsulation experiment was 152 days. A single subject lived in a programmed environment. Chains of behaviors were arranged so that weak, unreliable, or unreinforcing behaviors associated with necessary tasks were early components, while the most reinforcing activities were located at the ends of the chains and only attainable by performing the earlier activities in a predetermined sequence (Findley et al. 1963). Among the findings were the following: Increased frequency of sleep coupled with decreased duration of sleep casts doubt on the utility of fixed work-rest cycles for long space flights. Creative and intellectual activities fell off over time, probably a result of social isolation. Reading and listening to music retained a similar level of activity throughout. The intensity of complaints increased; during the final stages, the subject showed considerable paranoid-type ideation (from which recovery was rapid following completion of the experiment). Increased frequency and duration in the use of toilet facilities; increased negative complaints, somatic complaints, and re-quests for health items; increased frequency of sleeping rather than following the full program of activities; increased duration of dessert eating; and decreased creative manual and verbal activities all indicated progressive behavioral deterioration during the experiment.

Vigilance, monitoring, boredom, and fatigue. Long space missions may alternate between long periods of boredom and long periods of extreme activity, both of which can produce fatigue that may crucially degrade performance on precisely those tasks that make it necessary to have a man on board in the first place. Real and simulated astronaut performance, as affected by these factors, is compatible with previous work; for example, tasks using gross discrete cues are more resistant to fatigue than tasks using minute cues, for which vigilance and alertness are necessary (U.S. School of Aerospace Medicine 1961; Hauty 1958). But findings from simulation studies and from flights already made emphasize our limited understanding of these factors and the need for studies that extend over long time periods (Hartman 1961, pp. 298-299). Vigilance is adversely affected by fatigue, and in some cases during periods of deterio-rated vigilance and considerable fatigue subjects have estimated their own competence as much higher than it actually was (Simons et al. 1961). Motivation and previous experience with monotonous environments and especially with the experience of performing throughout a diurnal cycle are important; for example, six experienced pilots maintained performance at consistently high levels over 7-day simulated flights (Simons et al. 1963).

Man is not a good “watch-keeper.” However, vigilance is highly susceptible to fatigue, and fatigue may be more easily dispelled in space since considerably less sleep seems required in a weightless environment. Nevertheless, long space trips will have to be organized so that detection of very low signal rates will not be the task of humans. [See Attention; Fatigue; Time, article on Psychological Aspects.]

Weightlessness and hypergravity. Some people are emotionally discomforted by the experience of weightlessness, but so far trained astronauts have not been psychologically discommoded either by weightlessness or hypergravity produced by acceleration or deceleration.

Long-term effects of weightlessness are of considerable concern. Loss of that sensory input produced by the force of gravity acting on the body‘s receptors may combine with other stresses and deprivations to affect deleteriously the astronaut‘s psychomotor state during gravity-free exposure, particularly when he is suddenly subject to several times the force of earth‘s gravity during the critical period of re-entry into the atmosphere prior to landing. There are plans to study the effects of weightlessness over long periods of time in manned orbiting laboratories.

Floating the subject in a tank of water can produce partial simulation of weightlessness. A 7-day hydrodynamic environment study indicated gross disruption in psychomotor performance, which might be sufficient to prevent the performance of critical tasks during re-entry. There also was evidence that less sleep may be required and perhaps less fatigue experienced than in an earth environment (U.S. School of Aerospace Medicine 1961).

Compound environmental stress. Essentially unstudied is the evaluation and measurement of the physiological and psychological effects of simultaneous exposure to multiple stresses. This situation needs detailed understanding so that adverse combinations of stress can be eliminated or minimized through appropriate design of the astronaut‘s environment. The small amount of data available indicates that psychological effects are not additive even when the physiological variables measured are affected additively (Dean & McGlothlen 1962). Nor is it presently known how to establish tolerance criteria for the various characteristics of a given stress, such as magnitude, duration, and rate of onset, much less for combinations of stresses. Since weightlessness will probably be an important contributor to stress, valid studies will probably require an orbiting laboratory. [See Stress.]

Further problem areas . Formidable training and selection problems lie ahead. Environmental and operating-load stress intensities that are sustainable for short periods may be too great for effective performance as flights lengthen. Selecting and training multiple-man teams whose members can tolerate one another over long periods of en-forced proximity present a new area for research. Means must be discovered for dealing with the psychological consequences of long periods of isolation and danger. To this end, induced hibernation and the use of drugs will doubtless be explored.

Detecting and developing capacities for adaptation to unusual environments is another area for psychological research. Coping with long periods in space, including coping with physical and symbolic separation from earth, and coping with all the other “artificial” circumstances of life in a space capsule may require “pretailoring” personality types and environments to each other. For many of these studies, the laboratory and the training environment will be the manned orbiting space laboratory, where simulation and reality will converge.

The effects on behavior of intense magnetic fields and prolonged exposure to occasional high-energy cosmic rays need further study. In the United States, no doubt, as equipment improves and the intense controversies concerning priority access to telemetering channel capacity are resolved, the Soviet pattern will be followed and much more in-formation that is useful for understanding the psychology of human behavior in space will be transmitted to earth. Humans under great stress have shown extraordinary physiological and psychological abilities: it may well be that in studying the exertions of astronauts trying to deal with the compound crises that inevitably will face them—perhaps including death—we will come to a better understanding of the psychology of everyday life.

Social implications

Some of the most important present effects of space activities cannot be differentiated from the impact on society of the military missiles from which both United States and Russian space technology has evolved and from the enormous emphasis on science and technology, itself partly sparked by the needs of the space programs. Many of the resources, rationales, and motivations for exploring space on a scale sufficient to produce present social consequences derive from the political-military competition between the Soviet Union and the United States.

We have to speculate almost as much about the current impact of space on society as about potential future consequences. With a few exceptions, neither social scientists nor research fund sources have taken advantage of the opportunities for research that space provides. Before-and-after studies on the social effects of anticipatable space events are few and fragmentary. There have been few longitudinal studies initiated about the influence of space events on the values and behavior of children as well as adults. These facts are revealing in them-selves for estimating the significance of space activities, at least for the American social science community—especially since many of its members were made aware of the research possibilities well before Sputnik (Michael 1957; Mead et al. 1958).

Attitudes and values. A forthright analysis of the present situation is made even more difficult by the frequency of blatant assertions, usually optimistic, often naive, by political, engineering, scientific, and business leaders concerning the social implications of space, about which they have little or no real knowledge. However, the agencies and spokesmen involved have done little to support re-search that could test the validity of these assertions. The United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been somewhat of an exception, since the legislation establishing the agency required that it undertake long-term research assessing the potential peaceful and scientific benefits of space activities. While NASA has been less than enthusiastic in fulfilling this obligation, its establishing legislation has encouraged it to be more systematically self-conscious about its social impact than any other government agency ever has been. Of the small amount of research that has been done on the social implications of space activities, a large part has been supported by NASA.

In the United States, the allocation of funds for space activities and the composition of programs have steadily reflected increasing sensitivity to those political values that are paramount when jobs and constituencies can be affected by the geo-graphic placement of major installations. Political infighting has been intensified by increased competition between corporations seeking major contracts and between the civilian NASA and the U.S. Air Force, which seeks a larger role. There is some in-formal evidence that the Russian program is subject to similar internal competition as to whether the program emphasis should be on manned or un-manned exploration, scientific or military objectives, etc.; but the details are obscure.

The impact of space on public attitudes and values is nominal or minor, at least as far as adults are concerned, although this varies with the interests, education, and values of the responding populations. What few studies there are indicate that Americans were less upset by, but more confused about, the implications of Sputnik than their public spokesmen claimed (Michael 1960). Since then, despite generally favorable American support for space activity, there has been no large percentage of the public that assigns it very high priority compared to other major social issues or that prefers to expend funds on space rather than on more im-mediate social needs (Rohles et al. 1963; Michael 1963). Even among scientists, there is considerable disagreement over the priorities and aims of the space program (“Space Program” 1964). Business executives seem to be the only partial exception to this pattern. They have been consistently more enthusiastic than other groups about space expenditures, but there are several alternative social needs to which even they give higher priority.

The orbiting of Sputnik I caused important changes in views of the world regarding Russian technological capability (U.S. Information Agency 1961). Except for a leveling up of relative positions in space capabilities, the general pattern has prob-ably not fundamentally changed since then. At that time, the general public in Great Britain and France felt that Russia was clearly superior to the United States in over-all scientific accomplishment and that it still would be in ten years. West Ger-many and, with less conviction, Italy viewed the balance in favor of the United States. (That the United States led in some specific sciences was not disputed by any country.) All four nations believed the U.S.S.R. to be ahead in space, and only West Germany thought that the United States would catch up by 1971. The outcomes of particular space missions do not appear to have resulted in fundamental shifts in estimates of the present and long-range destiny and attributes, scientific or otherwise, of either nation (at least as far as the unclassified data indicate).

Education. Sputnik also stimulated a burst of American interest in education. Spurred by competition with the Soviet Union, the United States has placed increased emphasis on improved quality and quantity in science and engineering. To some ex-tent, curriculum improvement has carried over to other educational subjects, and some school systems have rejected alleged progressive education methods in favor of the “fundamentals.”

Because it needs skilled personnel, NASA has initiated an extensive predoctoral training program as well as offering research grants in a variety of scientific areas. Universities most able to further the space agency‘s mission-oriented investment get most of the funds. The size and pattern of NASA‘s funding program, plus the growing appreciation by congressmen of the economic and prestige values of a top academic institution in their district, have substantially deepened controversy about the location and the number of “centers of excellence” to be supported by federal funds (Lindveit 1964).

Through its postdoctoral and doctoral grants, its technician training programs, and its use of local talent to help operate overseas stations, NASA is contributing to education abroad and, hopefully, helping to develop a technician and scientist base in the emerging nations.

One education-related factor contributing to social disruption has been the very high rate of professional obsolescence in the space-oriented indus-tries. Older professionals often must return to school, while recent graduates have an unprecedented opportunity to displace their seniors by virtue of their fresh knowledge.

Civilian economy and entrepreneurship. One persistent American justification for its space pro-gram has been the belief that the new technology can also be applied to civilian life. To date, the carry-over has been limited. The technology is often too expensive for civilian use, and there seem to be few entrepreneurs willing to risk investing in untried technologies to gain new civilian markets. Also, recent studies (generated by curiosity about the low utilization of space technology) suggest that new information moves slowly and informally even through advanced technological organizations.

The aerospace industry is very important in the American economy (and in the Soviet economy as well). It is, in effect, a major government subsidy, and the vast sums expended contribute importantly to American prosperity as well as to diminishing further the traditional and ideologically important distinction between government and the private economy. For the former reason alone, many believe the space program should be continued at the present scale of several billion dollars a year. However, recent concern about program costs prob-ably presage some eclipsing of the space effort by more immediate national needs and more politically attractive ways for spending government funds.

International cooperation. At least 18 major international scientific organizations, half of them private, have space-oriented research projects under way or are planning such research. Many of these arrangements have been bilateral, but relatively few have been multilateral, so that the full international potential of this research area is yet to be exploited (Schwartz 1962). The outstanding space venture involving international cooperation is the effort to operate the U.S. Communications Satellite Corporation, a consortium of 17 nations that will own and operate an international commercial satellite system. Problems pertaining to multinational management of an American corporation are yet to be worked out. [See International Organization.]

Management. The exceeding complexity of space equipment and the development programs have led to new, highly sophisticated, integrative techniques being applied to engineering, operations, and management. These techniques regulate and pace human intellectual action much as assembly lines did human physical action. Maintaining creativity and individuality in a technology dependent on these attributes, but that operates in such ways as to submerge them, presents a significant social problem in the space industry.

In the future. Long-run social implications de-pend on political and technological factors operating essentially independently of space activities. Two decades is a speculative limit, although, given the extensive changes occurring everywhere, even this may be too long for useful forecasts. But within this period earth societies will be confronted by space activities containing a broad range of potential problems and opportunities, and the social science research required to prepare for them will be wide-ranging too (Bloomfield 1962; Michael 1961). A few challenges are outlined here.

Weather. Weather satellites and deep space probes will contribute to better local weather fore-casting and, eventually, to forecasts extending over six months to a year or more. (Large-scale weather modification, if at all possible, is probably more than twenty years off.) If used, accurate local weather forecasts—dependent in part on regular satellite observations—will require radical social reorganization, especially in the newer nations. In particular, farmers will have to change farming styles if they are to take advantage of the forecasts. Distribution, credit, and government administration will all be profoundly modified in consequence. But the inertia of social systems, especially in farm cultures, probably means that for many years the impact of such weather forecasts will be slight in underdeveloped areas. If forecast-oriented behavior is imposed in the interests of productivity, then there will be the usual deep disruptions that go with major cultural changes.

Long-range or short-range predictions of drought, flood, typhoon, etc. will offer new opportunities to protect people and resources. However, predictable disasters will subject governments to intense demands for appropriate action. Political disruption, international humanitarianism, and international blackmail will thereby increase.

Foreknowledge of weather extremes in specific regions and of favorable or adverse growing conditions in different regions producing the same commodity for international sale will mean that private and national profits based on the relative scarcity of fuels or farm products will eventually have to give way to multinational preplanning based on advance information about supply and demand. And new means will have to be invented to compensate for serious national and private economic losses when bad weather is forecast a season in advance for specific resort areas.

Communications. Satellites will increase the number of relatively cheap communications channels; this will provide special opportunities for establishing closer multinational working relationships, with all the socially important advantages and disadvantages of rapid communication. With such inexpensive and convenient facilities, executives will be able to communicate more by telephone and private television rather than struggle with the inconveniences and dangers of physical transportation. Thus the communications satellite may compete with the supersonic jet plane.

Live television in east—west directions is unlikely to develop into a major form of entertainment, since the time differences between major transmitting regions would make viewing inconvenient and tape-recorded programs probably can be more economically transported by aircraft to transmission centers. On the other hand, television transmission in a north—south direction offers a great potential for cultural exchange and education between the Southern Hemisphere and the more developed northern nations. With sufficient research on teaching by television, it might be possible to provide some education for people in preliterate and nonliterate areas now deprived of teachers and of access to visual experience of the larger world. What could be taught this way, and what could be used by the emerging nations to facilitate their cultural development, remains to be discovered. How commercially valuable channels will be provided for such nonprofit use is also an unanswered question.

Satellite video transmission raises disturbing problems about control of what is transmitted and what is received. Opportunities for propaganda, signal jamming, and misinterpretation of the content of another nation‘s programs are at least as great as the opportunities for enhancing international harmony. The audiovisual imagery of different cultures varies in language, pacing, style, and taste. There is much to be learned if this medium is to be used for mutual benefit.

The implications of space activities for peace and war are mostly unclear. Observation satellites, especially those operating under international auspices, should reduce the chances for undetected clan-destine preparation for conventional wars; but within a few years they may be relatively useless for predicting when well-hidden missiles might be launched. The United States and the Soviet Union joined the rest of the United Nations in passing by acclamation UN Resolution 1884, expressing their intention to refrain from orbiting such weapons. As of now, there seems to be no valid argument for lunar bombardment stations. At present, the U.S. Air Force‘s chief argument for putting a man in space is to discover if there is some unexpected military role for him. As with so many other space activities, it will be what is done on earth to solve the problem of the function of warfare that will determine what happens in space.

Values and viewpoints. It is unlikely that presently anticipated space activities will deeply affect the values and viewpoints of very many people on earth. Most people are selectively attentive and tend to organize new experience so that it fits their conventional viewpoints, and this is the way most adults so far have interpreted space activities. Whether the excitement and deep interest that many young people have shown will influence their adult lives—and if so, in what ways—is not known. Certainly, only an infinitesimal portion of today‘s youth will play a direct role in space activities.

Attention to space has made it legitimate to speculate seriously about intelligent extraterrestrial life and to make small efforts to search for it via radio-telescope. The chance of discovering intelligent life in other solar systems by this method is exceedingly slight, and the distance between solar systems is so great that an exchange of messages would very probably take many years at least, even at the speed of light. Thus, there would be no sustained basis for social or psychological involvement with extra-terrestrial intelligent forms. Growing recognition that the universe is very likely populated with sentient intelligence will affect some philosophies and doctrines, but it is no more likely to affect the values of most people than does relativity theory today.

Space-derived scientific discoveries will contribute to major changes in scientific theory about the nature of the universe and of life. What the practical consequences will be is, of course, unknown—most likely the philosophical consequences will be significant for very few. We could better anticipate the social impact if we learned more about how complex and radical ideas are transformed into popular commonplaces and rationalizations. Space activities are an excellent means for such study—if we would grasp the opportunity.

The long-range impact on the average man‘s attitudes and values of following the adventures of men in orbit and on the moon will (as with explorers and heroes in the past) depend on how the society exploits these accomplishments at least as much as it depends on the deeds themselves.

Population control. Contrary to popular fantasy, space will not solve our population problem. The rate of increase in population positively precludes rocketing people off the planet frequently enough and in large enough numbers. Indeed, those who moved to space colonies would have to practice birth control in order not to overcrowd the colonies.

The significant influences that space activities may have for man and his societies over the next two decades most likely will derive from (1) weather satellites; (2) communications satellites; (3) the proliferation of multinational space-oriented institutions; (4) the greater knowledge of human behavior gained from studying the effects of technological change on societies involved in selecting, training, predicting the performance, and studying the behavior under extreme stress of astronaut crews; and (5) the increased attention to, and argument over, national and international social priorities as emphasized by the increased competition among space activities and other programs that need, on an enormous scale, skilled personnel and financial and physical resources.

Donald N. Michael

[See alsoFatigue; Perception, article on Perceptual Deprivation; STRESS.]


Bloomfield, Lincoln (editor) 1962 Outer Space Prospects for Man and Society. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Dean, Robert D.; and Mcglothlen, Carl L. 1962 The Effect of Environmental Stress Interactions on Performance. Seattle, Wash.: Boeing Co., Aerospace Division.

Findley, Jack D.; Migler, Bernard M.; and Brady, Joseph V. 1963 A Long Term Study of Human Performance in a Continuously Programmed Experimental Environment. Technical Report, Space Research Laboratory, Univ. of Maryland. Univ. of Maryland, Institute for Behavioral Research, and Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

Gorbov, F. D. 1962 Certain Problems of Space Psychology. Voprosy psikhologii (Problems of Psychology) [1962], no. 6:3-13. → First published as “Nekotorye voprosy kosmicheskoi psikhologii.” Translated by the U.S. Defense Documentation Center, Alexandria, Va., AD-428547.

Hartman, Bryce O. 1961 Time and Load Factors in Astronaut Proficiency. Pages 278-308 in Symposium on Psychophysiological Aspects of Space Flight, Brooks Air Force Base, Texas, 1960, Psychophysiological Aspects of Space Flight. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Hauty, George T. 1958 Human Performance in the Space Travel Environment. Air University Quarterly Review 10, no. 2:89-107.

Korchin, Sheldon J.; and Ruff, George E. 1964 Personality Characteristics of Mercury Astronauts. Pages 197-207 in G. H. Grosser, H. H. Wexler, and M. Greenblat, The Threat of Impending Disaster: Contributions to the Psychology of Stress. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press.

Lindveit, Earl W. 1964 Science, Education, and Politics. Educational Record 45:41-48.

Mead, Margaret et al. 1958 Man in Space: A Tool and Program for the Study of Social Change. New York Academy of Sciences, Annals 72:165-214.

Michael, Donald N. 1957 Man-Into-Space: A Tool and Program for Research in the Social Sciences. American Psychologist 12:324-328.

Michael, Donald N. 1959 What Saturday Review Readers Think About Man in Space. Saturday Review April 4:60-63. → Analysis of reader responses to de-tailed questionnaire on knowledge of and attitudes about space activities.

Michael, Donald N. 1960 The Beginning of the Space Age and American Public Opinion. Public Opinion Quarterly 24:573-582.

Michael, Donald N. 1961 Proposed Studies on the Implications of Peaceful Space Activities for Human Affairs. Washington: Brookings Institution. → Available through University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Michael, Donald N. 1963 The Problem of Interpreting Attitudes Toward Space Activities. Pages 105-110 in Colloquium on the Law of Outer Space, Proceedings, Fourth. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma, Research Institute.

Pervyi pol‘et cheloveka v kosmicheskoe prostranstvo (The First Manned Flight Into Outer Space ). 1961 Pravda April 25, p. 1, col. 4-6 ff.

Rohles, Frederick H. Jr.; Grunzke, M. E.; and Reynolds, H. H. 1963 Chimpanzee Performance During the Ballistic and Orbital Project Mercury Flights. Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology 56:2-10.

Ruff, George E.; and Korchin, Sheldon J. 1964 Psychological Responses of Mercury Astronauts to Stress. Pages 208-220 in G. H. Grosser, H. H. Wexler, and M. Greenblat, The Threat of Impending Disaster: Contributions to the Psychology of Stress. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press.

Schwartz, Leonard E. 1962 International Organizations and Space Cooperation. Durham, N.C.: Duke Univ., World Rule of Law Center.

Sells, Saul B.; and Berry, Charles A. (editors) 1961 Human Factors in Jet and Space Travel: A Medical-Psychological Analysis. New York: Ronald.

Simons, David G.; Flinn, D. E.; and Hartman, B. 1963 Psychophysiology of High-altitude Experience. Pages 127-164 in Neal M. Burns, R. M. Chambers, and E. Hendler (editors), Unusual Environments and Human Behavior: Physiological and Psychological Problems of Man in Space. New York: Free Press.

Simons, David G.; Henderson, B. W.; and Riehl, J. L. 1961 Personal Experiences in Space Equivalent Flight. Pages 39-49 in Symposium on Psychophysio-logical Aspects of Space Flight, Brooks Air Force Base, Texas, 1960, Psychophysiological Aspects of Space Flight. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Space Program: Results of Poll of Aaas Members. 1964 Science 145:368 only.

U.S. Information Agency 1961 The Image of the U.S. Versus Soviet Science in West European Public Opinion: A Survey in Four West European Countries. Survey Research Studies, Attitude and Opinion Series, We-3. Washington: Government Printing Office.

U.S. Manned Spacecraft Center, Houston, Texas 1963 Mercury Project Summary, Including Results of the Fourth Manned Orbital Flight, May 15 and 16, 1963. Washington: Government Printing Office. → See especially Chapter 10, “Astronaut Training,” and Chapter 18, “Aeromedical Observations.”

U.S. School of Aepospace Medicine 1960 Lectures in Aerospace Medicine, 1960. Brooks Air Force Base, Tex.: U.S. Air Force, Aerospace Medical Center. → See especially Chapter 18, “Psychophysiological Problems of Manned Space Vehicles.” Contains verbatim dialogue of subjects experiencing hallucinations during 7- to 30-day simulated space flights.

U.S. School of Aerospace Medicine 1961 Lectures in Aerospace Medicine, 1961. Brooks Air Force Base, Tex.: U.S. Air Force, Aerospace Medical Center. → See especially Chapter 14, “Experimental Approaches to the Psychophysiological Problems of Manned Space Flight.”

Volynkin, lu. M. et al. 1962 The First Manned Space Flights. Akademiia Nauk SSSR, Otdelenie Biologicheskikh Nauk, Mediko—Biologicheskie issledovaniia [1962]: 203 only. → First published as “Pervye kosmicheskie pol‘ety cheloveka.” Translated by the U.S. Defense Documentation Center, Alexandria, Va., AD-294537.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Space, Outer." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . 27 Apr. 2017 <>.

"Space, Outer." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . (April 27, 2017).

"Space, Outer." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved April 27, 2017 from

Outer Space

Outer Space

Roger Launius

For years the issue of international competition and cooperation in space has dominated much space exploration policy. Indeed, it is impossible to write the history of spaceflight without discussing these themes in detail. The early U.S. space exploration program was dominated by international rivalry and world prestige, and international relations have remained a powerful shaper of the program since. From the time of the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), all of its human spaceflight projectsthe Apollo program, the space shuttle, and the space stationhave been guided in significant part by foreign relations considerations.

In the 1950s and 1960s the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in the "Moon race," an intensely competitive Cold War struggle in which each sought to outdo the other. No cost seemed too high; no opportunity to best the rival seemed too slight. U.S. astronauts planted the American flag on the surface of the Moon when the great moment came in 1969. The irony of planting that flag, coupled with the statement that "we came in peace for all mankind," was not lost on the leaders of the Soviet Union, who realized that they were not considered a part of "all mankind" in this context.


From before the beginning of the space age, U.S. leaders sought to ensure the rights of free passage of spacecraft anywhere in the world. In a critical document, "Meeting the Threat of Surprise Attack," issued on 14 February 1955, a group of academics, industrialists, and the military, working at the request of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, raised the question of the international law of territorial waters and airspace, in which individual nations controlled those territories as if they were their own soil. That international custom allowed nations to board and confiscate vessels within territorial waters near their coastlines and to force down aircraft flying in their territorial airspace. But outer space was a territory not yet defined, and the United States called for it to be recognized as free territory not subject to the normal confines of territorial limits.

"Freedom of space" was extremely significant to those concerned with orbiting satellites, because the imposition of territorial prerogatives outside the atmosphere could legally restrict any nation from orbiting satellites without the permission of those nations that might be overflown. U.S. leaders thought that the Soviet Union might clamor for a closed-access position if the United States was the first to orbit a satellite. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, committed as he was to development of an orbital reconnaissance capability to spy on the Soviet Union as a national defense initiative, worked to ensure that no international bans on satellite overflights occurred.

Eisenhower tried to obtain a "freedom of space" decision on 21 July 1955 when he attended a summit conference in Geneva, Switzerland. The absence of trust among states and the presence of "terrible weapons," he argued, provoked throughout the world "fears and dangers of surprise attack." He proposed a joint agreement "for aerial photography of the other country," adding that the United States and the Soviet Union had the capacity to lead the world with mutually supervised reconnaissance overflights. The Soviets promptly rejected the proposal, saying that it was an obvious American attempt to "accumulate target information."

Eisenhower bided his time and approved the development of reconnaissance satellites under the strictest security considerations. Virtually no one, even those in high national defense positions, knew of this effort. The WS-117L program was the prototype reconnaissance satellite effort of the United States. Built by Lockheed's Missile Systems Division in Sunnyvale, California, the project featured the development of a two-stage booster known as the Agena and a highly maneuverable satellite that took photographs with a wide array of natural, infrared, and other invisible light cameras. This early military space effort, while a closely guarded secret for years, proved critical to the later development of the overall U.S. space program.

The Soviets proved singularly inhospitable to Eisenhower's entreaties for "freedom of space," but that changed in a rather ironic way on 4 October 1957 when Sputnik 1 was launched and ushered in the space age. Since the Soviet Union was the first nation to orbit a satellite, flying as it did over a multitude of nations, including the United States, it established the precedent of "freedom of space." It overflew international boundaries numerous times without provoking a single diplomatic protest. On 8 October 1957, knowing the president's concern over the legality of reconnaissance satellites flying over the Soviet Union, Deputy Secretary of Defense Donald Quarles told the president: "The Russians have done us a good turn, unintentionally, in establishing the concept of freedom of international space." Eisenhower immediately grasped this as a means of pressing ahead with the launching of a reconnaissance satellite. The precedent held for Explorer 1 and Vanguard 1, and the end of 1958 saw established the tenuous principle of "freedom of space."


Sputnik kicked off an intensely competitive space race in which the two superpowers sought to outdo each other for the world's accolades. At a fundamental level a primary reason for NASA's emergence was because of U.S. rivalry during the Cold War with the Soviet Uniona broad contest over the ideologies and allegiances of the nonaligned nations of the world in which space exploration emerged as a major area of contest. From the latter 1940s the Department of Defense had pursued research in rocketry and upper atmospheric sciences as a means of assuring American hegemony. A part of the strategy required not only developing the technology for war, but also pursuing peaceful scientific activities as a means of demonstrating U.S. leadership worldwide. A major step forward came in 1955 when Eisenhower approved a plan to orbit a scientific satellite as part of the International Geophysical Year (IGY) for the period 1 July 1957 to 31 December 1958, a cooperative effort to gather scientific data about the Earth. The Soviet Union quickly followed suit, announcing plans to orbit its own satellite.

The Naval Research Laboratory's Project Vanguard was chosen on 9 September 1955 to support the IGY effort. The Eisenhower administration did so largely because the Vanguard program did not interfere with high-priority ballistic missile development programsit used the non-military Viking rocket as its basiswhile a U.S. Army proposal to use the Redstone ballistic missile as the launch vehicle waited in the wings. The Redstone was being developed by Wernher von Braun and a team of engineers as a response to ballistic missile advances by the Soviet Union and was designed to carry a warhead a distance of two hundred miles on a preplanned trajectory. Project Vanguard enjoyed exceptional publicity throughout the second half of 1955 and all of 1956, but the technological demands upon the program were too great and the funding levels too small to ensure success.

A full-scale crisis resulted when the Soviets launched Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial satellite, as its IGY entry. This had a "Pearl Harbor" effect on American public opinion, creating an illusion of a technological gap and providing the impetus for increased spending for aerospace endeavors, technical and scientific educational programs, and the chartering of new federal agencies to manage air and space research and development.

Sputnik led directly to several critical efforts aimed at "catching up" to the Soviet Union's space achievements, among them: (1) a wide-ranging review of the civil and military space programs of the United States (scientific satellite efforts and ballistic missile development); (2) establishment of a presidential science adviser in the White House who had responsibility for overseeing the activities of the federal government in science and technology; (3) creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency in the Department of Defense and consolidation of several space activities under centralized management; (4) creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to manage civil space operations for the benefit "of all mankind" by means of the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958; and (5) passage of the National Defense Education Act of 1958 to provide federal funding for education in scientific and technical disciplines.

More immediately, the United States launched its first Earth satellite on 31 January 1958, when Explorer 1 documented the existence of radiation zones encircling the Earth. Shaped by the Earth's magnetic field, what came to be called the Van Allen radiation belt partially dictates the electrical charges in the atmosphere and the solar radiation that reaches Earth. The Explorer 1 launch also began a series of scientific missions to the Moon and planets in the latter 1950s and early 1960s.

As a direct result of this crisis, NASA began operations on 1 October 1958, absorbing the resources of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics intact, including its 8,000 employees, an annual budget of $100 million, three major research laboratoriesLangley Aeronautical Laboratory, Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, and Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratoryand two smaller test facilities. NASA quickly incorporated other organizations into the new agency. These included the space science group of the Naval Research Laboratory in Maryland, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory managed by the California Institute of Technology for the U.S. Army, and the Army Ballistic Missile Agency in Huntsville, Alabama. Eventually NASA created several other centers and by the early 1960s had ten located around the country.

NASA began to conduct space missions within months of its creation, and during its first twenty years NASA carried out several major programs:

  1. Human space-flight initiatives: Mercury's single astronaut program (flights during 1961 to 1963) to ascertain if a human could survive in space; Project Gemini (flights 19651966) with two astronauts to practice space operations, especially rendezvous and docking of spacecraft and extravehicular activity (EVA); and Project Apollo (flights 19681972) to explore the Moon.
  2. Robotic missions to the Moon (Ranger, Surveyor, and Lunar Orbiter), Venus (Pioneer Venus ), Mars (Mariner 4, Viking 1 and 2 ), and the outer planets (Pioneer 10 and 11, Voyager 1 and 2 ).
  3. Aeronautics research to enhance airplane safety, reliability, efficiency, and speed (X-15 hypersonic flight, lifting body flight research, avionics and electronics studies, propulsion technologies, structures research, aerodynamics investigations).
  4. Remote-sensing Earth satellites for information gathering (Landsat satellites for environmental monitoring).
  5. Applications satellites for communications (Echo 1, TIROS, and Telstar ) and weather monitoring.
  6. Skylab, an orbital workshop for astronauts.

In no case were these cooperative ventures with other nations, because the Cold War patina that overlay everything done by NASA during its first thirty years necessitated that the United States demonstrate its unique technological capability vis-à-vis the Soviet Union.


When U.S. astronauts planted the flag on the surface of the Moon in 1969 it signaled the final triumph of the United States over the Soviet Union in the space race, nothing more nor less. Indeed, this singular achievement of Project Apollo during NASA's early yearsone that was particularly focused on demonstrating American preeminence as a spacefaring nation to the people of the worldmade possible the cooperative ventures that followed.

The effort to land Americans on the Moon came about because of a unique confluence of political necessity, personal commitment and activism, scientific and technological ability, economic prosperity, and public mood. When President John F. Kennedy announced on 25 May 1961 his intention to carry out a lunar landing program before the end of the decade, he did so as a means of demonstrating U.S. technological virtuosity. In so doing Kennedy responded to perceived challenges to U.S. world leadership not only in science and technology but also in political, economic, and especially military capability.

For the next eleven years Project Apollo consumed NASA's every effort. It required significant expenditures, costing $25.4 billion in 1960s dollars over the life of the program to make it a reality. Only the building of the Panama Canal rivaled the Apollo program's size as the largest nonmilitary technological endeavor ever under-taken by the United States; only the Manhattan Project was comparable in a wartime setting.

The first mission to capture public attention was the flight of Apollo 8. On 21 December 1968 it took off atop a Saturn V booster from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Three astronauts were aboardFrank Borman, James A. Lovell, Jr., and William A. Andersfor a historic mission to orbit the Moon. After Apollo 8 made one and a half Earth orbits, its third stage began a burn to put the spacecraft on a lunar trajectory. It orbited the Moon on Christmas Eve and then fired the boosters for a return flight. It splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean on 27 December. Two more Apollo missions occurred before the climax of the program, but they did little more than confirm that the time had come for a lunar landing.

That landing came during the flight of Apollo 11, which lifted off on 16 July 1969 and, after confirmation that the hardware was working well, began the three-day trip to the Moon. Then, on 20 July 1969 the lunar modulewith astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin aboardlanded on the lunar surface while Michael Collins orbited overhead in the command module. After checkout, Armstrong set foot on the surface, telling millions who saw and heard him on Earth that it was "one small step for [a] manone giant leap for mankind." Aldrin soon followed him out and the two explored their surroundings and planted an American flag but omitted claiming the land for the United States, as had been routinely done during European exploration of the Americas. They collected soil and rock samples and set up scientific experiments. The next day they rendezvoused with the Apollo capsule orbiting overhead and began the return trip to Earth, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on 24 July.

Five more landing missions followed at approximately six-month intervals through December 1972, each of them increasing the time spent on the Moon. The scientific experiments placed on the Moon and the lunar soil samples returned have provided grist for scientists' investigations ever since. The scientific return was significant, but the program did not answer conclusively the age-old questions of lunar origins and evolution. Three of the latter Apollo missions also used a lunar rover vehicle to travel in the vicinity of the landing site, but despite their significant scientific return none equaled the public excitement of Apollo 11.

Even as Project Apollo proceeded, the United States and the Soviet Unionas well as other nationscrafted in 1967 the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, commonly known as the Outer Space Treaty. Its concepts and some of its provisions were modeled on its predecessor, the Antarctic Treaty. Like that document it sought to prevent "a new form of colonial competition" and the possible damage that self-seeking exploitation might cause.

After years of discussion this treaty became a possibility on 16 June 1966 when both the United States and the Soviet Union submitted proposals to the United Nations. While there were some differences in the two texts, these were satisfactorily resolved by December 1966 in private consultations during the General Assembly. This allowed the signature of the treaty at Washington, London, and Moscow on 27 January 1967. On 25 April the U.S. Senate gave unanimous consent to its ratification, and the treaty entered into force on 10 October 1967. This treaty has remained in force and both provides for the nonmilitarization of space and directs use of the Moon and other celestial bodies exclusively for peaceful purposes. It expressly prohibits their use for establishing military bases, installations, or fortifications; for testing weapons of any kind; or for conducting military maneuvers. After the treaty entered into force, the United States and the Soviet Union began to collaborate in several joint space enterprises.


With the successful completion of the Apollo program, everyone realized that the United States was the unquestioned world leader in scientific and technological virtuosity, and continued international competition seemed pointless. President Richard M. Nixon, who took office in January 1969, made it clear that there would be during his leadership no more Apollo-like space efforts. Coupled with this was the desire of those working for a continuation of an aggressive space exploration effort, and the result, predictably, was the search for a new model. While successfully continuing to tie space exploration to foreign relations objectives, now the linkage would be based more on cooperation with allies rather than competition with the nation's Cold War rival. From the 1970s NASA leaders increasingly emphasized visible and exacting international programs. All of the major human space flight efforts, and increasingly as time progressed minor projects, have been identified with international partnerships, particularly with America's European allies.

The European Space Agency was created in 1975 after the space race of the Cold War gave way to worldwide cooperation. Its aims are to provide cooperation in space research and technology. Its ten founding members were France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland. Ireland, Austria, Norway, Finland, and Portugal joined later, and Canada is considered a cooperating state. The agency acts for Europe in a global way by promoting creative interaction and collaboration with other global space agencies, aerospace industries, and civilian space activities. In addition, there is a cooperation of international space law and a practical sharing of resources, research, and personnel.

The Cold War context in which the U.S. civil space program arose in 1958 ensured that foreign policy objectives dominated the nature of the activity. This led to the need for cooperative ventures with U.S. allies. The U.S. Congress said as much in the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, the legislation creating NASA. In this chartering legislation Congress inserted a clause mandating the new space agency to engage in international cooperation with other nations for the betterment of all humankind. This legislation provided authority for international agreements in the broad range of projects essential for the development of space science and technology in a naturally international field. NASA's charter provided the widest possible latitude to the agency in undertaking international activities as the means by which the agreed goal could be reached. The scope of NASA's international program has been fortified since that time by repeated involvement with the United Nations, bilateral and multilateral treaties, and a host of less formal international agreements.

The central question for the United States has always been how best to use space exploration as a meaningful foreign policy instrument. At times an odd assemblage of political, economic, and scientific-technological objectives emerged to guide the development of international programs. The most fundamental of these objectives were the overarching geopolitical considerations, without which there would have been no space exploration program at all, much less a cooperative effort. Cooperative projects in space were thought to create a positive image of the United States in the international setting, an image that in the early years of the space age was related to the greater battle to win the "hearts and minds" of the world to the democratic-capitalistic agenda, and after the Cold War to ensure continued goodwill between the United States and the European community. Such cooperation also was thought to encourage both European unity and American relations to collective European entities.

Equally important, the United States pursued two overarching economic objectives with its cooperative space efforts. First, cooperative projects expanded the investment for any space project beyond that committed by the United States. (Kenneth S. Pedersen, NASA director of international programs in the early 1980s, opined that "by sharing leadership for exploring the heavens with other qualified spacefaring nations, NASA stretched its own resources and was free to pursue projects which, in the absence of such sharing and cooperation, might not be initiated.") Second, cooperative projects might also help to improve the balance of trade by creating new markets for U.S. aerospace products. Finally, a set of important scientific and technological objectives have motivated U.S. international cooperative efforts in space, including the idea that such efforts enhance the intellectual horsepower applied to any scientific question, thereby increasing the likelihood of reaching fuller under-standing in less time. These initiatives also have helped to shape European space projects along lines compatible with American goals, encourage the development of complementary but different experiments from European scientists, and ensure that multiple investigators throughout the international partnership make observations that contribute to a single objective.

In light of these macro-national priorities, NASA has always wrestled with how best to implement the broad international prospects mandated in legislation and polity in line with its own specific history and goals. NASA leadership developed very early, and it remained in place until an international partnership was required to build the International Space Station (ISS) in the early 1990s. As a result of that history, a set of essential features have guided the agency's international arrangements with European partners, among them, that cooperation is undertaken on a project-by-project basis, not on an ongoing basis for a specific discipline or general effort; that each cooperative project must be both mutually beneficial and scientifically valid; that scientific-technical agreement must precede any political commitment; that funds transfers will not take place between partners, but each will be responsible for its own contribution to the project; that all partners will carry out their part of the project without technical or managerial expertise provided by the other; and that scientific data will be made available to researchers of all nations involved in the project for early analysis.

From the NASA leadership's point of view, moreover, cooperative projects offered two very significant advantages in the national political arena. First, at least by the time of the lunar landings, the leadership recognized that every international partnership brought greater legitimacy to the overall project. This important fact was not lost on NASA Administrator Thomas O. Paine in 1970, for instance, when he was seeking outside sponsorship of the space shuttle program and negotiating international agreements for parts of the effort. Second, although far from being a coldly calculating move, agreements with foreign nations could also help to insulate space projects from drastic budgetary and political changes. American politics, which are notoriously rambunctious and shortsighted, are also enormously pragmatic. Dealing with what might be a serious international incident resulting from some technological program change is something neither U.S. diplomats nor politicians relish, and that fact could be the difference between letting the project continue as previously agreed or to dicker over it in Congress and thereby change funding, schedule, or other factors in response to short-term political or budgetary needs. The international partners, then, could be a stabilizing factor for any space project, in essence a bulwark to weather difficult domestic storms.

Perhaps the physicist Fritjof Capra's representative definition of a social paradigm is appropriate when considering the requirements for space projects in the United States in the aftermath of the Apollo Moon landings. While Apollo was seen as an enormous success from a geopolitical and technological standpoint, NASA had to contend with a new set of domestic political realities for its projects thereafter, and a radical alteration had taken place in what Capra described as the "constellation of concepts, values, perceptions and practices shared by a community, which forms a particular vision of reality that is the basis of the way the community organizes itself." International cooperative projects helped NASA cope with that changing social paradigm.


At the same time that critical objectives at both the national and agency levels might be achieved through cooperative space projects both individually and collectively, there were genuine and not inconsiderable impediments to undertaking international programs. The most important was that NASA would lose some of its authority to execute the cooperative program as it saw fit. Throughout its history the space agency had never been very willing to deal with partners, either domestic or international, as equals. It tended to see them more as hindrance than help, especially when they might get in the way of the "critical path" toward any technological goal. R. Buckminster Fuller in his 1982 book Critical Path discussed the evolution of technology involving project scheduling and resource allocation. Assigning an essentially equal-partnership responsibility for the development of some critical system or instrument meant giving up the power to make changes, dictate solutions, and control schedules and other factors. Partnership, furthermore, was not a synonym for contractor managementsomething agency leaders understood very welland NASA was not very accepting of full partners unless they were essentially silent or at least deferential. Such an attitude mitigated against significant international cooperation in space efforts, and difficulties arose whenever any project was undertaken.

In addition to this concern, some technologists at NASA, but even more so at the U.S. Department of State, expressed fears that bringing foreign nations into any significant space project really meant giving those nations technical knowledge that only the United States held. Only a few nations were spacefaring at all, and only a subset of those had launch capabilities. Many American leaders voiced reservations about the advisability of ending technological monopolies. The prevention of technology transfer in the international arena was an especially important issue to be considered.

NASA officials understood that European space leaders were aware of these issues and that the latter understandably took a guarded approach toward dealing with American overtures in space. They also believed that this watch-and-wait attitude was not solely due to the United States, although it may have been the deciding factor, but also related to the unique difficulties of European space activities. Senior NASA officials were also convinced that the history of European involvement in space had been marked by difficulties in obtaining long-term commitments to specific programs in which participating nations had a reasonable part. And long-term, highly focused projects required centralized management capable of enforcing order on a diverse set of interests. Americans recognized that NASA had its own difficulties on this score, but with national and language barriers added in, the demands were daunting. Finally, the costs of involvement in such endeavors with the United States were not inconsiderable. The financial, organizational, and political issues of European space activity had long been understood by leaders in the field, but they had not been fully resolved. Unfortunately, NASA's efforts have long been insufficient to fully resolve them.


From its inception in 1958 to 2000, NASA concluded nearly 2,000 cooperative agreements with other nations for the conduct of international space projects. While most of these were bilateral in focussuch as the very first, which led to the Alouette mission with Canada in 1962some, and increasingly so, have been multinational efforts. These agreements resulted in 139 cooperative science projects with European nations between 1962 and 1997: 29 in the earth sciences, 23 in microgravity and life sciences, and 87 in space sciences.

When this development is explored over time there are some interesting trends. First, there were small numbers of projects in the 1960ssomething to be expectedbut they began to rise precipitously during the late 1960s and peak in the first third of the 1970s. This coincided with the downturn in the NASA budget from a high in 1965 to a low in 1973. In the 1980s and 1990s this trend also accelerated in relation to the political realities of the era.

Is there a correlation between the demise of the NASA budget and increased international cooperative ventures with other nations? Probably, but it is also related to the emphasis on détente and international relations of the Nixon administration in the late 1960s through mid-1970s. This seemed to collapse in the early 1980s, perhaps in relation to the rise of the NASA budget during the Reagan buildup and the renewal of Cold War hostilities. If this is a correct analysis, one would expect the number of cooperative efforts to rise in response to the drastic cuts in the NASA budget undertaken by the Clinton administration in the 1990s. Such was indeed the case, but more in relation to the former Soviet Union than with international partners.


In 1984, as part of its interest in reinvigorating the space program, the Reagan administration called for the development of a space station. In a "Kennedyesque" moment, Reagan declared in his 1984 State of the Union address that "America has always been greatest when we dared to be great. We can reach for greatness again. We can follow our dreams to distant stars, living and working in space for peaceful, economic, and scientific gain. Tonight I am directing NASA to develop a permanently manned space station and to do it within a decade."

The dream of a space station had been omnipresent within NASA since the 1950s, when a station had been envisioned as a necessary out-post in the new frontier of space. The station, however, had been forced to the bottom of the priorities heap in the 1960s and 1970s as NASA raced to the Moon and then went on to build the space shuttle. When the shuttle first flew in April 1981, the space station reemerged as the priority in human space flight. Within three years space policymakers had persuaded Reagan of its importance, and NASA began work on it in earnest.

From the outset both the Reagan administration and NASA intended space station Freedom to be an international program. Although a range of international cooperative activities had been carried out in the past, the station offered an opportunity for a truly integrated effort. The inclusion of international partners, many with rapidly developing spaceflight capabilities, could enhance the effort. In addition, every partnership brought greater legitimacy to the overall program and might help insulate it from drastic budgetary and political changes. Inciting an international incident because of a change to the station was something neither U.S. diplomats nor politicians relished, and that fact, it was thought, could help stabilize funding, schedule, or other factors that might otherwise be changed in response to short-term political needs.

NASA officials pressed forward with international agreements among thirteen nations to take part in the space station Freedom program. Japan, Canada, and the nations pooling their resources in the European Space Agency agreed in the spring of 1985 to participate. Canada, for instance, decided to build a remote servicing system. The European Space Agency agreed to build an attached pressurized science module and an astronaut-tended free-flyer, a vehicle to transport an astronaut and equipment away from a spacecraft. Japan's contribution was the development and commercial use of an experiment module for materials processing, life sciences, and technology development. These separate components, with their "plug-in" capacity, eased somewhat the overall management (and congressional) concerns about unwanted technology transfer.

Almost from the outset, the space station program was controversial. Most of the debate centered on its costs versus its benefits. One NASA official remembered that "I reached the scream level at about $9 billion," referring to how much U.S. politicians appeared willing to spend on the station. To stay within budget, NASA pared away at station capabilities, in the process eliminating functions that some of its constituencies wanted. This led to a rebellion among some former supporters. For instance, the space science community began complaining that the space station configuration under development did not provide sufficient experimental opportunity. Thomas M. Donahue, an atmospheric scientist from the University of Michigan and chair of the National Academy of Science's Space Science Board, commented in the mid-1980s that he thought the government should be honest about the goals of the station, and "if the decision to build a space station is political and social, we have no problem with that but don't call it a scientific program."

Because of the cost challenges, redesigns of space station Freedom followed in 1990, 1991, 1992, and 1993. Each time, the project got smaller, less capable of accomplishing the broad projects envisioned for it, less costly, and more controversial. As costs were reduced, capabilities also had to diminish, and increasingly political leaders who once supported the program questioned its viability. It was a seemingly endless circle, and some leaders suggested that the United States, the international partners, and the overall space exploration effort would be better off if the space station program were terminated.

In the latter 1980s and early 1990s a parade of space station managers and NASA administrators, each of them honest in their attempts to rescue the program, wrestled with Freedom and lost. They faced on one side politicians who demanded that the jobs aspect of the projectitself a major cause of the overall cost growthbe maintained, with station users on the other demanding that Freedom 's capabilities be maintained, and with people on all sides demanding that costs be reduced. The incompatibility of these various demands ensured that station program management was a task not without difficulties.

Just as the Cold War was the driving force behind big NASA budgets in the 1960s, its end was a critical component in the search for a new space policy in the 1990s. Cold War rivalries no longer held real attraction as a selling point for an aggressive space exploration program at least by the mid-1980s. Accordingly, when he became NASA administrator in 1992, Daniel S. Goldin worked to salvage the space station effort with a total redesign that brought the significant space capabilities of the former Soviet Union into the effort. The demise of the Cold War, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, created a dramatically changed international situation that allowed NASA to negotiate a landmark decision to include Russia in the building of an international space station. On 7 November 1993 the United States and Russia agreed to work together with the other international partners to build an International Space Station for the benefit of all.

This strikingly new spin on international relations regalvanized support for the program, and for the next eight years building the ISS dominated the efforts of all the spacefaring nations. In the postCold War era this decision provided an important linkage for the continuation of the space station at a time when many were convinced that for other reasonscost, technological challenge, return on investmentit was an uninviting endeavor.

As a lead-in to the ISS, twenty years after the world's two greatest spacefaring nations and Cold War rivals staged a dramatic docking in the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project during the summer of 1975, the space programs of the United States and Russia again met in Earth orbit when the space shuttle Atlantis docked to the aging Russian Mir space station in June-July 1995. "This flight heralds a new era of friendship and cooperation between our two countries," said NASA's Goldin. "It will lay the foundation for construction of an International Space Station later this decade."

The docking missions conducted through 1998 represented a major alteration in the history of space exploration. They also portended considerable controversy. For example, several accidents took place aboard the aging Russian space station that called into question the validity of American involvement in a Russian program that might compromise the safety of American astronauts aboard. Mishaps on Mir in 19961998 included a fire inside the station, failure of an oxygen generator, leaks in the cooling system, a docking accident that damaged both the station and the spacecraft to be docked to it, and the temporary malfunction of an attitude control system.

These accidents triggered criticism of U.S.Russian cooperation in the shuttle-Mir program. That criticism emphasized the safety of the astronauts and the aging character of Mir, noting it was in such bad shape that no meaningful scientific results could be achieved aboard the station. Most asked that Russia deorbit Mir and thereby bring it to "an honorable end," something that finally took place in the spring of 2001. Only with the launch of the first elements of the International Space Station in the autumn of 1998 did public criticism subside on the role of the shuttle-Mir missions in the American space program.

Other questions about the International Space Station program, however, did not subside even with first-element launches in 1998. In addition to schedule and budget concerns, many complained about the integral part played by Russia in building the International Space Station. Most observers agreed that the fundamental problems associated with Russian participation in the space station program could be reduced to a few fine points, as stated by Representative F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., chair of the House Committee on Science, in 1998: "One, the Russians failed to follow through on their funding commitments, and two, the Clinton administration brought the Russians into the project for the wrong reasons, placed the Russians in the critical path, and routinely let them off the hook for their failures."

Some warned of complications with Russian involvement as early as September 1993, when President Clinton formally invited the Russian government to join the project, ostensibly as a gesture of goodwill to the former Cold War enemy. In reality, the invitation to the Russians involved gaining Russian compliance with the Missile Technology Control Regime, a voluntary arrangement among twenty-seven countries to control the export of weapons of mass destruction. The Clinton administration admitted as much to Congress on 20 April 1994, when the U.S. ambassador to Russia James Collins was asked by Representative Ralph M. Hall, "Give me a 1 to 10 on whether or not we are building the space station with Russia to achieve a particular foreign policy objective such as Russian compliance with the Missile Technology Control Regime." Ambassador Collins replied, "Getting Russia into the Missile Technology Control Regime and bringing it into willingness to comply with those guidelines is a very important objective." This proved unsuccessful, however, as the Russian Space Agency continued selling missile technology to so-called rogue nations. According to Sensenbrenner, American "nonproliferation goals for cooperating with the Russians in the civil space area have not been realized."

Even more than this, the Russians were integrated deeply into the critical path of International Space Station assembly. If they failed to deliver their modules on schedule, ISS assembly had to wait, and every slippage on the part of the Russian Space Agency stretched out the overall station schedule. NASA had assumed a position of complete reliance on Russia for the service modulesole provider of oxygen, avionics, reboost, and sanitary facilitiesuntil much later in the assembly process. This meant, in simple terms, that the entire program was held hostage pending resolution of Russia's internal economic and political problems and external goodwill.

With the belated launch of the Russian service module in July 2000, however, it became clear that international competition had been firmly replaced with cooperation as the primary reason behind huge expenditures for space operations. As the dean of space policy analysts John M. Logsdon concluded, "there is little doubt, then, that there will be an international space station, barring major catastrophes like another shuttle accident or the rise to power of a Russian government opposed to cooperation with the West."

While the challenges of completing the ISS remained quite real, as the twenty-first century dawned the dream of a permanent presence in space seemed on the verge of reality. Before the end of 2000 the first ISS crew inhabited the station. Furthermore, the spacefaring nations of the world had accepted ISS as the raison d'être of their space efforts. Only through its successful achievement, space advocates insisted, would a vision of space exploration that includes all nations venturing into the unknown be ultimately realized. This scenario makes eminent sense if one is interested in developing an expansive space exploration effort, one that leads to the permanent colonization of humans on other planets. At the end of the century, that debate continued. What no one was sure of was how this would unfold in the next century.


In the last decade of the twentieth century U.S. space policy entered an extended period of transition. This was true for several reasons. For one thing, U.S. preeminence in space technology was coming to an end as the European Space Agency developed and made operational its superb Ariane launcher, and the agency's ancillary space capabilities made it increasingly possible for Europe to "go it alone." At the same time, U.S. commitment to sustained leadership in space activities overall waned, and significantly less public monies went into NASA missions. U.S. political commitment to cooperative projects seemingly lessened as well: for example, the United States refrained from developing a probe for the international armada of spacecraft that was launched toward Comet Halley in 19841985 and withdrew part of its support from the controversial International Solar Polar Mission to view the Sun from a high altitude, renamed Ulysses and launched in 1990. Of those cooperative projects that remained, NASA increasingly acceded to the demands of international collaborators to develop critical systems and technologies. This overturned the policy of not allowing partners into the critical pathsomething that had not been accepted in earlier development projectsand was in large measure a pragmatic decision on the part of American officials. Because of the increasing size and complexity of projects, according to Kenneth Pedersen, more recent projects had produced "numerous critical paths whose upkeep costs alone will defeat U.S. efforts to control and supply them." He added, "It seems unrealistic today to believe that other nations possessing advanced technical capabilities and harboring their own economic competitiveness objectives will be amenable to funding and developing only ancillary systems."

In addition to these important developments, in the 1990s the rise of competitive economic activities in space mitigated the prospects for future activities. The brutal competition for launch business, the cutthroat nature of space applications, and the rich possibilities for future space-based economic activities such as asteroid mining were rapidly creating a climate in which international ventures might once again become the exception rather than the rule. John Krige astutely commented in 1997 that "collaboration has worked most smoothly when the science or technology concerned is not of direct strategic (used here to mean commercial or military) importance. As soon as a government feels that its national interests are directly involved in a field of R&D, it would prefer to go it alone." He also noted that the success of cooperative projects may take as their central characteristic that they have "no practical application in at least the short to medium term."

The sole exception to this perspective might be when nations decide that for prestige or diplomatic purposes it is appropriate to cooperate in space. A concern existed that in the United States, where economic competitiveness in space was such a powerful motivation for "going it alone," and where prestige and diplomacy seemed to have taken a backseat to nationalistic hyperbole, that with every passing year there would be less tolerance for large-scale cooperative, and by extension difficult, projects in space. Indeed, there was a constant reduction under way in government spending for space exploration and open discussions of strategies on how to shift the thrust of space flight to the private sector. That would, of necessity, curtail international space exploration activities, with less funding available for scientific space missions, the very missions that are natural candidates for cooperative work. Corporations, that may well provide the greatest share of investment for space flight in the United States in the twenty-first century would be loathe to engage in partnerships in which their technological advantages might be compromised. The proliferation of space technology throughout the world, especially to those nations perceived as rogue states, may well prompt U.S. leaders to clamp down on anything that smacks of technology transfer. (This has already been seen in relation to the supposed satellite technology transferred inadvertently to the People's Republic of China through Hughes Aerospace Corp.) Finally, the disagreeable experiences of such cooperative projects as the International Space Station might sour both national and NASA officials on future endeavors. It is certain, for example, that it will be a long time before anyone in authority in the United States will sign on to an international project of similar complexity.


One of the key conclusions that we might reach about both the course of international cooperation between the United States and other international partners is that it has been an enormously difficult process. Apropos is a quote from Wernher von Braun, that "we can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming." Perhaps the hardest part of spaceflight is not the scientific and technological challenges of operating in an exceptionally foreign and hostile environment but in the down-to-earth environment of rough-and-tumble international and domestic politics. But even so, cooperative space endeavors have been richly rewarding and overwhelmingly useful, from all manner of scientific, technical, social, and political perspectives.

Kenneth Pedersen observed in a public forum in 1983 that "international space cooperation is not a charitable enterprise; countries cooperate because they judge it in their interest to do so." For continued cooperative efforts in space to proceed into the twenty-first century it is imperative that those desiring them define appropriate projects and ensure that enough national leaders judge those projects as being of interest and worthy of making them cooperative. Since the 1960s space-exploration proponents have gained a wealth of experience in how to define, gain approval for, and execute the simplest of cooperative projects. Even those have been conducted only with much trial and considerable force of will. For those involved in space exploration it is imperative that a coordinated approach to project definition, planning, funding, and conduct of future missions be undertaken. Only then will people be able to review the history of international programs and speak with pride about all of their many accomplishments while omitting the huge "but" that must follow in considering all of the difficulties encountered.


Bonnet, Roger M., and Vittorio Manno. International Cooperation in Space: The Example of the European Space Agency. Cambridge, Mass., 1994. A prize-winning study of the philosophy and inner workings of internationally supported space exploration projects.

Bulkeley, Rip. The Sputnik Crisis and Early United States Space Policy: A Critique of the Historiography of Space. Bloomington, Ind., 1991. An important discussion of early efforts to develop civil space policy in the aftermath of Sputnik. It contains much information relative to the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Divine, Robert. The Sputnik Challenge. New York, 1993. Contains insights into the space program as promoted by the Eisenhower administration.

European Science Foundation and National Research Council. U.S.European Collaboration in Space Science. Washington, D.C., 1998. An official research report on collaborative issues in space science.

Frutkin, Arnold W. International Cooperation in Space. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1965. An interesting early discussion of the possibilities and problems of international cooperation written during the height of the Cold War by NASA's head of international relations.

Handberg, Roger, and Joan Johnson-Freese. The Prestige Trap: A Comparative Study of the U.S., European, and Japanese Space Programs. Dubuque, Iowa, 1994. An interesting study of the various programs and their development.

Harvey, Brian. The New Russian Space Programme: From Competition to Collaboration. Chichester, England, and New York, 1996. A solid history of the development of the Soviet space program through the mid-1980s. It has several chapters on the race to the Moon, describing what information was available before the end of the Cold War.

Harvey, Dodd L., and Linda C. Ciccoritti. U.S.Soviet Cooperation in Space. Miami, Fla. 1974. A detailed exploration of the competition and cooperation in space exploration by the two superpowers of the Cold War era through the détente that led to the joint Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.

Johnson-Freese, Joan. Changing Patterns of International Cooperation in Space. Malabar, Fla., 1990. An interesting exploration of the movement from competition to cooperation in space exploration.

Kay, W. D. "Space Policy Redefined: The Reagan Administration and the Commercialization of Space." Business and Economic History 27 (fall 1998): 237247. A reassessment of the space policy of the Reagan administration.

Krige, John. "The Politics of European Collaboration in Space." Space Times: Magazine of the American Astronautical Society 36 (SeptemberOctober 1997): 49. A lucid analysis of the difficult political issues involved in international collaboration in space.

Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago, 1970. A classic analysis of how science changes perspective using the Copernican revolution as a case.

Launius, Roger D. NASA: A History of the U.S. Civil Space Program. Malabar, Fla., 2000. A short history of the U.S. civilian space efforts with documents.

Launius, Roger D., John M. Logsdon, and Robert W. Smith, eds. Reconsidering Sputnik: Forty Years Since the Soviet Satellite. Amsterdam, 2000. A collection of essays on various aspects of the Sputnik crisis of 1957.

Launius, Roger D., and Howard E. McCurdy, eds. Spaceflight and the Myth of Presidential Leadership. Urbana, Ill., 1997. A collection of essays on presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, and Carter with addition discussions of international cooperation and the role of the presidency in shaping space policy.

Logsdon, John M. "The Development of International Space Cooperation." In John M. Logsdon, ed. Exploring the Unknown: Selected Documents in the History of the U.S. Civil Space Program. Vol. 2. External Relationships. Washington, D.C., 1996. An essential reference work with key documents in space policy and its development.

. Together in Orbit: The Origins of International Participation in Space Station Freedom. Washington, D.C., 1998. An excellent short account of the international coordination for the space station.

McDougall, Walter A. "The Heavens and the Earth": A Political History of the Space Age. New York, 1985. A Pulitzer Prizewinning book that analyzes the space race to the Moon in the 1960s.

Pedersen, Kenneth S. "Thoughts on International Space Cooperation and Interests in the PostCold War World." Space Policy 8 (August 1992): 215224. A fine discussion of the problems of international collaboration in space.

Shaffer, Stephen M., and Lisa Robock Shaffer. The Politics of International Cooperation: A Comparison of U.S. Experience in Space and Security. Denver, Colo., 1980. A political science study of the subject.

See also Science and Technology.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Outer Space." Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy. . 27 Apr. 2017 <>.

"Outer Space." Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy. . (April 27, 2017).

"Outer Space." Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy. . Retrieved April 27, 2017 from

outer space

out·er space • n. the physical universe beyond the earth's atmosphere.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"outer space." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . 27 Apr. 2017 <>.

"outer space." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . (April 27, 2017).

"outer space." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved April 27, 2017 from

outer space

outer space: see space exploration.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"outer space." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 27 Apr. 2017 <>.

"outer space." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (April 27, 2017).

"outer space." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved April 27, 2017 from