- NASA in the World: Fifty Years of International Collaboration in Space by John Krige, Angelina Long Callahan, and Ashok Maharaj
Congress embedded international collaboration in NASA’s founding legislation, but as this book reveals, carrying out that objective is far from a simple task. The Space Act of 1958 sets as the agency’s other goal the preeminence of the United States in aerospace science and technology, leaving it the challenge of reconciling the two objectives. Working with, and often building up, foreign space programs, while supporting U.S. foreign policy and preventing unwanted technology transfer that could threaten American national security or corporate competitiveness enmeshes NASA in a complex web of relations with the State, Defense and/or Commerce Departments, even as it engages in often complicated negotiations with national [End Page 770] partners or international organizations like the European Space Agency (ESA).
The book is divided into five parts: an introductory unit and a section on Western Europe by John Krige, a unit on the Soviet Union and Russia by Angelina Long Callahan, a section on India and Japan by Ashok Maharaj, and finally “Into the Twenty-First Century” by Krige. Krige notes that the authors were forced to be selective, as NASA has had thousands of agreements with over one hundred countries. In this official, NASA-funded history, they cover the major players and programs only, or most of them. If there is one nation missing that I think deserves more than passing treatment, it is Canada, due to its prominent role in the space shuttle and International Space Station (ISS) programs. However, in general the authors cover what is most important and in a way that is independent and critical, even as they praise NASA for its considerable achievements.
International collaboration began primarily in space science, in NASA’s offer to launch the satellites of other nations. Agreements were made according to the principles set forth by Arnold Frutkin, who headed the responsible office for the first two decades of the agency’s existence. The two most critical conditions were “clean interfaces” and “no exchange of funds” (p. 12). The foreign partner would provide the satellite or instrument at its cost and NASA would launch it. The complications of giving money to a foreign nation would be avoided. The early space-science collaboration with Western Europe fit this model, but as Krige, Arturo Russo, and Lorenza Sebesta have already written about this topic extensively in their ESA history, Krige passes over it lightly. Matters got more complicated when the agency tried to help Western Europe develop launch capability, as rocket technology was dual use: a launch vehicle could easily become a ballistic missile, and vice versa. NASA battled with the State and Defense Departments and the Europeans became frustrated, notably the French, who spearheaded the eventual creation of an independent satellite-launching capability.
At the time of the 1969 moon landings, then NASA administrator Thomas Paine attempted to break with “clean interfaces” and involve Europe deeply in the post-Apollo program. Krige describes these negotiations in excruciating detail, but the material is genuinely new. As usual, his research is impeccable and soundly situated in American and European diplomatic history. In the end, NASA got only the shuttle, and Europe paid for Spacelab modules to be carried in the cargo bay on some missions, a reversion to Frutkin’s original principles.
The fundamental, and exceptional, break came in the 1990s for the ISS, when the Clinton administration supported the integration of the Russian modules, and gave billions to Russia to support its industry, in order to prevent an exodus of ex-Soviet rocket engineers and technology to “rogue states.” This episode is told in two different sections, Callahan’s and Krige’s [End Page 771] final unit, although the authors try to minimize overlap and repetition. Callahan notes that the usual narrative about U.S.-Russian space relations—cold war competition contrasted with intense cooperation afterward—is too simple, as there were...