Space Organizations Part 2: U.S. Military, Foreign, and Private

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Space Organizations Part 2: U.S. Military, Foreign, and Private

Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall be free for exploration and use by all States.

United Nations, Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (October 10, 1967)

Even though the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) is the best-known space organization in the world, it is not the only one. The U.S. military and many foreign governments also have active space programs. In fact, the U.S. military program existed even before NASA was formed. Most modern military space ventures center around ballistic missiles and data-gathering satellites. The United States officially holds the policy that it will not develop space weapons, only defensive systems. Some critics complain that the line between the two is growing vague.

Chief among the foreign governments with space programs is the Russian space program operated by the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). The Russian agency continues the program begun by the Soviet Union decades ago. For about half of the twentieth century, the Soviet Union engaged in a bitter cold-war rivalry for space supremacy with the United States. The Soviets achieved many milestones in space ahead of the United States, including the first manned space flight in 1961.

In 1991 the Soviet Union splintered into individual nations (including Russia) that were friendlier with the United States. Civilian space agencies in the United States and Russia struggled to carry on ambitious space programs as their funding was cut. They began working together on many space ventures. Eventually, space programs were developed in Europe, China, Japan, and other countries. This presented opportunities for new alliances in space.

In the past private organizations contributed to space exploration indirectly by promoting space programs and gathering together individuals interested in rocket science, physics, astronomy, space travel, or space commerce. In 2004 the private sector opened a new era in space exploration when the first privately funded manned vehicle traveled into space and back. Private space ventures are expected to grow quickly during the twenty-first century.


The United States must win and maintain the capability to control space in order to assure the progress and pre-eminence of the free nations.

General Thomas White, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, 1959

The U.S. military had space aspirations long before spaceflight was possible. The three main branches of the military, the army, air force, and navy, began space programs following World War II (1939-1945). They sometimes collaborated, but more often they competed against each other to develop rockets, satellites, and manned space programs.

In 1958 President Dwight D. Eisenhower (18901969) limited the militarys role in space when he created NASA as a civilian agency. NASA was given responsibility for the nations manned space programs. The military was allowed to pursue space projects that benefited national defense. Despite the separation, the two programs still overlapped. Even in the twenty-first century NASA is dependent on military resources to carry out human space exploration projects.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) operates a comprehensive space program including a missile defense system and communication, navigation, and spy satellites. Cristina T. Chaplain of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports in Space Acquisitions: Actions Needed to Expand and Sustain Use of Best Practices (April 19, 2007, that the DOD budget for development and procurement of space systems in fiscal year (FY) 2008 was more than $22 billion. By comparison, NASA indicates in National Aeronautics and Space Administration: FY 2008 Budget Estimates (February 5, 2007, that its budget request for FY 2008 was $17.3 billion.

World War II to 1955

The military space program began in earnest as World War II ended. In May 1945 a group of German rocket scientists led by Wernher von Braun (1912-1977) surrendered to U.S. forces. Under Operation Paperclip the U.S. Army signed a contract with von Brauns team and moved it to Fort Bliss, Texas, to work on the U.S. rocket program. The army also captured many German V-2 rocket parts. The von Braun team assembled the parts and launched rockets at the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico. On February 24, 1949, the team launched the first rocket from U.S. soil to travel beyond Earths atmosphere and penetrate outer space. It was called Bumper Round 5.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force had its own space program that included the development of guided missiles and robotic aircraft at the Holloman Air Force Base (AFB) near Alamogordo, New Mexico. As early as 1946 the air force was launching rockets into the upper atmosphere that carried fruit flies, fungus spores, and small mammals. An Aeromedical Field Laboratory was established at the base as part of the air forces Man in Space program. The laboratory researched the new field of space biology and conducted high-altitude balloon flights with animals and humans.

By the early 1950s the air force was launching rockets to test the effects of weightlessness and radiation on mice and monkeys. Some of the animals survived the flights, and some perished. According to John A. Pitts of NASA, in The Human Factor: Biomedicine in the Manned Space Program to 1980 (1985), at least four rhesus monkeys died when parachutes failed to open during the descent of their spacecraft. In 1952 the air force ended its space biology program and turned toward ballistic missiles. However, by that time the air force had accumulated a wealth of knowledge and resources in the field of bioastronautics.

In 1950 the army moved von Brauns rocket team from New Mexico to the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. Four years later von Braun proposed that the army launch an unmanned satellite into orbit using a Redstone missile as the main booster. The plan was eventually called Project Orbiter.

The navy also pursued rocket research following World War II using captured German rockets. The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, D.C., equipped V-2 rockets with atmospheric probes and other scientific instruments. The NRL had a long and distinguished history in scientific research. It had been established in the 1920s at the urging of the famous inventor Thomas Edison (1847-1931). The NRL invented the modern U.S. radar system and used V-2 rockets to obtain a far-ultraviolet spectrum of the Sun and to discover solar x-rays. As the supply of V-2 rockets began to run out, the NRL developed its own rockets called Vikings and Aerobees.

1955 to 1958

In 1955 the United States decided to launch an unmanned satellite as part of the International Geophysical Year (IGY) project. The IGY was to run from July 1957 to December 1958. Various government agencies submitted proposals to develop the satellite. These included proposals from all three military branches: the armys Project Orbiter, based on a Redstone rocket; an air force proposal, based on an Atlas rocket; and the navys Project Vanguard, based on a Viking missile. Project Vanguard was selected, and the NRL was delegated responsibility for developing the satellite and including a scientific experiment on it.

The first test flights of Project Vanguard were conducted in December 1956 and May 1957. Even though both tests were successful, the project proceeded slowly. In October 1957 the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik 1, the worlds first artificial satellite, into Earth orbit. The United States was stunned that the Soviets had achieved this great milestone. In response, the DOD pressured the navy to accelerate the Vanguard schedule. In early November 1957 the Soviets launched Sputnik 2 with a dog named Laika aboard.

Meanwhile, von Brauns team at the Redstone Arsenal had developed the Jupiter ballistic missile. Throughout the mid-1950s the army had tried to convince the DOD that a Redstone or Jupiter rocket should be used to put a satellite into orbit. After Sputnik 1 the DOD was ready to listen. In November 1957 the army was authorized to pursue Project Explorer as a backup to Project Vanguard. A month later the first full-scale Vanguard launch attempt failed when the rocket exploded two seconds after liftoff.

On January 31, 1958, the army successfully launched into space Explorer 1, the first U.S. satellite, using a Jupiter-C rocket. The satellite was eighty inches long and six and a quarter inches wide and weighed nearly thirty-one pounds. The scientific payload included temperature gauges and instruments to detect cosmic rays and the impacts of micrometeorites. The payload was developed under the direction of James Van Allen (1914-2006), a physics professor at the University of Iowa. Data from Explorer 1 and the later Explorer 3 satellite led to Van Allens discovery of radiation belts around Earth. The existence of the belts was confirmed in 1958 by the Soviet satellite Sputnik 3. (See Figure 3.1.)

On March 17, 1958, the navy finally got its Vanguard satellite into orbit. Vanguard Test Vehicle 4 was launched at Cape Canaveral, Florida, and put the grapefruit-sized, three-pound satellite into Earth orbit. It was the first orbiting satellite to be powered by solar energy. Solar cells also powered its radio until the radio failed in 1964. As of March 2008, the silent Vanguard satellite continued to orbit Earth. It has remained in orbit longer than any human-made object in space.

The satellite successes of the 1950s encouraged the air forces space ambitions. It began planning a manned spaceflight program called Dyna-Soar (short for Dynamic Soaring). This was to be an aircraft based on the X-15 experimental plane that could be launched into orbit by a missile, but glide back to Earth and land on an airstrip. Another project was called Man in Space Soonest (MISS). MISS called for a manned satellite to be launched by 1960, a manned laboratory to be in Earth orbit by 1963, and a manned lunar landing to take place by 1965.

In June 1958 the air force announced a list of test pilots chosen to participate in the MISS project. (The list included only one pilot who eventually became an astronaut: Neil A. Armstrong [1930].) These would have been the very first American astronauts. Four months later, NASA was formed and took responsibility for manned spaceflights. Dynasoar and MISS were canceled. Most of the would-be astronauts were given NASA assignments.

NASA Takes Over

Throughout the 1950s the air force had lobbied congressional leaders to be given control of the nations space program. The air force had excellent launch capabilities and extensive research and development capabilities in space science and bioastronautics.

According to Homer E. Newell of NASA, in Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science (1980), President Eisenhower feared that militarizing the nations space program would accelerate the nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union and locate too much political power within the U.S. military-industrial complex. Many scientists were also opposed to military control of the space program. They feared that weapon development and manned space flights would receive priority over scientific objectives. As a compromise, several prominent U.S. scientists urged Congress to divide the space program into two parts, with manned programs operated by the military and science programs operated by NASA. In 1958, when the agency was put into operation, President Eisenhower decided to allow NASA to run the nations space program.

Over the next few years most of the militarys space programs, assets, and resources were turned over to NASA. The new agency was dependent on military scientists with expertise in space science, particularly those of the air force. Even after NASA was created, air force officials continued to lobby political leaders for control of space programs. In January 1961 President-elect John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) received a report from his science adviser, Jerome B. Wiesner (1915-1994), that was very critical of NASA and its plans to develop manned space projects. Some observers interpreted the report as promoting military control of the nations space program.

Courtney G. Brooks, James M. Grimwood, and Loyd S. Swenson Jr. of NASA explain in Chariots for Apollo: A History of Manned Lunar Spacecraft (1979) that at the time NASA was engaged in the Mercury project and was also planning the Apollo trips to the Moon. The air forces Space Systems Division (SSD) proposed its own post-Mercury project called Lunex that promised to put three men on the Moon by 1967. The SSD estimated the cost of the project at $7.5 billion.

The armys plan for a manned spaceflight was called Project Adam. It called for one astronaut to be sealed inside a capsule atop a ballistic missile for his ride into orbit. Even though the army had excellent launch capabilities and rocket technology, it lacked expertise in bioastronautics. Project Adam did not include any monitoring of the human during his spaceflight to gain medical knowledge. The army also advocated a military outpost on the Moon as part of Project Horizon. This ambitious plan included a dock and fueling station in orbit around Earth.

The navy had its own plan for a manned spaceflight project called the Manned Earth Reconnaissance Project. However, the navys space reputation was hurt by the poor performance of the Vanguard program. Also, the navy was dependent on the air force for launch facilities and bioastronautics capabilities.

NASA had its share of influential supporters, including Overton Brooks (1897-1961), the chairman of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973). Neither wanted the military to control the nations space ventures. In March 1961 Brooks wrote the president a letter in which he pushed Kennedy to make clear his intentions on the matter. Kennedy responded that he did not intend to subordinate NASA under military control. He increased NASAs budget and gave the agency responsibility for a manned lunar spaceflight.

NASA received assistance from the air force regarding several aspects of the early space programs. During the 1950s the air force obtained infant chimpanzees and monkeys that were trained at the Holloman AFB for spaceflights. Many of the animals were not named. A rhesus monkey named Sam (after the air force School of Aviation Medicine) flew aboard a Mercury test flight in 1959.

Another chimp was named Ham (an acronym for Holloman Aero Medical). During 1961 NASA launched Ham and another chimponaut named Enos into outer space to orbit Earth. The air force continued to run a space chimp colony until 1997, when twenty-one chimps were turned over to Save the Chimps (2004,, a chimpanzee rescue group in Florida.

Military and Intelligence Satellites

Following the formation of NASA, the U.S. military focused most of its space resources on the development of ballistic missiles and satellites. Satellites were designed for a variety of purposes, including communications, navigation, weather surveillance, and reconnaissance (spying).

During the late 1950s the air force worked with the Central Intelligence Agency to develop a reconnaissance satellite capable of photographing Soviet installations on the ground from space. The project was code-named Corona. Publicly, the United States called the satellite Discoverer and claimed that it conducted scientific research. More than one hundred Corona missions were flown during the 1960s and early 1970s. The Soviet Union orbited its own spy satellites and also claimed that they were for scientific purposes.

Before the 1980s all satellites were launched aboard rockets called expendable launch vehicles (ELVs). Once above Earths atmosphere, a satellite separated from its ELV, and the ELV burned up during reentry. During the 1970s the air force used a number of ELVs including the Scout, Thor, Delta, Atlas, and Titan rockets.

The development of the space shuttle introduced a new era in satellite deployment. The shuttle was reusable and included a crew of astronauts that could release, retrieve, and repair satellites as needed. The military was excited about this prospect. During space shuttle development the DOD insisted that the vehicles be designed to carry heavy military satellites and be able to orbit Earth along a polar path. Both requirements added substantially to the cost of the shuttle program and slowed its development.

The air force was given responsibility for developing a shuttle launch site at the Vandenberg AFB on the California coast. This would allow the shuttle to take off in a southerly direction toward the South Pole. The air force also developed a rocket for the shuttle program called the Interim Upper Stage (IUS). IUS boosters were designed to thrust satellites from the shuttles typical orbit into higher orbits.

The first shuttle flight did not take place until April 1981. In June 1982 a shuttle carried a military satellite into orbit for the first time. In Shuttle Missions (February 23, 2008,, NASA notes that shuttles carried six subsequent DOD satellites into space between 1984 and 1985. Four of these satellites were SYNCOM communication satellites. The other two missions were classified.

When the shuttle was first proposed, NASA promised that it would fly frequently and routinely into Earth orbit and would meet the militarys scheduling demands for satellite launches. It soon became apparent that this was not the case. The shuttle program was plagued by problems and flew only a few times each year. The DOD decided it could not rely completely on shuttles for the nations military missions. In 1984 air force officials convinced Congress to fund development of a fleet of new ELVs for military missions. NASA protested strongly against this action, but was overruled.

The initiative turned out to be a good one. The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger shortly after liftoff in 1986 forced NASA to make drastic changes in the shuttle program. This had profound effects on the militarys space ambitions. The Challenger explosion happened only months before the first planned launch of a space shuttle for air force purposes from the Vandenberg AFB. Because of the changes made to NASAs program, the bases shuttle launch facilities were dismantled and most of the related equipment was turned over to NASA. The DOD focused more resources on developing ELVs.

In September 1988 the space shuttle resumed flying. NASA indicates in Shuttle Missions that between 1988 and 1992 shuttles carried less than ten military payloads into space. These were satellites that could not be launched aboard ELVs for various reasons.

Star Wars

On March 23, 1983, President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) announced a new military space venture for the United States: the Space Defense Initiative (SDI). Basically, the plan called for the placement of a satellite shield in space that would protect the United States from incoming Soviet nuclear missiles. Reagan said the SDI would make nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.

According to the public broadcasting series American Experience (2000,, earlier that month Reagan had denounced the Soviet Union as the focus of evil in the modern world. The Soviet news agency TASS responded that Reagan was full of bellicose lunatic anti-communism. Reagans SDI proposal heightened tensions between the two countries. The Soviets warned that it would set off a new and more dangerous arms race. Later that year the Soviet Union broke off nuclear arms negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland.

The media nicknamed the SDI proposal the Star Wars program. (Star Wars had been a hit 1977 movie featuring elaborate space weapons.) Many scientists publicly questioned whether the SDI was technically feasible given the technologies of the times, major newspapers openly ridiculed the idea, and politicians complained about the potential costs. Discovering whether the SDI was even possible was expected to be immensely expensive. Some high-ranking government officials feared that the SDI would start an arms race in space.

In March 1984 the DOD established the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO). Later that year the army successfully tested an interceptor missile as part of SDIO operations. The missile was launched from the Kwajalein Missile Range in the Marshall Islands. It flew above the atmosphere and then located and tracked a reentry missile that had been launched from the Vandenberg AFB. The interceptor missile homed in on the target using onboard sensors and computer targeting. It crashed into the target and destroyed it.

Reagan met with Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev (1931-) for private talks during 1985 and 1986. Both times they argued about the SDI. In a 1986 meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, Gorbachev offered to cut Soviet missile stocks if the United States would cease development of the SDI project. Reagan refused. By this time the military had developed a working concept for the space shield that included many small, computerized satellites. The concept was called Brilliant Pebbles.

In 1989 President George H. W. Bush (1924-) assumed office. He supported the SDI project, so research and development on it continued. Two years later, the United States entered the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991) against Iraq. By this time the Soviet Union had dissolved into a number of independent republics. In 1993, during the administration of President Bill Clinton (1946-), the SDIO was redesignated the Ballistic Defense Missile Organization (BDMO). The new threat was considered to be limited-range missiles in the hands of unfriendly dictators and terrorists.

In 2002 the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972. This treaty with the Soviet Union (and later Russia) had strictly limited each nations deployment of antiballistic missiles. Soon afterward, President George W. Bush (1946-) converted the BDMO into the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

The goal of the MDA (July 10, 2007, is to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles along their flight path. There are three flight phases for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM): boost phase, midcourse phase, and terminal phase. The boost phase occurs during the first three to five minutes after an ICBM is launched, when it is being powered by its engines. During the boost phase an ICBM can reach an altitude of up to three hundred miles. The midcourse stage takes the ICBM on a trajectory above the atmosphere through space and can last up to twenty minutes. During this phase the missile can release countermeasures and decoys. Once the missile reenters Earths atmosphere it is in the terminal phase of its flight. This can last from thirty seconds to one minute. Preferably, interception and destruction would be done outside of Earths atmosphere so that nuclear or biological warheads would be destroyed during reentry.

Space-Based Missile Defense Systems

As of March 2008, the DOD continued the development and testing of components for the ballistic missile defense system (BMDS). These include ground-and sea-based interceptor missiles and space-based tracking systems. Things that were once considered science fiction are slowly becoming viable components in the DOD arsenal. This is because of technological advances and a large influx of money to the program. MDA funding increased from $1.3 billion in FY 1985 to $9.5 billion in FY 2007. (See Figure 3.2.)

Since the 1970s the United States has relied on a space-based early missile warning system called the

Defense Support Program (DSP). The U.S. Air Force explains in the fact sheet Defense Support Program Satellites (January 2008, that the DSP consists of a series of satellites in geosynchronous orbit 22,300 miles from Earths surface. The twenty-third (and reportedly last) launch of a DSP satellite took place in November 2007 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

In 1996 the DOD began development of a replacement for the DSP called the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS). The history and status of this system is described by the GAO in Space Based Infrared System High Program and Its Alternative (September 12, 2007, According to the GAO, the initial program included satellites in high and low orbits around Earth. In 2001 the low-orbit program was renamed the Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS). Figure 3.3 compares the DSP, the SBIRS, and the STSS systems in terms of tracking capabilities. The new satellites are expected to be much more sensitive and accurate than existing DSP satellites. The GAO notes that the cost of the new systems has skyrocketed from an original $4.2 billion estimate to $10.4 billion. The first new satellites were supposed to deploy in 2004; however, this schedule proved unfeasible. The GAO suggests that the SBIRS has been burdened by immature technologies, unclear requirements, unstable funding, underestimated software complexity, poor oversight, and other problems that have resulted in billions of dollars in cost overruns and years in schedule delays.

In 2006 the DOD initiated the Alternative Infrared Satellite System (AIRSS) in case the SBIRS becomes unviable to complete. However, the GAO notes that the AIRSS suffers from technological and budget problems and will not likely produce an operational satellite by its proposed launch date of 2015.


The nations ballistic missile defense systems have evoked severe criticism from some in the scientific community. One of the most vocal critics is the Union of Concerned Scientists (USC), an organization of independent scientists who research and analyze policy issues, such as the environment and missile development. In 2004 the USC issued the report Technical Realities: An Analysis of the 2004 Deployment of a U.S. National Missile Defense System ( by Lisbeth Gronlund et al., who state, The ballistic missile defense system that the United States will deploy later this year will have no demonstrated defensive capability and will be ineffective

against a real attack by long-range ballistic missiles. The administrations claims that the system will be reliable and highly effective are irresponsible exaggerations. There is no technical justification for deployment of the system, nor are there sound reasons to procure and deploy additional interceptors.

Gronlund et al. advocate new nonproliferation treaties with Russia and China to prevent an arms race in space between the three countries.

Space Weapons?

Historically, the United States has focused on developing defensive, rather than offensive, space-based assets. It is a party to the 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (January 1, 2004,, which states that nations may not place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space in any other manner. In addition, presidential space policy since the 1950s has focused on unarmed satellites to prevent a new arms race in space.

Tim Weiner reports in Air Force Seeks Bushs Approval for Space Arms (New York Times, May 18, 2005) that in 2005 the Bush administration was considering a change in space policy to allow the development of space weapons. Weiner claims that the air force wanted the capability to develop offensive and defensive space assets to protect the country. An air force spokesperson denied that the new policy would militarize space, but stated that it would ensure the United States has free access in space. According to Weiner, the potential policy change drew objections from leaders in Canada, China, Russia, and the European Union. Critics fear that such a move would encourage countries such as China and Russia to build their own space weapons. Proponents argue that the United States must develop new space capabilities to protect vulnerable satellites on which the nation depends for communications, global positioning data, and military reconnaissance.

Weiner notes that a change in space policy would face many technical, financial, and diplomatic challenges. Critics argue that billions of dollars have been spent on missile defense systems that have not proven to be reliable. They fear that development of space weapons would be a wasteful expense and do little to combat the spread and very real threat of terrorist strikes.

Some critics complain that assets already being developed by the DOD are preludes to space weapons. In Space Weapons Spending in the FY 2008 Defense Budget (February 21, 2007,, Theresa Hitchens, Victoria Samson, and Sam Black suggest that in the absence of a clear national consensus on military missions in space, the administration of George W. Bush is continuing to fund research that could result in the development and/or deployment of anti-satellite and space-based weapons. The researchers highlight five specific projects that they claim are included in the DODs proposed budget for FY 2008:

  • Space-Based Interceptor Test Bedthe DOD describes this as a space-based defensive layer to complement the BMDS. The layer would be composed of defensive satellites capable of intercepting and killing enemy ballistic missiles.
  • Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE)this satellite would carry infrared sensors capable of detecting and tracking ballistic missiles during their boost phase. The MDAs original proposal for NFIRE included a kill vehicle aboard the satellite that could be released to smash into a missile and destroy it in space. In 2004 the kill vehicle was canceled. Officially, the DOD cited technical reasons for the cancellation. However, critics believe that the agency backed down in the face of intense criticism for proposing an obvious space weapon. There is concern that that the satellite could still be used for destructive purposes.
  • Experimental Spacecraft System (XSS)this system consists of small, mobile satellites that can be maneuvered up to other orbiting objects and take pictures of them. The first microsatellite, XSS-10, was successfully tested in space in 2003 during a one-day trial. Even though the Pentagon denies that the XSS satellites are space weapons, critics claim it would be relatively easy to convert their photographic capabilities to firepower. Then they could seek out and destroy targets in orbit, such as the satellites of unfriendly countries. The development of antisatellite weapons is highly controversial. In 2005 the air force launched the much more sophisticated XSS-11 into space. The satellite was about the size of a washing machine and weighed around two hundred pounds. Various news reports indicate that its tests were highly successful.
  • Autonomous Nonsatellite Guardian for Evaluating Local Space (ANGELS)ANGELS is the successor to the XSS program, but features satellites orbiting at a much higher altitude and with greater capabilities.
  • Starfire Optical Rangethese experiments are believed to involve advanced weapons systems including lasers that could be used against enemy satellites.

Other space weapons reportedly being considered by the DOD include the Common Aero Vehicle (CAV) and hypervelocity rods. The CAV would deliver high explosives from space with the capability to bomb targets thousands of miles from the United States. Hypervelocity rods are long metallic rods that would be delivered from space andhaving built up tremendous speed during the long fall to Earthsmash into and destroy deep underground bunkers. They have been nicknamed Rods from God by the media.

U.S. Strategic Command

In 1985 the Reagan administration established the U.S. Space Command to oversee military space operations. Its commander was also in charge of the North American Aerospace Defense command, which protects the U.S. and Canadian air space. In 1992 President George H. W. Bush established the U.S. Strategic Command (StratCom) to oversee the nations nuclear arsenal.

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush abolished the U.S. Space Command and assigned its responsibilities to StratCom, which is headquartered at the Offutt AFB in Nebraska. It is the command and control center for U.S. strategic forces, controls military space operations, and is responsible for early warning and defense against missile attacks.

StratCom has four space-related missions:

  • Conduct satellite launches and operations including telemetry, tracking, and command. Satellite launches take place at Cape Canaveral, Florida, and the Van-denberg AFB in California.
  • Support U.S. armed forces via use of communication, navigation, weather, missile warning, and intelligence satellites.
  • Protect U.S. access to space and deny access to enemies.
  • Research and develop space assets that can engage enemies from space. Such projects cannot at present be implemented due to long-standing U.S. policy against deploying orbiting weapons.


Much of StratComs space operations are carried out by the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), which is headquartered at the Peterson AFB in Colorado. The AFSPC has facilities at three other Colorado locations (Cheyenne Mountain Air Station, Schriever AFB, and Buckley AFB) and in Alaska, California, Florida, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, New Hampshire, and Greenland.

The AFSPC operates the Global Positioning System and launches and operates satellites that provide weather, communications, intelligence, navigation, and missile warning capabilities. The command also provides services, facilities, and aerospace control for NASA operations. In 2004 the AFSPC established the National Security Space Institute to provide education and training in space-based topics.

The AFSPCs Space Control Center maintains a database of more than nine thousand objects known to be in Earth orbit. These include operating and inoperative satellites, pieces of rockets, and other objects. When a space shuttle mission is taking place, the center tracks the shuttles path and establishes a twenty-five-mile-wide safety zone around the vehicle. (See Figure 3.4.) If the center determines that an object is on a collision path with the shuttle, the center notifies NASA so that evasive maneuvers can be performed.

The DOD Manned Space Flight Support Office

In 1958 the U.S. government established the DOD Manned Space Flight Support Office (DDMS) to support NASAs manned space flight programs. The DDMS provided medical support and communications, tracking, and data capabilities, and recovered astronauts and space capsules after splashdown for all manned programs from Mercury (1959-1963) through Skylab (1973-1974).

When the Space Shuttle Program began in the 1980s, the DDMS assumed responsibility for astronaut rescue and recovery, payload security, and a variety of contingency

services in the event of an emergency. Located near the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the DDMS has at its disposal a number of air force and navy resources including helicopters, tanker aircraft, ships, air traffic control facilities, and medical and search-and-rescue personnel. The DDMS also supports potential emergency landing sites in Spain, Morocco, and Gambia.


NASA and Roscosmos operate the two most active space programs in the world. Roscosmos evolved from the Soviet space agency. The Soviet space program achieved many important milestones in robotic and human spaceflight. Other nations with the resources to do so have ventured into space. Some have sent their astronauts aboard U.S., Soviet, or Russian spacecraft. Others have developed their own space vehicles and programs. This has created new opportunities for cooperation and competition among space-faring nations.

Table 3.1 lists the space agencies of various countries around the world. A few of the major programs are described in this chapter.

TABLE 3.1 International space agencies
SOURCE: Created by Kim Masters Evans for Gale, Cengage Learning, 2008
ArgentinaComisión Nacional de Investigaciones EspacialesCONAE
AustraliaAustralian Space OfficeASO
AustriaOsterreichische Gesellschaft für Weltraumfragen Ges.m.b.H (Austrian Space Agency)ASA
BelgiumBelgium Federal Science Policy OfficeSPO
BrazilAgência Espacial BrasileiraAEB
BulgariaBulgarian Aerospace AgencyBASA
CanadaCanadian Space AgencyCSA
ChinaChina National Space AdministrationCNSA
DenmarkDansk Rumforsknignsinstitut (Danish Space Research Institute)DSRI
FinlandNational Technology Agency of FinlandTekes
FranceCentre National dEtudes SpatialesCNES
GermanyDeutschen Zentrum für Luft- und RaumfahrtDLR
HungaryMagyar Ürkutatási Iroda (Hungarian Space Office)HSO
IndiaIndian Space Research OrganisationISRO
IndonesiaNational Institute of Aeronautics & SpaceLAPAN
IsraelIsrael Space AgencyISA
ItalyAgenzia Spaziale ItalianaASI
JapanJapan Aerospace Exploration AgencyJAXA
KoreaKorea Aerospace Research InstituteKARI
NetherlandsNationaal Lucht-en Ruimtevaartlaboratorium (National Aerospace Laboratory)NAL
NorwayNorsk Romsenter (Norwegian Space Centre)NSC
PolandSpace Research CentreSRC
PortugalInstituto Nacional de Engenharia e Tecnologia IndustrialINETI
RomaniaRomanian Space AgencyROSA
RussiaRussian Federal Space AgencyRoscosmos
SpainInstituto Nacional de Técnica AeroespacialINTA
SwedenSwedish National Space BoardSNSB
UkraineNational Space Agency of UkraineNSAU
United KingdomBritish National Space CentreBNSC


The Russian Space Agency was officially created on February 25, 1992, by decree of the president of the Russian Federation. The agency inherited the technologies, programs, and facilities of the Soviet Union space program. In 1999 it was expanded to include the aviation industry, so its name was changed to the Russian Space and Aviation Agency (Rosaviakosmos). The aviation responsibilities were removed in 2004, so the agency was renamed the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos).

Sergei Korolëv

Sergei Korolëv (1906-1966) is considered the founder of the Soviet space program. Korolëv was born in Zhitomir, a town in what is now Ukraine. An engineer and aviator who began building rockets in the 1930s, he founded the rocket organization Gruppa Isutcheniya Reaktivnovo Dvisheniya (Group for Investigation of Reactive Motion). Following World War II the government appointed him to develop Soviet missile systems.

In August 1957 his team successfully tested the R-7, the worlds first ICBM. The R-7 was powerful enough to carry a nuclear warhead to the United States or a satellite into outer space. In October 1957 an R-7 rocket carried Sputnik 1 into orbit. The Soviet Union had beaten the United States into space.


Korolëvs next challenge was to beat the United States to the Moon. In January 1959 the Soviet probe Luna 1 flew past the Moon. In September 1959 Luna 2 was deliberately crashed into the lunar surface, making it the first human-made object to reach the Moon. A month later Luna 3 took the first photographs of the far side of the Moon. Korolëv was already working on a spacecraft for manned missions. It was a modified R-7 called Vostok. The Vostok included a sphere-shaped cosmonaut module that held one person. The module was too heavy for a parachute. Instead, it included an ejection seat so that the cosmonaut could eject from the module following reentry and parachute to Earth by himself.

Throughout 1960 and early 1961 the Vostok was tested unmanned, with dogs, small mammals, and a mannequin aboard. Vostok flying dogs included Strelka, Belka, Pchelka, Mushka, Chernushka, and Zvezdochka. Many of the dogs died during these tests. The mannequin was nicknamed Ivan Ivanovich, which is the Russian equivalent of John Doe.

On April 12, 1961, the Soviets launched the first man into space aboard Vostok 1. His name was Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968). He was one of the twenty original cosmonauts selected by the Soviet Union in 1959 for manned spaceflights. In 1960 they began training at a sprawling new complex called Zvezdny Gorodok (Star City) in the Russian countryside. His flight made one orbit before he reentered the atmosphere and parachuted safely from the module, landing in a field. In total, his mission lasted one hour and forty-eight minutes. The following month, on May 5, 1961, the astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr. (1923-1998) became the first American in space.

There were five more Vostok flights from 1961 through 1963. Vostok 2 carried Gherman Titov (1935 2000) to seventeen orbits around Earth on August 6-7, 1961. Vostok 3 and Vostok 4 were launched only one day apart on August 11 and August 12, 1962, respectively. Vostok 3 carried Andriyan Nikolayev (1929-2004), and Vostok 4 carried Pavel Popovich (1930-). The two cosmonauts landed within minutes of each other on August 15, 1962. In June 1963 Vostok 5 and Vostok 6 also conducted a joint operation. Vostok 5 launched on June 15 with Valery Bykovsky (1934-) aboard. It was followed one day later by Vostok 6 with Valentina Tereshkova (1937-) aboard. Ter-eshkova was the first woman in space and had been personally selected for the task by Korolëv. The two cosmonauts returned to Earth on June 19, 1963.

The Vostok program and the U.S. Mercury project both took place between 1961 and 1963. The Soviet cosmonauts beat the U.S. astronauts into space and spent more time there. The longest Mercury flight lasted only one day and ten hours. The longest Vostok flight lasted nearly five days.


In 1964 the Soviets began testing a multi-passenger spacecraft called Voskhod. The Voskhod module had a parachute descent system that eliminated the need for ejection seats. On October 12, 1964, Voskhod 1 carried three men into space: Vladimir Komarov (1927-1967), the pilot; Boris Yegorov (1937-1994), a physician; and Konstantin Feoktistov (1926), a scientist. Their flight lasted just over twenty-four hours and circled Earth sixteen times. A few months later Voskhod 2 was put into orbit with two cosmonauts aboard: the pilot Pavel Belyayev (1925-1970) and the copilot Alexei Leonov (1934). On March 18, 1965, Leonov conducted the first extravehicular activity (space walk) in history. It lasted twenty minutes.

Despite these successes, the Voskhod 2 mission was plagued by life-threatening problems. Leonov s spacesuit and the vehicles airlock and reentry rockets malfunctioned. The crew module spun out of control during reentry and landed in heavy woods far from its intended landing point. At the time, a number of crewed Voskhod missions were planned for the 1960s, including one with an all-female crew. However, the problems of Voskhod 2 and the death of Korolëv in January 1966 shook the Soviet space agency. All these planned missions were canceled.


During his lifetime, Korolëv was relatively unknown outside the Soviet Union. The Soviets were very secretive about national affairs and provided scant information to the foreign media. This was particularly true for the inner workings of the Soviet space program. It was only following Korolëvs death that the Western world learned about his many contributions to space travel. These included many rockets and launch vehicles, satellites and probes of different types, and manned spacecraft. His most famous spacecraft was the Soyuz. Modified versions of Soyuz rockets are still being used by Roscosmos in the twenty-first century.

Korolëv is also remembered for his one great failure: the N-1 rocket. This was supposed to be the superbooster that would launch a Soviet spacecraft called the L1 (or Zond) to the Moon. Korolëvs design team created the L1 from a modified Soyuz spacecraft. The N-1 superbooster was similar in scope to von Brauns Saturn V rocket. Korolëv worked on the N-1 project from 1962 until his death in 1966, but he never achieved an operational rocket. His successors continued the work after his death, but they, too, were unsuccessful.

On July 3, 1969, an unmanned N-1 rocket exploded only seconds before liftoff. The resulting fireball was so huge it destroyed the launch facilities. Thirteen days later a Saturn V rocket launched Apollo 11 on its way to the Moon.

The Soviet space program was shrouded in secrecy. Successes were publicized, whereas failures and plans were not. Even though the Soviets had ambitions to land a man on the Moon, this goal was never announced publicly. It was only years later that the West learned about the failed Soviet Moon program in Sergei Leskovs article How We Didnt Get to the Moon (Izvestiya, August 18, 1989). Most observers in the United States assumed that the Soviet Union was aiming for the Moon, but this was not certain. In fact, as early as 1963 NASA critics in the United States asserted that the Moon race was a hoax advanced by the U.S. government to further its own aims. When the United States reached the Moon first, the Soviets insisted that they had never intended to go there. In Yes, There Was a Moon Race (Air Force Magazine, vol. 73, no. 4, April 1990), James E. Oberg states that examination of newly disclosed evidence about one of the most intense phases of the superpower rivalry makes plain that US actions came in response to an authentic Soviet challenge.

Firsts in Space

Despite losing the Moon race, the Soviet space program achieved many firsts in space during the 1950s and 1960s:

  • Sputnik 1 the first artificial satellite in orbit (October 4, 1957)
  • Sputnik 2 the first space passenger, Laika the dog, spent eleven days in orbit (November 3, 1957)
  • Luna 2 the first artificial object to reach a celestial body (September 14, 1959)
  • Vostok 1 Gagarin is the first person to orbit Earth (April 12, 1961)
  • Vostok 2 Titov is the first person to spend a full day in orbit (August 6-7, 1961)
  • Vostok 3 and Vostok 4 first spaceflight including two spacecraft in orbit at once (August 11-15, 1962)
  • Vostok 6 Tereshkova is the first woman in space (June 16, 1963)
  • Voskhod 1 first spaceflight including three people (October 12-13, 1964)
  • Voskhod 2 Leonov is the first person to take a space walk (March 18, 1965)

The Soviet space program also experienced a tragic first in space. On April 23, 1967, the Soviet space agency launched Soyuz 1 with Vladimir Komarov (1927-1967) aboard. A day later the flight ended in tragedy when the modules parachute failed during descent. Komarov died during the descent. He was the first human to die during a spaceflight. On June 30, 1971, three more cosmonautsGeorgi Dobrovolsky (1928-1971), Vladislav Volkov (1935-1971), and Viktor Patsayev (1933-1971)died when their Soyuz 11 spacecraft depressurized during descent after visiting the Salyut 1 station. At the time, cosmonauts did not wear spacesuits during launch and reentry. This was later changed to provide them greater safety.

A New Focus

The Soviets Moon program continued well into the 1970s. However, neither the N-1 nor a competing rocket called the Proton ever became dependable enough for manned launches. During the early 1970s the Soviets concentrated on perfecting their Soyuz rockets and building a space station. Like NASA, the Soviet space agency had always envisioned an orbiting space station as the next step after a lunar visit.

On April 19, 1971, the space station Salyut 1 was launched into orbit. It was another first for the Soviet Union. The U.S. space station Skylab would not launch for another two years. Between 1971 and 1982 the Soviets put seven Salyut stations into orbit. These were designed to be temporary stations, with some of them falling out of orbit only months after being launched.

The last station, Salyut 7, stayed in orbit for nearly nine years, from April 1982 to February 1991. It hosted 10 crews of cosmonauts that spent a total of 861 days in space. The Soviet space program gained invaluable experience in long-duration exposure to weightlessness. The Salyut program was also notable in that cosmonauts and scientists from Cuba, India, and France were invited to visit the stations.

In 1972 the Soviet Union and the United States agreed to work together to achieve a common docking system for their respective spacecraft. This would permit docking in space of U.S. and Soviet spacecraft during future missions. On July 17, 1975, a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft carrying two cosmonauts docked with an Apollo spacecraft carrying three astronauts. (See Figure 3.5.)

The crewmembers conducted a variety of scientific experiments during the two-day docking period. Both spacecraft returned to Earth safely. The Apollo-Soyuz Rendezvous and Docking Test Project was the first union of spacecraft from two different countries.

By 1976 the Soviet space program was engrossed in another new project called Buran, a reusable space plane modeled after the U.S. space shuttle. The Buran program (like the U.S. shuttle program) was plagued by development, cost, and scheduling problems. Even though an unmanned Buran orbited Earth twice and landed successfully in November 1988, the program was halted soon afterward due to funding cuts.

The 1980s were a tense time in U.S.-Soviet relations. The Soviets were at war with Afghanistan and cracking down on dissidents in Poland. In 1983 the Soviet military

shot down a Korean jetliner that allegedly veered into Soviet air space. Sixty-two Americans were among the 269 passengers killed. The Soviet Union felt threatened by President Reagans so-called Star Wars proposal to build a satellite shield. Furthermore, throughout the decade U.S.-Soviet arms talks repeatedly failed.

On February 19, 1986, the Soviet space agency launched the space station Mir into orbit. Unlike the temporary Salyut stations, Mir was designed to last for years and to be continuously inhabited. Dozens of cosmonauts, astronauts, and space tourists visited the station during its fifteen-year lifetime in space. On March 22, 1995, the cosmonaut Valery Polyakov (1942-) returned to Earth after spending 437.7 continuous days aboard Mir. It was a record for continuous space inhabitation that remained unbroken in March 2008.

The Russian Space Agency Takes Over

During the early 1990s the Soviet Union splintered into a number of individual republics. The largest of these is Russia. In 1992 the new Russian government established the Russian Space Agency (RSA) to take over the space programs of the old Soviet Union. Russia and the United States began a new era of cooperation in space. In 1993 the two countries agreed to work together to build an International Space Station (ISS). Between 1994 and 1998 U.S. shuttles transported astronauts and cosmonauts to the Mir station. In 1998 ISS construction began when the Russians placed the first module (Zarya) into orbit. Construction is expected to take place at least through 2010. The ISS receives regular visits from Progress spacecraft. These are automated resupply vessels that bring consumables (food and water), spare parts, propellants, and other supplies to the station. The ISS has also relied heavily on the Russian Soyuz to ferry crewmembers to and from the station. It is likely that the Soyuz will be the only spacecraft capable of conducting ISS crew transports after the space shuttle ends operation in 2010 and until the next-generation U.S. spacecraft (the Ares) begins operating.

In 2006 Russian authorities announced a proposed successor to the Soyuz tentatively called the Advanced Crew Transportation System (ACTS). The ACTS will not only continue transports to the ISS in low Earth orbit but also be capable of achieving lunar orbits for any future Moon missions.

Roscosmos controls all the countrys nonmilitary space flights. Military space ventures are controlled by Russias Military Space Forces (VKS). The two agencies share control of the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City. The Plesetsk Cosmodrome launch facility in northern Russia is under the control of the VKS.

Russian Space Science

Even though the Soviet space program had an active space science program, budget constraints have severely restricted the scope of Roscosmoss endeavors in this area. In 1994 the agency cooperated with international partners to launch CORONAS-I, the first of three planned solar observatories. The second component, CORONAS-F, was launched in 2001. The third satellite, CORONAS-Photon, was scheduled for launch in 2008. Roscosmos has also launched several small Earth-observing satellites in recent years, including Monitor-E in 2005 and Resurs-DK1 in 2006. The agencys Foton program features small satellites carrying recoverable experiment capsules. The payloads are put into Earth orbit for short periods of time (typically less than two weeks) and are recovered for scientific assessment after they return to Earth.

According to the article Russia to Carry out up to 20 Space Projects by 2015 (, October 5, 2007), Russias space plans through 2015 include more than twenty ambitious projects, including investigations of Earths Moon and the Martian moon Phobos.


European countries can engage in space exploration through the European Space Agency (ESA), by collaborating with foreign space agencies (e.g., NASA), and/or through their own national space programs. European countries with national space programs include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. (See Table 3.1.) The French space program is one of the oldest and most active in Europe.

French Space Program

Following World War II, France engaged in rocket research and development with the help of German engineers and scientists who had developed the V series of rockets. This work largely took place in Vernon, France. In 1961 the French government founded the agency

Centre National dEtudes Spatiales (CNES) to lead the nations space program. Three years later the French government established a space launch facility at Kourou in the French overseas territory of Guiana in northern South America. (See Figure 3.6.) Because of its nearness to the equator, Kourou is an ideal location from which to launch satellites into geostationary transfer orbit.

During the 1960s France developed the Diamant, Berenice, and Véronique launch systems. In 1965 a Dia-mant rocket was used to launch the first French satellite, Astérix, into orbit. By the end of the 1970s France had developed what would become the primary launch vehicle for European space craft: the Ariane rocket. Ariane is the French name for the Greek goddess Ariadne. In 1973 France joined with more than a dozen other European countries to form the ESA. The CNES continued to conduct national space ventures and collaborated with the ESA and other national space agencies.

On December 24, 1979, the first Ariane rocket launched into space from the Kourou spaceport. Since that time the Ariane design has undergone several modifications. The latest generation is the Ariane 5, a robust launch system capable of carrying two satellites at once into orbit. As of March 2008 more than 175 Ariane rockets had been launched into space. The vast majority of the flights have transported commercial communications satellites into Earth orbit. Ariane rockets have also been used to launch science payloads, including the joint NASA-CNES TOPEX/Poseidon (1992) and the ESAs XMM Newton Observatory (1999), Spot 5 (2002), and Rosetta (2004).

Besides TOPEX/Poseidon, other joint ventures between NASA and the CNES include Jason 1 (2001), Calipso (2006), and Stereo (2006). All are Earth observatories. The French agency has also contributed to many ESA missions, including Mars Express and Venus Express. As of March 2008, the CNES operated several Earth-observing satellites and the spaceborne telescope COROT. COROT was launched in December 2006 and began conducting precise measurements of light from distant stars. Pulsations in the measurements can indicate the passage of objects, such as planets, around stars. In May 2007 COROT discovered an exoplanet (a planet outside the solar system) orbiting a yellow star approximately fifteen hundred light years from Earth.

The CNES is headquartered in Paris, France, but it has additional facilities located throughout the country, including the Launcher Directorate in Evry and the Toulouse Space Centre. Launches take place at the Centre Spatial Guyanais (Guiana Space Centre) in French Guiana. In Space Scientific Missions of the French National Space Agency (February 15, 2008,, the CNES indicates that it has dozens of space missions in the study or development stage, such as the interplanetary mission BEPICO-LUMBO, an orbital investigation of Mercury that is scheduled to be launched in 2013.

European Space Agency

The ESA was formed in 1973 from two existing organizations: the European Space Research Organisation and the European Launcher Development Organisation. As of February 2008, the ESA ( had seventeen member states:

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Luxembourg
  • The Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom

In addition, the ESA has agreements with Canada, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Poland to participate in some projects. Even though the ESA is independent of the European Union (EU), it maintains close ties with the EU and the two organizations share a joint space strategy.


ESA headquarters are located in Paris, France. Other ESA facilities include the European Space Research and Technology Centre in Noordwijk, Netherlands; the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany; the European Astronauts Centre in Cologne, Germany; the European Space Research Institute in Frascati, Italy; and liaison offices in Belgium, Russia, and the United States. The ESA operates a launch base in French Guiana.

Each member state funds mandatory ESA activities based on that countrys gross national product (the total value of goods and services produced by a country over a particular period of time). Mandatory activities include space science programs and the agencys general budget. In addition, the ESA operates optional projects in which countries may choose to participate and fund.


On September 27, 2003, the ESA launched the first European mission to the Moon. SMART-1 assumed orbit in November 2004 and began investigating the lunar surface. On September 3, 2006, the spacecraft was purposely crashed into the Moon at the Lake of Excellence. SMART-1 gathered data on the morphology and mineralogical composition of the lunar surface.

In 2003 the ESA began participating in Double Star, the first Sino-European space mission. This joint effort with the China National Space Administration investigated physical processes occurring in Earths magnetic environment. It included two satellites, Double Star 1 and Double Star 2, which were launched aboard Chinese Long March 2C rockets in 2003 and 2004, respectively. Originally intended for a six-month mission, the spacecraft were viable for more than three years. Controllers lost contact with Double Star 2 in August 2007, and the satellite was presumed lost. In October 2007 Double Star 1 reentered Earths atmosphere and was destroyed.

The ESA is a partner in the ISS program. The agency developed the data management system for the Russian segment launched in 2000. The ESA also constructed the Harmony connecting module. Harmony was delivered to the ISS aboard the U.S. space shuttle in October 2007. The ESAs Columbus research laboratory was scheduled to be delivered to the ISS in early 2008. In addition, new ESA-developed automated supply ships called automated transfer vehicles (ATVs) will begin delivering equipment, spare parts, food, water, and other consumables to the space station crew. The launch of the first ATV, dubbed Jules Verne, was scheduled for early 2008. Future ESA components for the ISS include a robotic arm, a module containing life support equipment for the stations permanent crew, and a pressurized observation and work area.

The ESA also participates in Russias Foton program. The most recent Foton mission, called M3, was launched in September 2007 and included a payload of more than forty ESA experiments. The M3 capsule returned to Earth after twelve days and was successfully recovered.

As of January 2008, the ESA was directly operating ten space science missions and partnering with NASA in three others. (See Table 3.2.) The ESAs current projects include one comet investigation mission (Rosetta ) and two interplanetary missions (Venus Express and Mars Express ).

Rosetta left Earth in February 2004, for a rendezvous in May 2014 with the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The comet orbits the Sun, completing one orbit approximately every six and a half years. Rosetta is designed to land on the nucleus of the comet and attach itself with a harpoon. It will collect images and conduct chemical analysis of the comets surface.

The Venus Express Orbiter was launched in November 2005 and went into orbit around Venus in April 2006. As of March 2008, the ESA ( indicated that the orbiter was still performing sophisticated atmospheric studies and measuring surface temperatures.

The Mars Express Orbiter was launched in June 2003 and went into orbit around Mars in December 2003. The landing vehicle Beagle 2 left the orbiter to land on the planets surface. The ESA lost contact with the lander, which was declared lost. However, as of March 2008 the ESA ( reported that the orbiter continued to circle Mars and collect data with its scientific instruments.

The ESA was also responsible for the Huygens probe mission to Saturn. The probe was launched aboard the NASA spacecraft Cassini in October 1997. On December 25, 2004, Cassini released the probe for a three-week journey to the surface of Titan, Saturns moon. It pene-

TABLE 3.2 European Space Agency (ESA) operational space science missions as of January 2008
NameLaunch dateMission
SOURCE: Created by Kim Masters Evans for Gale, Cengage Learning, 2008.
Under direct ESA operation
Venus Express11/9/2005Venus Orbiter
Rosetta3/2/2004Investigate comet 67P/Churyumov -Gerasimenko
Mars Express6/2/2003Mars Orbiter
Integral10/17/2002Space observatory
Envisat3/1/2002Observe & monitor Earths environment
Proba10/22/2001Earth imager
Cluster-II7/16/00 & 8/9/00Four satellites investigating Earths magnetosphere
XMM-Newton12/10/1999Space observatory
ERS-24/21/1995Investigate Earths land and oceans
In partnership with NASA
SOHO12/2/1995Perform solar observations
Ulysses10/6/1990Investigate the Suns polar regions
Hubble space telescope4/24/1990Space observatory

trated the thick cloud cover that hides the moon and touched down on January 14, 2005. The probe sampled Titans atmosphere and provided the first photographs ever of its surface. The probe is named after Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695), the Dutch astronomer who discovered Saturns rings and Titan. Huygens is the first probe to ever land on a celestial body in the outer solar system.


As of March 2008, the ESA ( had a number of missions planned for the coming decades, including Earth and space observatories and interplanetary investigations. The Aurora Exploration Programme will use robotic missions to Mars to collect and return samples to Earth. The first mission in this program is tentatively titled ExoMars and is expected to launch in 2011.


Chinas space program is overseen by the China National Space Administration and operated by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). The CASC is a state-run enterprise that develops and produces rockets, spacecraft, and related products. It has conducted satellite launches since 1970. CASC launch sites include Jiuquan in the Gobi desert, Taiyuan in northern China, and Xichang in southeastern China.

Tsien Hsue-shen

The Chinese space program began in the late 1950s under the direction of the rocket engineer Tsien Hsue-shen (1911-). Tsien was born in China, but immigrated to the United States during the 1930s, where he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech). He was a key member of the rocketry club at Cal Tech that evolved into NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He was also instrumental in the U.S. program to acquire and apply German rocket technology at the end of World War II. In 1950 Tsien was accused of being a communist spy and had his security clearance revoked. At the time, he was pursuing U.S. citizenship.

In 1955, after five years under virtual house arrest, Tsien was deported to China, where he was put in charge of the nations budding space program. Under his leadership China developed successful satellite and missile systems. These included the antiship missile called Haiy-ing by the Chinese and dubbed Silkworm by the Western media. During the cold war China sold Silkworms to a number of third-world countries considered unfriendly to the United States. Tsien also led development of the Chang Zheng (Long March) rockets that became the primary launch vehicle of the Chinese space program.

During the late 1960s Tsien fell out of favor with the Chinese leadership and was removed from his post. This disgrace resulted in Tsien receiving little credit within China for his accomplishments. However, the Western world considers him the father of the Chinese space program. In her 1995 biography of Tsien, Thread of the Silkworm, Iris Chang asserts that deporting the brilliant rocket scientist was one of the most monumental blunders committed by the United States.

China Reaches Space

On April 24, 1970, DFH 1, the first Chinese satellite, was launched into Earth orbit. It was propelled into space by a Long March rocket. Since the 1970s China has conducted many satellite launches using Long March rockets. During the 1990s development began on capsules capable of carrying animals, and later humans, into space. In 1999 the first such spacecraft, Shenzhou 1, successfully completed fourteen orbits around Earth. Throughout the early 2000s the Shenzhou series was updated with newer and more powerful Long March rockets.

On October 15, 2003, China conducted its first human spaceflight. The taikonaut (Chinese astronaut) Yang Liwei (1965-) was launched aboard Shenzhou 5. Liwei spent twenty-one hours and twenty-three minutes in space and completed fourteen orbits. On October 12, 2005, Shenzhou 6 carried two taikonauts into space: Jun-long Fei (1965-) and Haisheng Nie (1964-). They spent just over four days orbiting Earth before touching down safely in Inner Mongolia.

On October 24, 2007, China used a Long March 3A rocket to launch a robotic Moon orbiter into space. The mission was called Change 1 in honor of the Chinese Moon goddess. The spacecraft entered lunar orbit several weeks later and was expected to conduct observations for up to a year. Future Chinese plans include Moon rovers capable of returning samples to Earth, interplanetary robotic probes, a space-based astronomical observatory, and a crewed lunar landing. The country has shown keen interest in participating in international space ventures and has agreements with Russia, Brazil, and the ESA. Marcia S. Smith of the Congressional Research Service estimates in Chinas Space Program: An Overview (October 18, 2005, that China spends approximately $2 billion a year on its space program.


The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) was created on October 1, 2003, by merging the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, the National Space Development Agency of Japan, and the National Aerospace Laboratory of Japan. The JAXA is headquartered in Tokyo and has more than a dozen field facilities across Japan.

The first Japanese satellite, Ohsumi, was launched into space in February 1970 by a Lambda-4S rocket. Ohsumi remained in space for more than three decades and was destroyed in 2003 as it reentered Earths atmosphere. It was the first of many satellites launched by the JAXA. Japanese launch vehicles for lightweight satellites are named after letters in the Greek alphabet. In 2001 a new heavy-lift rocket called the H-II became Japans primary launch vehicle for heavier spacecraft. Two years later an H-II malfunctioned soon after liftoff and had to be destroyed, along with the two satellites it was carrying. A long safety review followed the incident. The H-II was not used again until February 2005, when it successfully launched a weather satellite into space.

As of 2008, JAXA ( operational missions included six Earth-observing satellites and three astronomical observatories. In addition, the agency was operating the solar orbiter Nozomi, the asteroid sampler Hayabusa, and the lunar orbiter Kaguya, and continuing development of the Kibo laboratory module for the ISS.

In September 2007 the JAXA launched the SELENE (Selenological and Engineering Explorer) toward the Moon for a one-year orbital mission. It includes three components. The primary satellite is called Kaguya, after a mythical Japanese Moon princess. Its two smaller satellites, Okina and Ouna, take different orbits around the Moon.

Nozomi was launched in July 1998 by an M-5 rocket and was to go into orbit around Mars in December 2003. An equipment failure prevented this from happening. Instead, JAXA was forced to put the spacecraft into a solar orbit.

Hayabusa was launched in May 2003 by an M-5 rocket to intercept the asteroid Itokawa. The asteroid orbits the Sun between Earth and Mars and is about twenty-three hundred feet by one thousand feet in size. It is named after Hideo Itokawa (1912-1999), who is considered the founder of Japans space program. The robotic explorer was designed to land on the asteroid, take a surface sample, and return to Earth by 2007. In November 2005 the JAXA lost contact with the spaceship during the touchdown procedure. Even though contact was regained after a few days, it is not known for sure if Hayabusa was able to collect dust particles. In 2005 the JAXA announced that thruster problems were going to delay Hayabusa s return to Earth until 2010. It is supposed to land in a desolate region of the Australian Outback.

The Kibo laboratory facility was originally supposed to be flown to the ISS in 2004 or 2005. It is a heavy component and must be transported by the space shuttle. Continuing problems with the space shuttle fleet have delayed the Kibo transport mission until 2008 or 2009.

The JAXA also participates in a number of scientific satellite projects with international partners. Future Japanese space projects include missions to the Moon, Venus, and Mercury. The Planet-C mission is planned for launch in May 2010 and will put an orbiter around Venus a year later. Mercury orbiters are under development for a mission in the early 2010s.


Private space organizations have played a major role in advancing space exploration. As far back as the 1920s groups of scientists, hobbyists, and other enthusiasts were gathering together to share their passion for rocket science and space travel. Many of the early groups were absorbed by government and military space organizations or evolved into aerospace manufacturing businesses. Private groups continue to advance space flight by researching and developing new technologies, operating commercial space enterprises, promoting public interest in space, and influencing government decisions on the future of spaceflight.

During the 1990s new avenues arose for private parties to participate in space endeavors. The Russian government allowed high-paying space tourists to travel to the space station Mir for brief stays. The first nongovernmental launch facilities were developed for commercial satellites.

In 2004 a major milestone was achieved in space exploration: the first manned spacecraft developed and launched by a commercial enterprise traveled into space. This opens a whole new realm of space travel opportunities to private citizens.

Early European Organizations

One of the first private space organizations was the Verein für Raumschiffahrt (VfR; Society for Spaceship Travel). The VfR was formed in 1927 in Berlin by a group of scientists and authors interested in rocket research. In particular, they wanted to raise money to finance rocket experiments being conducted by Professor Hermann Oberth (1894-1989) at the University of Munich. During the early 1930s the group sponsored rocket research projects around Germany. The VfR included many famous members, including von Braun. The group disbanded in 1933 as the Nazi Party gained power in Germany.

The 1930s witnessed the formation of private space organizations throughout eastern and western Europe. In the Soviet Union there was the Gruppa Isutcheniya Reak-tivnovo Dvisheniya. The British Interplanetary Society (BIS) was founded in 1933. This group of scientists and intellectuals is credited with advancing many important theories used in space flight, including a design for a lunar landing vehicle that was incorporated into Project Apollo. As of 2008 the BIS was active and published several influential journals.

American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

In April 1930 a group of American scientists, engineers, and writers interested in space exploration formed the American Interplanetary Society. The founders included George Edward Pendray (1901-1987), inventor of the time capsule; David Lasser (1902-1996), an engineer and technical writer who advocated space travel; and Laurence Manning (1899-1972), a science-fiction writer. In 1934 the name of the group was changed to the American Rocket Society (ARS). By this time the members were predominantly rocket scientists who specialized in the research, design, and testing of liquid-fueled rockets. The ARS featured many prominent members including Robert Goddard (1892-1945), whose theories and experiments were instrumental in the development of rocket science during the early twentieth century.

During World War II several ARS members started the company Reaction Motors support the war effort. The company later developed rocket engines used in the famous X-series planes. Over the decades, the company evolved into ATK Thiokol Propulsion, the manufacturer of the space shuttles rockets.

In 1932 a group of American aeronautical engineers and scientists formed the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences (IAS). Even though originally focused on Earthbound aviation, the IAS grew increasingly interested in space flight. In 1963 the IAS merged with the ARS to become the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

As of 2008 the AIAA ( had more than thirty-one thousand members and was the largest professional society in the world devoted to aviation and spaceflight. Its stated purpose is to advance the arts, sciences, and technology of aeronautics and astronautics, and to promote the professionalism of those engaged in these pursuits. The AIAA has published hundreds of books and hundreds of thousands of technical papers throughout its history.

The Planetary Society

The Planetary Society is a nonprofit space advocacy group based in Pasadena, California. It was founded in 1980 by the scientists Carl Sagan (1934-1996), Bruce C. Murray (1931-), and Louis Dill Friedman (1940-).

The societys (2008, stated purpose is: The Planetary Society creates ways for the public to have active roles in space exploration. We develop innovative technologies, like the first solar sail spacecraft, we fund astronomers hunting for hazardous asteroids and planets orbiting other stars, we support radio and optical searches for extraterrestrial life, and we influence decision makers, ensuring the future of space exploration.

The society funds projects that support its goals and educate the public about space travel. It also encourages its members and the public to contact government leaders regarding space exploration projects. During the 1980s the society waged a campaign to encourage Congress to restore funding for NASAs Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project. In the early 1990s the battle was over NASAs planned postponement of the Mars Observer mission. In late 2003 and early 2004 Planetary Society members sent thousands of postcards to congressional leaders to protest funding cuts for NASAs planned mission to Pluto. According to the Planetary Society, all three of these campaigns were successful in that government funding was restored to the projects.

In 1999 the society started the SETI@home project in which private citizens could allow their home computers to be used to analyze data recorded by a giant radio telescope as part of SETI. By the time the SETI@-¥home project ended in December 2005, more than five million people had participated. The project was turned over to the University of California at Berkley Space Sciences Laboratory, which operates it under the Berkeley Online Infrastructure for Network Computing.

In the early 2000s the society launched the project Red Rover Goes to Mars to coincide with NASAs Mars Exploration missions. The project included an essay contest for students that resulted in the names used for the Mars rovers: Spirit and Opportunity. The contest was sponsored by the Planetary Society and the Lego toy company.

The two also funded the creation of DVDs that were mounted to the rovers for the missions. The DVDs were specially crafted out of silica glass (instead of plastic) and contain the names of nearly four million people who asked NASA to be listed. Each DVD surface features a drawing of an astrobot saying Hello to Mars. The spacecraft safely landed on Mars in January 2004. Photos transmitted to NASA by the rovers after landing showed that the DVDs survived the journey. The rovers are designed to remain on Mars and not return to Earth.

Other components of the Red Rover Goes to Mars project included a contest in which the winning students visited mission control during the Mars Exploration missions and a classroom project in which students built models of the Mars rover and the Martian landscape.

On June 21, 2005, the Planetary Society launched its first spacecraft, Cosmos 1, to test a solar sail in orbit around Earth. A solar sail is a novel technology that could power spaceflight in the future. It is composed of giant ultrathin silvery blades that unfurl after launch to reflect sunlight. The electromagnetic radiation of sunlight exerts force on the objects on which it shines. This force is fairly strong in outer space due to the absence of atmospheric friction, and it could potentially push a solar sail in much the same way that the wind pushes sailing ships on Earths oceans.

Cosmos 1 was built in Russia with funding and technical support from the Planetary Society. Each blade of the solar sail was forty-seven feet long. The sail was to be launched by the Russian navy from a submarine. The mission was cosponsored by the media company Cosmos Studios through a contract with the RSA. It was the first space mission ever funded by a private space interest organization.

Cosmos 1 was lost soon after launch when its Russian-supplied Volna rocket failed to fire properly. The Planetary Society hopes to raise the money needed to fund a second solar sail.

Other programs being funded by the Planetary Society ( as of 2008 include an exoplanet search and the Gene Shoemaker Near-Earth Object Grant Program. The society also provides grants to private observers around the world who help track small asteroids orbiting near Earth.

Space Entrepreneurs

Commercial enterprises have played an important role in space exploration through the decades. Government and military space programs would not have been possible without the contributions of labor and technology from companies in the aerospace business and related fields. Communication corporations were among the first to see the potential of satellites to grow and revolutionize their businesses. Demand for satellite launches from the commercial sector helped fund and drive many advances in rocket science and launch technology.

For decades satellites could only be launched at state-operated facilities. The 1990s witnessed the birth of commercial satellite launching organizations in several countries. One of the most unusual is the Sea Launch Company. The company formed in 1995 and included U.S., Russian, Ukrainian, and Norwegian companies engaged in the aerospace business. The consortium modified an ocean oil-drilling platform into a rocket launch platform and placed it in the middle of the Pacific Ocean along the equator. Since the first successful launch in 1999, more than a dozen commercial satellites have been put into orbit from the sea-based facility.

The 1990s also witnessed the first space tourists. The RSA allowed private citizens to visit the space station Mir and the ISS for fees ranging from $15 million to $30 million per tourist. Most of the trips were arranged through the private U.S. company Space Adventures. Formed in 1998 by the aerospace engineer Peter H. Diamandis (1961), the company offers customers opportunities in space tourism and related entertainment areas, such as zero gravity experiences. The demand by private citizens for space travel is expected to grow substantially during the twenty-first century.

A New Way to Explore Space: Commercial Suborbital Flights

In 2004 a major milestone in space exploration was achieved when the first nongovernmental manned spacecraft traveled to space and back. The spacecraft was called SpaceShipOne, and it was funded by the private investor Paul G. Allen (1953-), the cofounder of the Microsoft Corporation. In 2001 Allen contracted the California design firm Scaled Composites to develop a reusable space vehicle capable of carrying at least one passenger to suborbital space. Aside from re-engaging the publics interest and passion in space exploration, Allen and SpaceShipOne set out to win the Ansari X Prize ( This prize was offered by a group of private investors called the X Prize Foundation, which was created by Diamandis. The Ansari family was the prime funder of the $10 million prize, which was available to any nongovernmental group that could achieve the following:

  • Build a spaceship and fly three people (or at least one person plus the equivalent weight of two people) into space (defined as an altitude of 100 kilometers or 62.1 miles)
  • Return safely to Earth
  • Repeat the feat with the same spaceship within two weeks

On June 21, 2004, the test pilot Mike Melvill (1941-) of Scaled Composites became the first person to pilot a privately built plane into space when he took Space-ShipOne to an altitude of 62.2 miles during a test flight. On September 29, 2004, he achieved an altitude of 63.9 miles. Only five days later the pilot Brian Binnie (1953-) took the same plane to an altitude of 69.6 miles to win the Ansari X Prize.

The flights were conducted from an airstrip in Mojave, California. A carrier plane called White Knight transported SpaceShipOne to an altitude of approximately forty-seven thousand feet and released it. A rocket motor aboard the spaceship was fired to propel it vertically into space. The pilots experienced about three minutes of weightlessness at the height of their journeys. During reentry the wings of SpaceShipOne were maneuvered to provide maximum drag and slow its descent. The spacecraft glided back to the airstrip and landed like a plane. (See Figure 3.7.)

The White Knight was a manned twin-turbojet carrier aircraft designed to fly to high altitudes carrying a payload of up to eight thousand pounds. It was named after two U.S. Air Force pilots (Robert White and William Pete Knight) who earned their astronaut wings flying the experimental X-15 aircraft during the early 1960s.

SpaceShipOne used a unique hybrid rocket motor fueled by liquid nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and solid hydroxy-terminated polybutadiene (a major constituent of the rubber used in tires). The individual fuel components are nontoxic and are not hazardous to transport or store. They do not react when mixed together unless a flame is supplied. In SpaceShipOne, the nitrous oxide was gasified before combustion.

In July 2005 Burt Rutan (1943-), the president of Scaled Composites, and Richard Branson (1950-), the founder of the Virgin Group, announced the formation of a new aerospace production company: the Spaceship Company. Using original technology licensed from Allen, the company plans to build a small fleet of spacecraft based on the designs of the White Knight and Space-ShipOne. In 2004 Branson created Virgin Galactic, which bills itself as the worlds first commercial spaceline. Virgin Galactic signed an agreement to become the first launch customer for the Spaceship Company aircraft.

On August 2, 2007, an explosion during a rocket ground test killed three workers at a Scaled Composites facility in the California desert. The explosion involved the firing of the nitrous-oxide delivery system. In January 2008 Virgin Galactic reported that work was proceeding on the development of the new SpaceShipTwo and White-KnightTwo spacecraft.

Virgin Galactic plans to sell suborbital space flights to tourists for approximately $200,000 per flight. In December 2005 the company announced its agreement with the state of New Mexico to build a spaceport near the White

Sands Missile Range. The company intends to begin com-mercial space flights from an airstrip in a Mojave, Califor-nia, in 2008 or 2009 and switch its operations to the New Mexico site when the spaceport is complete.

In Accidents Wont Stop Private Space Industrys Push to Final Frontier (, August 2, 2007), Michael Belfiore reports that as of August 2007 other companies had announced plans to conduct commer-cial space flights, including the European corporation EADS AStrium, Blue Origin (a company started by the chief executive officer Jeffrey Bezos [1964]), and Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas-based company funded by the real estate developer Robert Bigelow.

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Space Organizations Part 2: U.S. Military, Foreign, and Private

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