European Union Seems Determined to Star in Space Opera. (News Alert!)

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A new space race is heating up between the United States and the European Union (EU). One side is seeking cooperation, the other competition.

NASA, the Department of Defense (DoD) and the European Space Agency (ESA) have a history of collaboration, even with the Russians on the doomed and now-defunct Mir space station. For the most part, the relationship between NASA and the ESA was a harmonious one. But as the EU seeks a more prominent international role, its ministers seem to be agitating for a fight.

For one thing, there's contention over the proposed Galileo satellite-navigation system, which would compete with the DoD's famed Global Positioning Satellite system (GPS). In late March, European transportation secretaries approved funding for Galileo. The projected $3 billion venture would be the largest and most ambitious EU infrastructure project to date.

The ESA plan is to have 30 satellites in orbit by 2008, covering the entire surface of the Earth with their navigational technology, say transportation officials. And while DoD says Galileo does no more than duplicate its GPS -- a network of 24 satellites -- the Pentagon warns the ESA effort has the potential to compromise the efficiency and security of NATO operations by interfering with GPS signals. Back in December, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz wrote to his EU counterparts that Galileo would "significantly complicate our ability to ensure availability of critical military GPS services in a time of crisis, and at the same time assure that adversary forces are denied similar capabilities."

So what's up here? French President Jacques Chirac has appealed for grandeur, declaring that Europe will be doomed to "vassal status" unless it builds an independent satellite network of its own. …