There was considerable interest in the space station in Europe. Following on Pedersen’s invitation, in June 1982 NASA and ESA agreed that the European agency finance Phase A industrial studies on both utilization aspects and potential hardware contributions. Later that year the ESA Council, with some difficulty, drummed up support for studies on “maintaining in Europe an independent launch capability, developing a European in-orbit infrastructure, and pursuing transatlantic cooperation through participation in the future United States space program.”27
This formulation was meant to be flexible enough to accommodate the diverse needs of the member states, notably the drivers of the European space effort, France and Germany. As Niklas Reinke points out, both were committed to the idea of a space station, although their political motives differed. The federal minister for research and technology, Heinz Riesenhuber, who took office in October 1982 “wanted substantial European participation in the American programme, with Germany in the lead; France was interested in the technical know-how to be gained from a space station but was wary of becoming involved again in such close cooperation with the United States.”28 Germany’s prime aim was to build on its Spacelab experience, expanded to include the development of reusable space platforms like the free-flying pallet suitable for commercial and scientific experiments called Eureca (EUropean REtrievable CArrier).29 It teamed up with Italy to fund industrial studies of pressurized models derived from Spacelab and an unmanned platform that were combined together in a program it called Columbus.30
In January 1984, just a week before President Reagan made his State of the Union address announcing that he would support the space station, the German and Italian delegations suggested to their partners in ESA that they might like to participate in the development of Columbus. This was now a generic name for a research module to be attached to the space station plus one or more free-flying platforms for more complex experiments in science and applications, above all microgravity.
Representatives of the member states of ESA, meeting at ministerial level in Rome in January 1985, defined their priorities for the next phase of their joint space effort. The ministers spelt out the principles that should guide their participation in the joint venture. They sought European “responsibility for the design, development, exploitation and evolution of one of several identifiable elements of the space station together with responsibility for their management.” They also wanted to have “access to, and use, on a non-discriminatory basis, of all elements of the space station system on terms that are as favorable as those granted to the most-favored users and on a reciprocal basis.”31 The ministers also expressed strong support for Columbus, whose precise content would “depend on the terms and conditions of the partnership agreement concluded with the United States.”32
The enthusiasm generated by the Phase A studies, and the support of the ministers meeting in Rome in January, quickly led to the signature of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between ESA and NASA in June 1985. It dealt with the conduct of parallel detailed definition and preliminary design studies (Phase B studies). (Similar agreements were signed with Canada and Japan.) The MoU specifically identified a key milestone in March 1986, about halfway through the planned definition phase, at which NASA and ESA would mutually agree on the composition of the Columbus program that would be carried forward for the remainder of the definition phase. This second Phase B2 was scheduled to run from April 1986 to March 1987. Tough negotiations between the two agencies over the Columbus content delayed the start of Phase B2 by over six months to November 1987.33 In parallel, starting in 1986, bilateral discussions were begun between the potential European partners and the United States on establishing the legal instruments governing the space station. The European group insisted that these be conducted on two levels. They wanted bilateral MoUs between NASA and the partner agencies for defining how cooperation in the design, the construction, and the operation of the space station and its constituent elements could and should be implemented in practice. The MoUs were subsumed under a single intergovernmental agreement (IGA) defining the policy guidelines and legal principles that would govern collaboration between the United States and the member states of ESA, Canada, and Japan. These various instruments were signed by almost all parties at the end of September 1988. NASA’s MoU with its Japanese counterpart was signed in March 1989.34
Europe’s phase B1 proposals had three main elements. The first was a pressurized module that could either be tethered to the station or detached and used in a human-tended, free-flying mode. The second was a retrievable platform derived from the Eureca concept that would be placed in an orbit near the space station. The third was the polar platform that was intended as a “workhorse” for earth observation missions in polar orbits and whose scientific interest was enhanced by growing concerns about environmental degradation and climate change in the early 1990s.35
ESA was particularly interested in the first of these elements. Its dual-configuration, tethered or free-flying, allowed it to be used as a Spacelab-like environment for scientific experiments as well as a small autonomous European space station to acquire capabilities in rendezvous and docking procedures, and in the use of automation and robotics. NASA rejected the scheme—the space station would not be big enough nor would it have enough electrical power for each nation to operate its module both docked and untethered. Europe complied by restricting this component to a permanently attached pressurized module (APM), which was the length of four Spacelab segments and was to be used for materials science, fluid physics, and life-sciences experiments. ESA then successfully demanded that it develop a separate laboratory, the man-tended free – flyer (MTFF), to be operated in a microgravity-optimized orbit.36 The MTFF fulfilled some of the original mission requirements of the Eureca platform and retained the potential of evolving into a permanent autonomous space station. Thus in the Columbus configuration eventually agreed on in 1987, the MTFF and the polar platform (PPF) “were. . . the elements that were to carry the banner for Europe’s autonomy in space, while the APM, as a fully integrated part of the station, had to be adapted to fit American ideas.”37
The disagreements between ESA and NASA were not restricted to hardware contributions; they extended to use. It seems that during the negotiations over the final cooperative agreements the United States did not want Europe to perform microgravity research in materials science, even in its own part of the station. Only the United States was to be allowed to use any part of the station for experiments of commercial promise. As McCurdy puts it:
Because of strong congressional and presidential interest in the commercial
potential of space, NASA would eventually insist that it be allowed to build the
materials-processing lab. That would leave the Europeans with the less glamorous task of building the life sciences lab. To conduct materials-processing experiments, the Europeans would have to use a U. S. module. Furthermore, they could not just float in and use it. The experiments would have to be scheduled on the basis of international agreements acceptable to all of the partners and based on their relative contributions to the station.38
This situation did not persist. As Peggy Finarelli stressed in an interview with the author, “the utilization plan of any partner, what they wanted to put on the Station, how they used their resources was their call. [ . . . ] There was absolutely no carving up like ‘You can do this and you can’t do that.’ We have unilateral rights to do this.”39
Then there was the question of military use. At the end of 1986 the United States raised the question in general terms of the use of the space station for military research related to SDI. This threatened to derail the whole process. Japan was totally against the idea. ESA’s convention specifically committed the agency to peaceful use, and no backsliding would be tolerated by the “neutral” member states—Austria, Sweden, and Switzerland. Indeed this issue caused such consternation that “early in 1987, the view was expressed in German government circles that, although it was perhaps not necessary to think about breaking off the negotiations just yet, the positions had become irreconcilable.”40 Caspar Weinberger attempted to still these fears by submitting a list of possible military experiments to be conducted on the station that he thought should be unobjectionable. It made little difference. When the representatives of the ESA member states, meeting at ministerial level in November 1987, adopted a long-term space plan that committed them to participation in the station, they thought it fit to include a special clause regarding peaceful use in their resolution.41 In the final agreements the space station was defined as being “civil” and “for peaceful purposes, in accordance with international law” (see also chapter 1). The US chief negotiator placed on record that his country “has the right to use its elements, as well as its allocations of resources derived from the Space Station infrastructure, for national security purposes.”42 This was coupled with a clause in the agreement that allowed any partner (including Japan) to refuse that its attached module be used by a military body.43
Peggy Finarelli, who was involved in the negotiation of these agreements on behalf of NASA, provided an insider’s perspective in an interview in 2010. She stressed that the “creative ambiguity” over the meaning of the term “peaceful” in the Outer Space Treaty allowed all the adherents to sign on while maintaining their separate perspectives. Put simply, for the United States the term “peaceful” meant “non-aggressive,” while for her partners the term meant “non-military” (see chapter 1). The disagreement was so deep that “we cancelled one of the scheduled negotiating sessions because everybody was waiting for government instructions on this. That was closest we came, really, to losing it in the negotiations over that issue.” The dispute was resolved when “we finally agreed that each of us would use our own territory on the Station according to our own definition of peaceful purposes.” There has been a convergence of attitudes since then, she suspects, “everybody’s evolved more to the U. S. perspective” as “space becomes more and more useful for military, nonaggressive purposes.”44
Another source of friction between the partners arose over the handling of cost increases on the NASA side. As was mentioned earlier, in 1983 Beggs put a figure of $8 billion (in 1984 dollars) on space station development, the amount that the NASA administrator thought the president could accept. In October 1985 NASA officials announced that they had adopted a “dual-keel” design for what would be a multifunctional space station with foreign participation.45 A year later its cost was estimated to be $14.5 billion (1984 dollars). Then in April 1987, under pressure to reduce costs further, NASA announced a “revised baseline configuration” with a cost estimate of $12.2 billion (1984 dollars). This omitted the cost of operations, an emergency crew return vehicle, and the cost of transporting hardware into space with the shuttle.46 NASA signed contracts for four “work packages” with aerospace contractors.
President Reagan baptized the new configuration Space Station Freedom, a name that hearkened back to the State of the Union address in January 1984 in which he had said, “We are first, we are the best, and we are so because we are free.”47 As Finarelli remarked, it also made clear that “[t]he Space Station was clearly one of the nation’s Cold War high-technology infrastructure projects undertaken at least in part to demonstrate our leadership vis-a-vis the Soviets, and part of that leadership is showing that people will follow your lead in what you choose to do”48—as did the Europeans.
The Europeans played a major role in shaping the final agreements on participation in Space Station Freedom. Their financial contributions were substantial: at the time, about twice what was expected from Japan and four times more than Canada. They also brought far more historical baggage to the negotiating table.
What of Canada and Japan? Canada had built the Remote Manipulator System (or Canadarm) for the shuttle. It had established its reputation as a reliable partner that could be trusted to build technological elements that were critical to mission success. Three main reasons determined its decision to join in the station. First, the in-orbit assembly and operations of the station provided it with an opportunity to further valorize its acquired experience in automation and robotics. Second, it was attracted by the polar-orbit earth observation facility, which could provide remote sensing data for many of its needs. Finally, the Canadian authorities were persuaded that the space station would “alter dramatically many of the established ways of operating in space.” Joining the American project along with Western Europe and Japan would provide a platform for “new business relationships and cooperative programs with the world’s major space nations.”49 For Canada, then, foreign policy concerns were overshadowed by the possibilities for expanding its existing industrial capabilities and markets in high technology, for consolidating space cooperation with partners other than the United States, and for providing remote sensing data that covered its vast geographical space.50
Japan’s engagement with the space station had a different trajectory.51 It had long been champing at the bit to develop its own, autonomous space program. Many felt that it had, for too long, been under foreign technological tutelage. Though NASA had helped Japan develop launchers, it had denied it access to cutting-edge technologies and had restricted the payloads that the country could launch with “its” rockets (see chapter 10). It seemed clear that to fully reap the benefits of the conquest of space Japan needed to have its own launcher. Could it afford to do so (at a development cost of $1 billion), and at the same time accept
President Reagan’s offer in January 1984 to join in the space station? The famed MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry) and a group of major Japanese industries were persuaded that it was imperative not to “miss the boat” on manned space flight, as Japan had done on post-Apollo. However, Japan also wanted an indigenous launcher that would not be subject to US restrictions on use. It eventually adopted a two-track approach. It developed a “made in Japan” H-2 launcher that proved to be neither a commercial nor a technological success.52 Its contribution to the space station was a Japanese Experiment Module (JEM), also called Kibo (meaning hope).