Political considerations, domestic and foreign, continue to play a key role in civil space. Even in today’s multipolar and increasingly interconnected world, the global competitiveness of the U.S. aerospace industry has been significantly hindered by what are generally acknowledged to be outdated and oftentimes counterproductive International Traffic in Arms Regulations.2 Further, which countries the United States chooses to partner with in space is influenced by foreign policy considerations. National security considerations regularly prevail over desires for international scientific collaborations.

The United States can no longer base the foreign policy aspects of space activities on the assumption of being the first choice for global partnerships based on its unchallengeable dominance. We are no longer in a position to control the space technology that is available and is increasingly being developed in other nations. As a result, the United States is no longer the only, or in some cases even the best, option for countries interested in space partnerships. Rather, as with other aspects of globalization, U.S. leadership in space activities must be based on the competitiveness of our capabilities; the attractiveness of our ingenuity, entrepreneurialism, and willingness to take risks; and our recognition of mutual interdependencies.

The scientific context also is quite different today from what it was even a decade ago. The growing realization that Earth’s climate is changing and that human actions are likely largely responsible for those variations3 is altering perceptions of the planet on which we live and heightening the importance of monitoring Earth’s properties and understanding the processes that govern them. Recent astronomical discoveries (e.g., of extrasolar planets and dark energy) are overturning the established view of the universe. Similarly, observations by the Mars rovers and orbiters suggest that Mars may have been able to harbor life at some time in its history and, thus, may provide a new perspective on life as we know it. Communications and remote sensing satellites, largely originated through investments by NASA, have become viable commercial activities. Building on early successes, the capacity of the space program to contribute solutions to important issues of national interest has broadened even as the initial narrow geopolitical imperative for the program waned.

Although the national perception of the space program to a large extent harkens back to the legacy of Apollo, the committee argues in this report that the U.S. civil space program has evolved to become essential to our national welfare and is strategically vital to the United States.


See National Research Council, Beyond “Fortress America”: National Security Controls on Science and Technology in a Globalized World, The National Academies Press, 2009, and “Briefing of the Working Group on the Health of the U.S. Space Industrial Base and the Impact of Export Controls,” CSIS, Feb. 2008, available at http://www.csis.org/media/csis/pubs/021908_csis_spaceindustryitar_final.pdf.


Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2007, IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Summary for Policy Makers, 2007; available at http://www.ipcc.ch.

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