Some 220 miles above Earth orbits the biggest test of
international spaceflight cooperation. It has a Russian and American
crew. Its components were built on four continents. It has endured a
Perils of Pauline history that might have terminated the project
were it not that 15 other countries had signed on to the project
through binding agreements.
But now, as spacefaring countries on both sides of the Atlantic
look to extend humanity's presence to the moon, and eventually
beyond, the space station's model of cooperation may have run its
The moon and, perhaps later, Mars efforts are slated to occur in
incremental steps over decades, defying the single-project model
that has been the space station's hallmark. Any new team effort will
require a new approach by the United States, in particular, since
its potential partners have grown more capable and less satisfied
with what they see as their "subcontractor" roles.
Indeed, much has changed since 1984, when President Reagan called
on Western allies to join in building a space station in response to
the effort by the Soviet Union. The cold war ended, allowing the US
and Russia to work together. Meanwhile, China joined the manned
spaceflight club, and reportedly is looking at future manned lunar
missions. Japan and India initiated moon and Mars exploration
programs of their own. And Europe has launched its own Aurora
program to reach the moon and beyond.
Thus, nations can pick partners with manned spaceflight
experience in ways they couldn't during the cold war, when the US
National Aeronautics and Space Administration was the only free-
world option. Because their visions for human space exploration
overlap, they probably will team up, experts say.
"This is inherently a global effort," says Lori Garver, former
NASA associate administrator. "This is humanity's vision."
The alternative could be a new space race that no nation can
sustain. Rough estimates for President Bush's vision for space
exploration run as high as $100 billion over the life of the program
- although no one knows for sure because it proceeds on a "go as you
pay" basis, and new technologies or unforeseen stumbling blocks
could dramatically change the equation.
Beyond questions of space- exploration costs are broader issues
of how the US achieves its strategic goals, according to Joan
Johnson-Freese, who heads the department of national- security
studies at the US Naval War College in Newport, R.I. "We need to
show we are a leader - the kind you want to work with." By joining
with other nations in shaping a long-term manned-spaceflight effort,
instead of merely asking other nations to sign on to Washington's
project, she says, "we can shape the space activities of other
countries, rather than have them going off and doing things we don't
want them doing."
Convincing the public
Placing cooperation on a more equal footing also could help
sustain public support for a long-term effort, she adds. "I work a
lot with European space officials, and they tell me: If you think
it's hard to get support for your space program, try doing it when
the public perceives that you only play a supporting role."
The International Space Station shows the benefits and potential
pitfalls of cooperation, analysts say.
The international nature of the partnership, in which allies
committed to building key components, helped see it through tough
budget times variously experienced by its 16 partners. And the
inclusion of Russia in 1993 has been the program's savior since the
Columbia disaster, Ms. Garver points out. When the Russians joined -
a move that was highly criticized and very expensive - it meant that
the station's orbit had to be changed to make it accessible to
rockets launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Without
Russia's crew-exchange and resupply missions since the Columbia
accident, the station would be empty. …