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Tue, Jun 29, 2010

President Obama Unveils National Space Policy

White House Says It Is A Leading Collaborative, Responsible, and Constructive Use of Space

President Obama (pictured, right) announced the administration’s new National Space Policy Monday. The policy expresses the President’s direction for the nation’s space activities, and articulates what the President says is his commitment to reinvigorating U.S. leadership in space for the purposes of maintaining space as a stable and productive environment for the peaceful use of all nations.

In a news release, the White House said that the decades that followed the cold-war space race have seen a radical transformation in the way we live our daily lives, in large part due to our use of space. The growth and evolution of the global economy have ushered in an ever-increasing number of nations and organizations using space to observe and study our Earth, create new markets and new technologies, support operational responses to natural disasters, enable global communications and international finance, enhance security, and expand our frontiers. The impacts of the utilization of space systems are ubiquitous, the White House says, and contribute to increased transparency and stability among nations.

"Our policy reflects the ways in which our imperatives and our obligations in space have changed in recent decades," President Obama said in a statement when he unveiled the policy. "No longer are we racing against an adversary; in fact, one of our central goals is to promote peaceful cooperation and collaboration in space, which not only will ward off conflict, but will help to expand our capacity to operate in orbit and beyond. In addition, this policy recognizes that as our reliance on satellites and other space-based technologies increases, so too does our responsibility to address challenges such as debris and other hazards. No longer is space just a destination to reach; it is a place where we must be able to work in ways that are responsible, sustainable, and safe. And it is central to our security and the security of our allies, as spaced-based technology allows us to communicate more effectively, to operate with greater precision and clarity, and to better protect our men and women in uniform."

"But, above all, this policy is about the boundless possibilities of the future," Obama continued. "That is why we seek to spur a burgeoning commercial space industry, to rapidly increase our capabilities in space while bolstering America’s competitive edge in the global economy. We are proposing improved observation of the earth, to gain new insights into our environment and our planet. We set ambitious goals for NASA: ramping up robotic and human space exploration, with our sights set on Mars and beyond, to improve the capacity of human beings to learn and work safely beyond the Earth for extended periods of time. And this policy recognizes the importance of inspiring a new generation of young people to pursue careers in science and engineering. For, ultimately, our leadership as a nation – in this or any endeavor – will depend on them."

In the policy, President Obama states that:

  • The United States remains committed to many long-standing tenets in space activities. The United States recognizes the rights of all nations to access, use, and explore space for peaceful purposes, and for the benefit of all humanity.
  • The United States calls on all nations to share its commitment to act responsibly in space to help prevent mishaps, misperceptions, and mistrust. The United States will take steps to improve public awareness of government space activities and enable others to share in the benefits of space through conduct that emphasizes openness and transparency.
  • The United States will engage in expanded international cooperation in space activities. The United States will pursue cooperative activities to the greatest extent practicable in areas including:  space science and exploration; Earth observations, climate change research, and the sharing of environmental data; disaster mitigation and relief; and space surveillance for debris monitoring and awareness.
  • The United States is committed to a robust and competitive industrial base. In support of its critical domestic aerospace industry, the U.S. government will use commercial space products and services in fulfilling governmental needs, invest in new and advanced technologies and concepts, and use a broad array of partnerships with industry to promote innovation. The U.S. government will actively promote the purchase and use of U.S. commercial space goods and services within international cooperative agreements.
  • The United States recognizes the need for stability in the space environment. The United States will pursue bilateral and multilateral transparency and confidence building measures to encourage responsible actions in space, and will consider proposals and concepts for arms control measures if they are equitable, effectively verifiable, and enhance the national security of the United States and its allies. In addition, the United States will enhance its space situational awareness capabilities and will cooperate with foreign nations and industry to augment our shared awareness in space.
  • The United States will advance a bold new approach to space exploration. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration will engage in a program of human and robotic exploration of the solar system, develop new and transformative technologies for more affordable human exploration beyond the Earth, seek partnerships with the private sector to enable commercial spaceflight capabilities for the transport of crew and cargo to and from the International Space Station, and begin human missions to new destinations by 2025.
  • The United States remains committed to the use of space systems in support of its national and homeland security. The United States will invest in space situational awareness capabilities and launch vehicle technologies; develop the means to assure mission essential functions enabled by space; enhance our ability to identify and characterize threats; and deter, defend, and if necessary, defeat efforts to interfere with or attack U.S. or allied space systems.
  • The United States will fully utilize space systems, and the information and applications derived from those systems, to study, monitor, and support responses to global climate change and natural disasters. The United States will accelerate the development of satellites to observe and study the Earth’s environment, and conduct research programs to study the Earth’s lands, oceans, and atmosphere.

The Union of Concerned Scientists calls the policy a return to the "traditional" U.S. positions first articulated in administrations spanning President Carter to President Clinton.

Experts at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) point out that the document language indicates how the Obama administration will approach space security. They said that the administrations public statements indicated that the new policy likely will represent a return to a more international approach to space; a more balanced view of civil, commercial and military uses of space; and a greater openness to arms control and cooperative solutions to international space security issues.

Laura Grego, a senior scientist with UCS's Global Security Program, said in a statement before the official release of the policy that "the Obama administration has decided to return to policies that were in place during the Carter, Reagan, Bush senior and Clinton years. The National Space Policy of each of those administrations supported the right of all nations to use space peacefully and without interference. And all of those administrations viewed arms control agreements as useful tools to ensure that right."

"The George W. Bush administration took the United States in a radically different direction," she said. "It essentially embraced a unilateral approach to space security, which was in keeping with its overall foreign policy. It asserted that the right to use space without interference was a U.S. right, and put strict limits on arms control."

Grego said the UCS believes that the Obama administration's approach to new arms control measures is critically important. "There is no way we can achieve lasting space security independently. We are going to have to coordinate and cooperate with other spacefaring nations. That's the nature of space," she said. "We also expect the new policy to do a better job than the last one balancing military, civil, and commercial uses of space. The Bush administration overemphasized military policy, and that has had significant negative consequences. Overly broad export controls over the last decade have held back our domestic space industry in international competition. And they also have hampered the United States' ability to cooperate with other countries on civil space projects."

But Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch called the policy a move in the wrong direction. “The Administration is yet again trying to sell this country a failed space policy that irrevocably diminishes our central role in space exploration," Hatch said in a statement issued Monday. "The President says he is committed to ‘reinvigorating U.S. leadership in space,’ but what he’s proposing makes us more dependent on Russia and other nations. That’s not how I would define leadership.

“Furthermore, it’s hard to understand how the President is committed to ‘a robust and competitive industrial base,’ when he’s dismantling a proven and effective space program that has propelled our nation to tremendous heights," Hatch's statement continued. "In fact, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has taken extraordinary steps to terminate Project Constellation without Congressional approval, and contrary to the law. I urge the President to rethink this flawed policy, because while this might be a new direction for manned space flight, it’s a direction we don’t want to take.”

FMI: www.whitehouse.gov, www.ucsusa.org, http://hatch.senate.gov

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