The Politics of Space Exploration

Human kind is poised on the launch pad of the most exciting, transformational age of space exploration since the orbiting of Sputnik started it all, back in 1957. Despite the forces that are unleashing a race to the stars unlike any we have seen, the subject of space exploration and utilization has been conspicuously absent from the U.S. presidential campaigns.

Why is this?

Space Exploration, particularly human spaceflight, has heretofore been inextricably intertwined with politics. Political/ideological competition between the United States and the Soviet Union fueled the race to put a human into space, in order to score Cold War victories by demonstrating technological superiority. The Soviets scored early and often, with several victories, including Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin’s flight.* Not to be out-done, the United States declared a new finish-line — saying that it would win the race to land humans on the Moon, which was accomplished in less than a decade — one of the greatest political accomplishments and engineering feats in human history.

The Soviets responded by flying the first space stations, the Salyut series. We countered with Skylab, and upped the ante significantly, developing the Space Shuttle. The Soviet Union felt compelled to develop its own shuttle, Buran — and the challenge was beyond them, driving the space program of the USSR to its knees. After just one unmanned demonstration flight, of an incomplete vehicle, Buran was relegated to museums and boneyards, never to fly with a crew, never to fly again.

Since the first tentative steps toward partnership with the Apollo-Soyuz flight, and graduating to the Shuttle-Mir program and now the International Space Station (ISS), a political approach of collaboration over confrontation worked to build social, cultural, and economic bridges between the super powers, surviving even the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse —> Read More