Space Collaboration Today: The ISS
Two major geopolitical changes in the 1990s have had very different impacts on NASA’s international relations over the past 20 years. The implosion of the Soviet system and the political will to integrate Russia into the core of what became the International Space Station (ISS) produced an exception to some time-hallowed NASA policies, notably, the notions of clean interfaces and no exchange of funds. By contrast, the “leakage” of sensitive satellite and missile technology to China, and its willingness to work closely with “rogue states” like Iran, gave traction to those who believed that the United States had to be far more prudent in its international posture, above all in sharing technology.1 This led to a tighter implementation of the ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) particularly as regards satellites. This added more layers of complexity and bureaucracy to international collaboration with traditional allies, and has stimulated lively debates between diverse stakeholders about the costs and benefits of implementing export controls more rigorously.
This chapter and the next discuss these developments. Since NASA’s decision to incorporate Russia into the ISS is treated in chapter 8, this analysis will pay greater attention to the structures of collaboration that were put in place before 1993. Those structures were deeply influenced by the history of NASA’s relations with its traditional partners, above all Western Europe. Concerns about European disappointment at the outcome of the post-Apollo negotiations (chapters 4-6) and the ISPM affair (chapter 2) hung over negotiations between NASA and ESA. These past setbacks to the otherwise smooth path of cooperation were consciously drawn on as lessons that were not to be repeated. The classic principles of no exchange of funds and clean interfaces were not, however, put in question. That only happened when Russia was drawn into the project, bringing with it an array of Cold War technologies, record-breaking experience of long – duration human spaceflight, and a disintegrating infrastructure of institutions and industries that were seeking a new role for themselves. The architecture of the ISS was accommodated to incorporate Russian elements into technologies that were critical to mission success. Millions of US dollars, both private and public, flowed to various actors in the Russian space sector in an attempt to revitalize them, and to engage them more tightly with American practices and priorities. The end-result was a space station in which NASA found itself
dependent on its partners in ways that were historically unprecedented. A new kind of international cooperation had been imposed, in which NASA’s mandate to sustain US leadership had to contend with its loss of autonomy.