Saturday, May 5, 2012

Together let us explore the stars

The title for this post is a quote from President Kennedy’s 1960 inaugural address to the nation. The main focus of this post is to give a brief history of the cooperation and competition between the Soviet Union and the US during the Cold War in the area of space exploration. Throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s, there were successes and there were set back for cooperation between the two superpowers. It’s important to understand the past in order to help guide policy actions for the future. This might help guide policy with respect to China in order to achieve greater cooperation, or at least coordination, in space access and space exploration. It is especially important to understand what works and what doesn’t work as far as international cooperation on major space program so that the cost of exploring the solar system (and populating other planets) can be shared between the major countries. Since the goal of life is for life to grow and to expand, we need a coordinated method of populating other planets in the solar system. This means working with other countries who do not share our views/values, and it also means working with people in the US who do not share our own personal views/values. You don’t have to agree with other people in order to cooperation with others. You just need a version of tit-for-tat or tit-for-two-tats and perhaps some sort of binding legal foundation, so that one side of the deal isn’t being taken advantage of. 
     There are a lot of ways that cooperation has yielded benefits to both of the participating countries. For example, using US expertise in satellite equipment and tracking capability and Russian expertise in converting its former ICBM rockets into launch vehicles, the International Launch Services company is a joint US-Russian partnership that can fairly cheaply launch satellites into orbit. Another example is Sea Launch, which was a partnership as of 2010 between Boeing, Russian space companies and even a Norwegian company that designed the mobile, sea-based launch platform. 
     It’s often said by people who want to see expanded government funds for space exploration that having a competition will be good for space exploration, but the people saying this often forget that there is great deal of duplication, waste, and anxiety associated with space competition, and this can often set back space development. So, my goal with this post is to give a brief summary of the history of cooperation between the Soviet Union and the US. If you are interested in a brief history of the competition between the US and the Soviet Union in the 1950’s, check out this post I wrote about the history of the Sputnik / Vanguard era. I think that there is a lot to be gained from cooperation in space access/exploration between the major superpowers. There is already a lot of cooperation between the U.S. and the E.U., Canada, England, Japan, and Russia, but there is only limited US involvement with China, India, and Brazil. In fact, until 1994, the US actively attempted to stifle Brazil’s military-based space agency because of fears that their rockets could be used to carry nuclear weapons. In 1994, Brazil created a separate civilian organization to avoid this problem. (Cooperation between nations is often set back due to stupid reasons.) 
     Space exploration is not the only example of where coordinated action between countries can be beneficial. Examples of current international collaboration include the fusion reactor ITER, the large particle collider CERN, and the International Space Station. (Note that, in previous posts, I’ve stated that nuclear fusion can be a promising way to destroy long-lived by-products of nuclear fission reactions. With that having been said, we need to actually test this hypothesis to see if nuclear fusion can actually decrease the amount of radioactive material and can actually compete economically as a combined (a) electricity power source and (b) nuclear waste recycling plant. ) The lessons learned from the Int’l Space Station and ITER will also help the world as it develops future projects, such as cooperation on Moon/Mars colonies. Before delving into the essay, I’ve listed some the main highlights from the paper:

1)   It is important to realize that just because a certain administration may be for (or against) cooperation doesn’t mean that the public is for (or against) cooperation.

2)   A lesson to be learned from the 1960s is that a bureaucratic organization such as NASA needs to be pro-active in its attempts to create programs and should not send laundry lists to the President about space policy goals. In fact, it makes a lot more sense for NASA to directly communicate with the public: this includes programs like NOVA, but it could also include reality TV shows in which NASA projects compete (like singers compete on American Idol/The Voice) for the public’s vote. The projects with the most public votes get the most funding.

3)   It is symbolic that the final flight of the Apollo spacecraft program, which was created for the purpose of beating the Russians to the moon, was the first docking between spacecraft built by different nations. The Apollo-Soyuz Test Program preceded and was an essential first step for the international space station and hopefully for permanently-manned colonies on other planets.

Together Let Us Explore the Stars:  A Brief History of Cooperation and Competition during the Cold War
NASA’s attempts for cooperation with the Soviet Union in the field of space programs felt set backs throughout the Cold War whenever major world events provoked the rivalry between the two superpowers. The main events that provoked competition in space began during the Eisenhower administration, starting with the launching of Sputnik. President Kennedy started the process for successful cooperation, but political events of the mid-60s (i.e. the Cuban missile crisis) brought steps towards cooperation to a halt. A different set of political circumstances in the seventies, along with a push for cooperation by NASA Administrator Thomas Paine and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, allowed for the successful Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) to occur in 1975. The ASTP can be seen as the culmination and highlight of years of attempts at cooperation that began with the Kennedy administration. This paper will use primary documents from NASA’s Exploring the Unknown Vol I  to explain the reasons why cooperation programs between the U.S. and the USSR failed in the sixties but succeeded in the seventies. (Note that the entire Volume II can be found here.)
A look at the space policy decisions during the Eisenhower administration is essential in contrasting the initial competition between the US and USSR with the eventual cooperation of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. President Eisenhower’s report to the National Security Council in 1958  “U.S. Policy on Outer Space” was representative of the fear that drove the Eisenhower administration to compete with the Soviets in launching a satellite in the earth’s upper atmosphere. Eisenhower began the report by stating three stark “facts” that he thought confronted the United States. The first was the fact that the USSR had surpassed the United States in scientific and technological accomplishments in space. Second, the USSR might be able to use that superiority as a means of undermining the prestige and leadership of the United States. Third, if the USSR were able to achieve significant superiority in military capacity, it would create an imbalance of power in favor of the Sino-Soviet Bloc and pose a direct military threat to US security. Eisenhower suggested that the security of the US requires that “we meet these challenges with resourcefulness and vigor” (Vol. 1, II-18). The report detailed a list of ‘Earliest Possible Dates’ for which Soviet and US missions could be accomplished. In every case, the US was predicted to be behind the Soviets. Interestingly, in the section of the report titled Psychological Exploitation, Eisenhower focused on how the U.S. should counter the psychological impact of the success of Soviet outer space and activities by favorably highlighting U.S. progress in this area, i.e. increase the PR about the US space program.  The Soviet’s ability to launch Sputnik was psychologically important at the time and, in this report, Eisenhower was admitting that fact. Eisenhower focused on the competition between the super-powers rather than on cooperation, and probably quite rightfully so. Why would the US want to cooperate with a country that was politically different, supposedly technologically superior, and quite ideologically driven? Wouldn’t it be dangerous for the second best team to ask help from the number one team?
 Yet, the issue here of cooperation vs. competition is not as clear-cut as it seems because Eisenhower did seem to be open to the idea of discussing cooperation. For example, in his 1958 NSC report, he brought up the idea of inviting scientists from the USSR to the United States as a measure of good will, and idea he thought would make technologically good sense. Though, Eisenhower mentioned the following about working with the Soviets, “The willingness of the Soviets to cooperate remains to be determined” (Vol. 1, II-18). In the preliminary stages of US space policy and the early days of NASA, the focus was on catching up to the Soviets. This mentality can be seen in Eisenhower’s call for certain technological objectives in education close the gap with the Soviet Union, later echoed by Kennedy. This call also highlighted the fear that dominated space policy decisions during his administration. For example, there were many phrases, such as the following, “It is believed that the USSR could…” and “The USSR could probably orbit…”  Eisenhower’s concern was what the Soviets could do and this promoted an atmosphere of competition. What is interesting, and sets Kennedy apart from Eisenhower, is that the same circumstances that created the competition for Eisenhower were around when Kennedy was actively promoting cooperation in space programs.
President Kennedy started on the right foot when he first entered the office of president and his enthusiasm for space cooperation eventually lead to the Dryden-Blagonravov agreements. His inaugural address invoked cooperation with the Soviets when he said, “Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars…” This push for cooperation was furthered in his first State of the Union address. He laid out three main ideas for cooperative plans that would develop (1) a weather prediction program, (2) a new communications satellite, and (3) probes for the distant planets of Mars and Venus. In February 1961 Kennedy asked his science advisor, Jerome Wiesner to establish a NASA-Department of State panel on international space cooperation. The document that came out of this group played an important part in the defining of NASA’s role in US-USSR space cooperation. The “Draft Proposals for US-USSR Space Cooperation” was released April 4, 1961 as the representative document of this era of space cooperation. The proposal set out the specific objectives that it wished to meet and gave guidelines on how space cooperation would be best set up to allow for ease of passage through the US Congress and Soviet government. The proposals were broken down into three categories based on the cost estimates. This document represents technically what President Kennedy had said in words during his speeches. The proposal basically outlined the same three proposals that Kennedy mentioned in his State of the Union address. This document is important because it shows Kennedy’s determination to actually follow through with his rhetoric. It has often been said that Kennedy was ‘all for show’ when it came to talking about cooperation with the Soviets. It is doubtful that Kennedy would have formed this Space Cooperation group if he had not had intentions of working with the USSR. The Draft Proposal did hit on an important point about working with the Soviet Union, and that was: “the fact that we would have to be prepared to admit Russians to installations such as Cape Canaveral and to show them details of out booster and payload systems” (Vol. 1, I-36). Unfortunately, most people at the time failed to accept the crucial importance of admitting scientists from the other country into areas with sensitive/protected technology, i.e. you can’t cooperate unless you actually are willing to allow people into sensitive areas to understand what is being developed and for them to comment, to critique, and possible to replicate that technology if it’s good. The Draft Proposal document turned Kennedy’s ideas into NASA policy goals for cooperation with the USSR, but it did so very tentatively. This initial wave of cooperative feelings by the US came to a halt within days of finalizing the Draft Proposal. On April 12, 1961 Yuri Gagarin made the first orbital flight around the earth. This event provoked the competitive urge in Kennedy that came through in his speech to Congress stating that a man will land on the moon by the end of the decade. Kennedy’s true intentions have often been confused because he often wavered on whether to support cooperation or competition.
Positive communication between the superpower leaders began again in 1962 after John Glenn’s orbital flight quickly got the gears rolling again for cooperation. The next step towards cooperation occurred when Krushchev congratulated President Kennedy in February 1962 on the successful orbital flight of John Glenn.  An important document during this time was Kennedy’s response to Kruschev’s good will. In this letter Kennedy mentioned five different programs that the US would be interested in pursuing with the Soviets. The first was an early operational weather satellite system—“each country should launch a satellite to photograph cloud cover and provide other agreed meteorological services for all nations. Second, he proposed allowing the other country to “obtain tracking services from each other’s territories.” Third, each country would launch a satellite to map the earth’s magnetic field in space. Fourth, he argued for launching communication satellites from each country. His final proposal was that the two countries should pool their efforts and exchange knowledge in the field of space medicine. Just as in other speeches and proposals, Kennedy mentioned his idea of lunar landings and exploration of Mars and Venus. This letter from Kennedy contains all of the same ideas that were contained in the 1961 proposal by Dr. Jerome Weisner’s group at MIT, with the exception of pooling research in the area of space medicine. An important part of this letter was Kennedy’s “Now what?” paragraph in which he said that he was designating technical representatives to meet and to discuss the practical sides of cooperation. This was exactly what would become the discussions between Dryden (NASA Deputy Director at the time) and the Soviet representative, Blagonravov. Dryden and Blagonravov met in Geneva on 27 May 1962. Both men had traveled there for the first meeting of the Technical Subcommittee of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. While there was no direct connection between the bilateral Soviet-American talks and the UN meeting taking place, the occasion provided a convenient enough place for people to pursue their own private discussions. In 12 days, they succeeded in hammering out agreement on three points: weather satellites, mapping earth’s magnetic field and working on passive reflector communication satellites. Dryden generally believed that these first conversations were free of cold-war propaganda, but he did note that there were remarks that cooperation could be on a much larger scale if the disarmament negotiations were successful [1]. The main point of these discussions was just to start open discussions of future plans, rather than to tackle the technical issues. The feeling from Blagonravov was that they would have been wasting their time if they had not "believed the work to be of major significance." [1] An exchange of letters between Webb (NASA Administrator) and Keldysh (Director of the Soviet Academy of Sciences) put the agreements into effect. Clearly, at this point in time, it seemed as though cooperation between the two countries was a definite possibility and not just a bunch of political gibberish.
While cooperation might have looked great on paper from the scientist’s view at NASA, the public in the US was divided about cooperation with the Soviet Union. Kennedy took the next step in this story by going in front of the General Assembly of the UN and asking “Why should man’s first flight to the Moon be a matter of national competition?” [2] Reactions to Kennedy’s speech were not very positive. Reactions in the U.S. to space cooperation with the Soviets were mixed at this point in time. Glenn's flight had reassured many Americans who had been worried about the nation's position in the space race and this demonstration of equality helped boast the idea of cooperation. Yet, for most public figures, Glenn’s flight establishing American pre-eminence in space gave rise to the idea that the US should focus on achieving superiority. For example, Senator Margaret Chase Smith, the ranking Republican member of the Aeronautical and Space Sciences Committee, felt that the United States had little to gain from cooperation, especially since she felt that the nation should be committed to "superiority over Russia on really important space development." [1]
From the other side of globe, the reaction from the Soviet public to this possible cooperation was favorable. On 12 April 1962, at the government-sponsored Cosmonaut’s Day celebrations, both Gagarin and Titov were quoted in the Soviet press as favoring cooperation between the two countries, especially if it led to a reduction in armaments [3]. This public display of a yearning for cooperation can also be seen in Vice President Johnson’s speeches that emphasized how the Soviet Union was realizing the need for cooperation in space. However, it can definitely be argued that the speeches by President Kennedy Vice President Johnson at that time were purely symbolic and purely rhetorical attempts to show the Soviet Union as non-cooperative and eventually as needing US help in space. It is important to realize that just because a certain administration may be for (or against) cooperation doesn’t mean that the public is for (or against) cooperation.
The Dryden- Blagonravov agreements mark a high point of cooperation in the 1960s, but the failure to follow through with the actual agreements points out the beginning of the slump in cooperation in the late 60s. The importance of Webb’s document “US-USSR Cooperation in Space Research Programs” is that it points out the 'tried and tired' shape of things in 1964 in NASA. The tone of the paper was one of disappointment. Many of the proposals made by Dryden were postponed until December 1963 because of a Presidential order during the Cuban crisis decreeing "that there be no further action on the U.S.-U.S.S.R. outer space bilateral until the Cuban situation has been settled” [3]. The feeling in this report is that Webb was trying to get the President to step up and do something decisive. He stated, “The report recommends these guidelines to govern foreseeable negotiations with the Soviet Union in the space field: substantive rather than propaganda objectives alone; well-defined and comparable obligations for both sides; freedom to take independent action…” (Vol. 1, I-43). Webb was stating the feeling that NASA was just being carried along for a ride by the President and Krushchev, who only wanted political points for talking about cooperation. There was also anger in this paper directed to the Soviet Academy of Science. “At this writing, the Soviet Academy, while in communication with NASA in regard to the agreements between us, has failed to meet time limits on most agreed action items” (Vol. 1, I-43). This failure of cooperation between the US and USSR reflected the deeper political events occurring. President Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963 marked the end of enthusiastic conversation between the two country’s leaders. Krushchev’s removal from office in 1964 also hindered space cooperation efforts because Krushchev was more open to the United States than many of the Soviet leaders that ruled in the following years. The NASA efforts towards cooperation eventually died off and a major reason for that was the budget constraint that started occurring in 1965 (due to increased social/military spending and eventually due to the oil shocks.)
President Johnson was not as concerned about space cooperation as President Kennedy was, and he also had to worry about rising costs from the war in Vietnam and his Great Society programs. One of the themes that ran throughout the reports by NASA’s Director (James E. Webb) was the realization by NASA that it needed presidential favor in order to get programs passed through Congress. Webb writes, “If Soviet performance under the existing agreement is unsatisfactory, a high-level initiative on a non-public basis would seem desirable to prod the Soviet Union to better performance; additional public steps might be considered if this proves unavailing” (Vol. 1, I-43). It seems as though Webb was personally asking President Johnson to restart communication with the Soviet Union leadership, as had President Kennedy done. As another typical NASA document, it suffered from containing too many laundry lists of possible programs. Webb was complaining to the President in this report that US leadership was not creating well-defined goals for NASA. However, part of the problem was NASA’s failure to realize that it couldn’t rely on an imperial president, knowledgeable in this subject, to define space policy objectives. In the short run, only deaf ears heard Webb’s reports. The reports did not help NASA achieve its goals, such as joint lunar landings and pooling of research on space medicine. The Dryden- Blagonravov agreements eventually fell through in the three areas of cooperation. As for telecommunication, the Soviet Academy decided to not use the US satellite ECHO and instead they launched their first telecommunications satellite (Molniya) up in 1965.
Another reminder of the failed attempts at cooperation was Intersputnik in 1971, a communications consortium of Soviet block nations in response to Intelsat. As for meteorology, the USSR failed to make their data from satellites publicly available; while on the other hand, the US launched 19 weather satellites in the 1960s that proved invaluable for the prediction/warning of violent storms. The Dryden- Blagonravov agreements failed at achieving their original goals because no groundwork had been laid between the countries in opening up and revealing their day-to-day operations to each other. In the early1960s, attempts were made at US-USSR cooperation in space, but the changing political winds at the end of the decade destroyed earlier prospects because there was not a solid base of communication between the two countries. While we can partially blame the political winds, some of NASA’s troubles and confusion at the end of the 1960s stemmed from Kennedy’s indecisiveness in choosing between cooperation in sovereign-free space or competition to prove America’s dominance in technology.
 A lesson to be learned from this time period is that a bureaucratic organization such as NASA needs to be pro-active in its attempts to create programs and should not send laundry lists to the President about space policy goals. In fact, it makes a lot more sense for NASA to directly communicate with the public: this includes programs like NOVA, but it could also include reality TV shows in which NASA projects compete (like singers compete on American Idol/The Voice) for the public’s vote. The projects with the most public votes get the most funding.
The presidency of Nixon actually saw cooperative measures take place between the US and USSR because of a political sense of détente and because more definable goals were set for cooperation. Between the spring of 1969 and the fall of 1970, the Paine-Keldysh correspondence set the stage for serious discussions on developing compatible equipment and flight procedures. As Paine studied the future of manned space flight and other aspects of man's investigations of the cosmos, he became convinced "that the conquest of space was a job of such enormity that a new partnership of major nations should be organized with the U.S./U.S.S.R. leaders demonstrating the way.” [4]. Thomas Paine broke the years of silence in July 1970 by writing a letter to Keldysh discussing the possible idea of a rendezvous between Soviet and American astronauts in space. The proposals provoked a response from the Soviet Union, a response that quickly led to a NASA delegation traveling to Moscow to discuss the prospect of a docking program. Glynn Lunney led the trip to Moscow and when he came back he wrote up a trip report describing his stay there. He began with personal observations of the Soviet Union and then it described their tour of Star City, the training grounds for Russian cosmonauts. His overall impression of the place was one of simplicity, but his description for the place was very detailed. This shows how open the Soviets were at the time and this trip represents a major step forward because the Soviets were demonstrating their trust for the US. This was, for a large part, due to Nixon’s and Kissenger’s trips to Russian in 1970. For two days of the trip, there was mutual exchange of experience and time to outline a framework for future activities. US scientists presented discussions on rendezvous experience and techniques for docking assemblies. Three groups formed to address certain needs and proposed schedule for a summary of results of each group. These working groups have been the principal mechanisms for planning US-USSR space cooperation since 1970 [2].
The atmosphere set by Lunney trip was positive and this set the tone for further trips led by George Low, NASA Deputy Administrator. These trips were the crucial ingredient in the recipe for successful cooperation between the US and the USSR. Deputy Low gave recommendations to Nixon to go ahead with cooperation missions and on May 24, 1972 President Nixon and Chairman of the Soviet Council of Ministers Alexei Kosygin signed a government-to-government “Agreement Concerning Cooperation in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space for Peaceful Purposes.” The culmination of this agreement was the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, which had been given a date set for a docking of the two crafts in 1975. A major reason for the President’s approval of the ASTP was Kissinger’s memo to the President on May 17, 1972 entitled “US-Soviet Space Cooperation.” In the memo Kissinger begins by stating that NASA Administrator Fletcher reported that Dr. Low’s April mission was successful. “The Soviets have informed NASA that they would like to reach formal agreement on space cooperation, including the joint manned mission, during the Moscow Summit. Programmatically, the US is ready to execute such an agreement, and NASA recommends that this be done.” Kissinger described how cost estimates had been coordinated with OMB and that Clark MacGregor indicated that congress would  pass the proposal by a 3-1 or 4-1 margin. Kissinger also includes a Draft Agreement Summary that finalized the goal of rendezvous and docking of a modified Apollo-type and Soyuz-type spacecraft in 1975. Kissinger made it really easy for Nixon to agree to the mission and easy for Soviets to back the mission. This was a breakthrough for US-USSR relations and headed NASA down the road of cooperation for the next three years. Valuable data and research was gained for both countries because Soviet and US engineers, administrators, and astronauts met frequently over the next three years.  It is important to note that the president was not the one in charge of working out the agreements. He was just the person who had to sign the agreements. A large portion of the success for ASTP can be given to Kissinger because it was his letter to Nixon and his travels to Russia that allowed for Nixon and Brezhnev’s backing of the program; however, the initial communication of the technical agents of the USSR with Thomas Paine provided the roots for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Program.
Scientists of the 1970s from both the United States and the Soviet Union were in the unique position that they were constructors of foreign policy for their countries. Communications between NASA and the Soviet Academy of Sciences laid the ground work for improved relationships between the US and USSR during the détente of the early 1970s. The stage had been set early on in the 1960s, but a series of political predicaments pushed back against the forces of cooperation. It is symbolic that the final flight of the Apollo spacecraft program, which was created for the purpose of beating the Russians to the moon, was the first docking between spacecraft built by different nations. The ASTP preceded and was an essential first step for the international space station and hopefully for permanently manned colonies on other planets.

[2]        “Cooperation with the Soviet Union.” Exploring the Unknown. Vol. 2

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