Daniel Beringer

Teller, Academy Bank

This conversation is closed.

Does space exploration encourage international cooperation?

Pardon the brevity of this, I will happily answer any questions you may have.

Space exploration encourages international cooperation for several reasons: As a branch of science and technology, space exploration is subject to some of the same trends. Scientists do not care so much about what country a scientist is from as they do about their scientific achievements. Look at the LHC; it's like the ISS of particle physics. Science dismisses national identity in favor of intellectual accomplishment. Space exploration is inherently scientific; space exploration dismisses national identity in favor of intellectual accomplishment.

Honesty is required for effective cooperation between nations. You can't mess with the truth with rockets. They explode if you do. You can't fudge the numbers on orbital mechanics. You can't exaggerate your products capabilities; the difference between statement and reality will soon be obvious. Space requires honesty : international cooperation requires honesty. Space aides international cooperation by enforcing honesty.

Space requires a level of competence bordering on perfection. You can't make many mistakes with a $20 million dollar satellite, much less with people lives. Having an international pool of talent to draw upon will reduce the chance of deadly mistake.

Seeing the Earth as a brilliant blue crescent slowly spinning against the backdrop of diamond stars strewn across the depths of space can't help but to challenge ones national affiliations. You would begin to see yourself as a citizen of Earth. I haven't heard any astronaut say otherwise, and they'd be the best to know.

Space exploration encourages international cooperation by way of an inherent honesty to the enterprise, a need for the best in the world, large scale projects like the ISS, and the visceral experience of seeing the Earth from space, bolstered by the shared international qualities of science.

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      Mar 11 2011: Thank you for that, that's the point of the second to last paragraph in my OP. It's hard to maintain nationalistic tendencies when you can see no boundaries, only one Earth.
  • Mar 13 2011: I have no doubt that for those that are actively engaged in space, it encourages cooperation. But they tend to have a weak feedback loop with national executives. Policy is usually made by those that act in realist terms. Almost all nations frame their behavior in terms of strategic interest and realpolitik. So it's pretty disingenuous to say that this is a "jaundiced" view when it's the predominant view of our world's politics.

    Read "Space Race," by Deborah Cadbury; "Mars Wars," by Thor Hogan; and "Diplomacy," by Henry Kissinger; and see how nations frame their interactions with one another, how space politics influences national agendas, and the political history surrounding the evolution of rocket technology.

    The US only interprets treaties to be "binding" when they limit behaviors of others in ways that further our geopolitical strategic interests. Otherwise it considers them optional. It's why the US doesn't accept mandatory UN ICJ jurisdiction. The OST will only be "binding" as long as we haven't figured out how to economically exploit the moon. Once we do, we'll probably withdraw from it or revise it to knock out its teeth.

    Does space cooperation improve relations between the space-oriented intelligentsia of both nations that participate in it? Sure, but the influence is not political so much as it is economic as this same group also tends to be technological innovators. If you take a hard and sober look at national space programs, they're not designed to lead us to colonization, but are simply national trophy showcases of technological prowess designed to appeal to innovators. It's why NASA is the main agency that encourages STEM development.

    But if we're talking about "international" to mean the relationship between nations, then strategic interest still determines behavior and cooperation is an after thought. I hope that when the time comes that we are ready to develop the moon, it will a global effort.
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      Mar 15 2011: I certainly will read those books when I get a chance, most likely "Mars Wars" as that one is free online. They sound quite interesting! Your third paragraph assumes that we will be able to find a viable economic commodity on the moon, and that one single nation can pull it off. However, for that to be possible, that nation would need to build and maintain a fleet of space vehicles as well as a base on the Moon. Assuming that we could achieve such a feat with todays technology and assuming that our current economic woes are non-existent, how long would it take to get such a system in place? It took us over a decade to build the ISS, and we already had a shuttle being built and flown. How much longer, how much costlier, would it be to start such a system? How long until the country saw returns? It will not be for a long time that a single nation will have the technology to quickly and cheaply set up such a system. The only way that it will be economically viable to exploit lunar material any time soon is through international effort. Visiting the moon, sure, a nation can do that. A single nation can build a space station. But when the goals are grander than those, the undertaking is too much for any one single nation. I have no doubt that your hope will come true, for 'if' we develop the moon, we will be doing it as one people. (A little grandiloquent, but I liked the flow)

      As you said, our national space programs are not geared towards colonization. The thing to do then is to get us to a point where we are able to feasibly engage in such an endeavor. Luckily, space exploration encourages international cooperation, and the cost demands it. This does not mean that there are not other factors effecting our relations, nor does it guarantee peaceful relations. Hence the 'if' earlier. It is still an uphill battle, and our future is not certain. But we are capable of achieving that goal. The question now is, should we pursue that goal?
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      Mar 15 2011: During this conversation you have helped me to see things from different perspectives. You have tipped me onto some good information, most especially those books. I got through the first bit of the one by Thor (awesome freaking name), and I really want to read "Space Race". I have also begun to integrate China into my thoughts more, especially the sino-soviet relationship. I watched the BBC series space race (I liked the content, the style threw me off a bit, but those are two separate things), and I wanted to learn more about Korolev. Now I know that there is a book, so I now have a good place to start learning more.

      Thank you for this conversation. I hope that we will one day choose to live amongst the stars.
  • Mar 8 2011: The only reason that Space Station Freedom would've been defunded was because it was justified in the larger context of the Cold War. Since the USSR lost, it was no longer seen as a necessary propaganda tool against them. We cooperated with the Russians because after Apollo-Spacelab, they focused on space stations while we focused on the Space Shuttle. In short they had about 20 years of experience we did not.

    Among the reasons the OST was drafted was because both sides understood that space war would've been extremely expensive (economically wasteful), and quite frankly there were more economical ways of waging war against each other. When you look into the Russian side of space history, Stalin never believed that orbital technology could be weaponized, and even sent Sergei Korolev to Siberia prior to WWII for "diverting the Soviet intelligentsia into an economically wasteful purposes that would sap the USSR of valuable intellectual resources" (paraphrasing). But he was saved by a friend who pulled him out of Siberia, Stalin almost killed the Russian space program before it began. Even after the Russians obtained German rocket technology, Korolev had to use subterfuge to push through development program for a large rocket that could achieve orbit (he couched it in military terms). Sputnik was as much a "Sputnik Moment" for them as it was for us. When you think it economically, the OST and NNPT makes sense from a Russian point of view.

    The Space Race was about global propaganda via technological prowess. In many ways it still is. We cooperated with Russians because we wanted their space station expertise but also to keep their space sector employed to prevent it from entering the black market. Notice that China has neither of these, it has no space station experience nor does it have a dysfunctional economy requiring its space sector to be subsidized from a foreign source.
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      Mar 8 2011: Learning from each other is another good reason that we decided to work with Russia. They knew how to build stations, and we had the vehicle to efficiently get one up there. They knew about stuff that we didn't, and we knew about stuff that they didn't. So cooperation made a lot of sense: They knew stuff and could do stuff that we couldn't, just as we knew and could do stuff they couldn't, and they could help defray the cost of building a station that we both could use. And then a whole bunch of other nations saw what was happening, hopped on board and we now have a space station that looks like it belongs in a science fiction movie.
      Korolov took the military aggressiveness of his nation, and used it to spark a peaceful space race. The OST was a peaceable treaty unilaterally agreeing that all Humanity should have equal rights to space. This treaty was drafted by the two nations that were bringing us closest to self-immolation. I see that as a remarkable sign of detente between us and them. The NNPT, even more so. The ASTP (SATP for my Russian friends) was a purely showpiece mission that achieved almost nothing of scientific worth. It was done almost entirely out of camaraderie and friendly aspirations. It was planned and executed during the Vietnam war, and occurred more than a decade before the fall of the Berlin wall. In the midst of desperate turmoil, these countries set aside their differences and clasped hands. Why? Space exploration.
      I would also like to note the beautiful irony of this: The same technologies used in nuclear weapons both powers our deep space probes (many of which have multi-nation participation) and launches people into space (towards an international space station). Thanks to two world wars and a cold war we are working with nations spread across the globe.
      All this supports my premise, that space exploration encourages international cooperation. We can learn from each other, we can share the cost, and it can divert nationalistic aggression
      • Mar 8 2011: The language in the OST seemed to be more of an affirmation of the UN Charter but more for soft power purposes. The best thing about it was that it allowed both countries to see a limit to escalating competition. I agree that it opened the door to detente and the ASTP was symbolic. The real objective was SALT and NNPT. In the context of the Vietnam war, space cooperation seems to be a piece of triangulation policy.

        From the perspective of von Braun and Korolev, dreaming about space exploration is what powered the military technologies. Both were dreamers that had to be pragmatic when they saw that the only economic mechanism available to achieve their goals was through the military. The exception being nuclear technology which owes its existence to physics. Coming up with Plutonium through alchemy is pretty ingenious.

        My point is that you seem to mix cause and effect. I would argue that space cooperation is an effect, not a cause. Most cooperation exists between nations that are already friendly and it often serves a symbol for cooperation when we want to strengthen it. It's probably best to think of it as the cherry on top of the cake of a whole range of other issues as the ASTP illustrates.

        Russia is a special case. Cooperation between us has often served as a symbolic bridge and giving their space program life support during their difficult time in the 90's scores major points. However Russia's intentions to upgrade its military over this decade may strain relations. Space cooperation may send a signal that they're not beefing up in response to Europe but China. Russia has historically been concerned about the US, Western Europe, and China (in that order) but they may be in the process of reversing their priorities. A stronger China would put Russia in a security situation it hasn't faced since the Ivan Groznyi took back land from the Kazan Khanate (a remnant of the Mongol Horde), also when it first began relations with the West.
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          Mar 9 2011: You say that space coop. is an effect, not a cause. You also say that the OST opened the door to detente, and that the real objective was SALT and NNPT. Would this not make space coop a cause? But let's say that space is an effect of something. Are there other possible causes of this? As space exploration is inherently scientific, and there are many examples of international scientific coop, could the nature of science be the basis of the transnational mindset of astronauts, astronomers et al.? If the objective of the OST was SALT/NNPT, then you're saying that space coop. was used to bring about two treaties that lowered the number of nuclear weapons and allowed us to take a step back from the brink. This supports my premise. Von Braun and Korolev had peaceful dreams of epic grandeur, and used military aggression (and funds, materials, et al) to realize those dreams. Regardless of what those in charge wanted or expected when they first gave the go ahead for sputnik, it produced a peaceful race that allowed them the chance to reduce the risk of nuclear war. Dreams of space exploration subverted military assets to produce a handshake between two nuclear rivals at a time when it seemed that no peace could be made between these two enemies. Space coop has served symbolic purposes, but it has also produced genuine coop, at the least in regards to space. We have also aligned our stances on the global stage, and are on rather good terms with each other. If Russia is beefing up in response to China, I would note that those two don't do a lot of joint space missions. If space coop helped iron things out between the US & Russia, could it not possibly do the same for Sino-Soviet relations? Or for the US and China? I'm sorry, I really don't get where you're coming from with OST. What language in the OST were you referring to? What do you mean, it allowed them to see a limit to escalating competition?
      • Mar 9 2011: Keep in mind that the OST wasn't about cooperation but a truce from exerting territorial claims over the moon for the fear that a space war would uneconomical . It's still a makeshift document. I was referring to Article II. The fear is that according to international law, the first nation to plant its flag has a de facto annexation claim. The US claims that only when a person does it is a claim legitimate whereas the Russians claim that planting a flag by any means is legitimate. Both sides STILL reserve the right to make claims. I would say that detente began once the US began withdrawing missiles from Turkey as part of the backroom deal after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

        The military side of space exploration has never been diverted and it was always believed that the space shuttle could at any time have been militarized. Hence why the military developed the X-37B when we ended the space shuttle program. We had the ASTP and Skylab because NASA had a few Titan V's left over after Congress canceled Apollo. The White House saw it as a good way to get some PR dollars out of the remaining heavy lift inventory.

        The main reason we don't cooperate with China is because we know that civilian technology can be a military cover. Until Russia develops its own ABMS, modernizes its military, and beefs up its intelligence capabilities in Siberia and China, I doubt they'll share innovative space technologies, although they might share older technologies that China has already developed. It wouldn't be in Russia's strategic interest to warm up to China militarily because it's vulnerable in the east and it is over-reliant on strategic defense.

        People inside the Beltway tend to think of space only as an afterthought and they tend to frame the international relations in [geocentric] realist terms. Space exploration is just icing on the cake for the intelligentsia. Space colonization is challenging because we need to convert idealism into the language of realism.
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          Mar 10 2011: It was about cooperation. Reading the first few preambulatory clauses should show that. And the document is also pretty clear that no one, under any circumstances, can make a claim of soverignty. Article II states, in whole, "Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means." There couldn't be a truce because no one had made any serious claims on the moon or anything else.

          There is no mention of fears of economic destruction, or economic anything for that matter. We had more launches of the Titan-V's, but we had one of those launches be the ASTP for friendly reasons. I snagged this http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/SP-4209/toc.htm from the NASA website. It's pretty clear that the intent was for future cooperation.

          What you wrote about China and Russia is all very interesting, but didn't show whether or not coop. in space might benefit their relations. If your reasons why they won't begin to coop are sound (I don't think they are), that doesn't mean that space coop won't help them once they start.

          It doesn't matter what the people in the beltway, or what the shuttle planners, or the Russian government wanted. What actually happened was a peaceful space race that lead, as you pointed out with the OST -NNPT/SALT link, to peaceful relations between us. What happened was a shuttle that built an international space station. What happens is scientists from all over the world get together and talk and chat and work together, not caring about nationality. Whether or not the beltway thinks that space is important is one thing. That space explor. encourages inter. coop is another.

          I'm sorry, but I've been having trouble figuring out what your arguments actually are. Could you clearly state your arguments against my premise please?
      • Mar 11 2011: You're making the claim that space exploration causes international cooperation and are discounting still yet deeper motives behind why we use it. I'm saying that the reason why the US does it what it does is because of strategic interest, and that cooperation is just a tool. We have cooperation because it can be an effective tool, but it's still just a tool. If for some reason the US felt that cooperating with other nations is no longer in its strategic interest, it'll withdraw from the OST and begin exerting claims expressly prohibited by it. The US doesn't think of itself as being "under" UN jurisdiction, but as a willing participant in it because it offers a different set of tools for furthering its strategic interest.

        When the UN stops providing those different set of tools, and IF the US feels that exerting a claim would be in its strategic interest, it will do so. For instance, if the US developed nanites that degrade nuclear weapons of other nations it might find itself in such a position. Putting human beings on the moon would give the US a pretty strong case for claiming uninhabited territory. The big questions are can it afford it economically or defend its claims militarily. Most likely, we're going to need a new international political structure if we ever hope to colonize space.
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          Mar 12 2011: No, I claim that space exploration encourages cooperation.The cooperation really has to already be in place, at least to a limited degree, before cooperative missions can be undertaken. But once undertaken, those missions serve as way for two nations to interact that is peaceful, benign, and ultimately fosters good relations. Furthermore, there are inherent characteristics to how to achieve space flight that encourage or aid cooperation (true on all levels, from interdepartmental to international). And there is a an inherent global mindset when exploring space, at least according to those who do so on a regular basis.

          There are many reasons that someone may support NASA, and yes, many take a jaundiced view of space exploration, using it as a tool or at least thinking of it as political leverage. But for those who actually engage in the endeavour, for them it's something a whole lot more. Regardless of what a politician thinks NASA is or what it can do, doesn't change the nature of space exploration.

          However, you present mostly supposition. To counter balance that is a series of links to the materials we have been discussing, including the OST.
          http://untreaty.un.org/cod/avl/ha/tos/tos.html
          http://www.state.gov/www/global/arms/treaties/space1.html
          http://www.oosa.unvienna.org/pdf/publications/STSPACE11E.pdf

          I don't see how any of the documents are 'makeshift' or insubstantial. They all seem to make my points rather well. So you (and anyone else) can read them at your leisure. But I will say this, I totally and absolutely agree with you that we need a new inter. political organization if we are to colonize space. Or to put it another way, if we colonize space we will be cooperating on an international level; we will have become globalized.

          Of course, you don't have to take my word for it. Check out what these two experts had to say: http://www.state.gov/t/avc/rls/149491.htm
          http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/whyweexplore/Why_We_10.html
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    Mar 6 2011: Not always no, do nations wish to share there tech with others. But they will sometimes. I would argue that the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project is an indication of the willingness to cooperate between nations, at least in regards to space. Big projects like the ISS require cooperation, as you pointed out. The US wanted the help of Russia to finish their station, and made it an international effort in order to do this. If they hadn't, space station Freedom would not likely have come to exist. Large scale space exploration requires international cooperation, if only for the reason of the cost.

    It is no accident that those two treaties came about close in time. The Outer Space Treaty started as an agreement between the USSR and the US, and was adopted by the UN the next year, and has as signers many nations spread across the globe. It stated that space was the province of all mankind, that it would not be a place for military operations, and no weapons of mass destruction would be allowed up there. The arms race and the space race are intimately linked. The same technology to launch nuclear warheads was used to put people into space. The same energy that powers the bomb powers our most distant spacecraft. The space race was a peaceful diversion of nationalistic aggression. I believe that it helped in no small way to the thawing of relations between US and Russia. We realized that brinksmanship was MADness, and we found a way to compete that didn't cost nearly as many lives

    We are just beginning to get get to the point where international cooperation is required. The small signs of cooperation you pointed out are a sign of what's to come. I would add the international tracking stations, the international astronomical union, and the ESA to your list. The only way all bets will be off is if we (stupidly) decide to militarize space. We will have at that point encapsulated ourselves with death. So long as we maintain space as the province of all mankind we should do pretty well
    • Mar 8 2011: A lot of people worry about space militarization. But the fact is it's MUCH cheaper to fire off a nuclear multi-warhead ICBM than it is to build any space weapon system. Space warfare primarily involves knocking out satellites and blinding support systems, and defending against such attacks. When China destroyed one of its defunct satellites 4 years ago, it sent a message to the US that its space systems were vulnerable. In a way, I don't think China wants to enter into any cooperative ventures with the US, it wants to show its own people they can do it by themselves.
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        Mar 8 2011: I'm not saying that militarizing space would be a smart tactical move, nor would holding 'the ultimate high ground' be a tenable position. My biggest worry would be that some one would be dumb enough to try it any way, and that would lead to tension and bloodshed down here. However, I doubt that many nations will think trying to militarily capture space (read: low earth orbit) would be a good idea.

        So long as no single nation tries to claim that space is their dominion, we should have a pretty good shot at actually achieving something.

        As for China, yes they are a bit isolationist. But I don't think they view us quite the same as we view them. I think that they think that we do a pretty good job of certain things, and I think that they think they can do it better. Good for them. A nation should be proud of the accomplishments of its people. But even China cooperates far more with space exploration than it does with pretty much any other government venture. If space exploration can push even that autocratic, isolationist state to cooperate, then what can it do for more open nations? There was a recent kerfluffle (a silly one at that) about Bolden going to China, and this link http://www.esa.int/esaEO/SEMKX21P0WF_index_0.html will detail one of the international projects that China is participating in. If they want to be the best, let them try to be the best, just as if we wish to be the best we would try to be the best. But China trying to be the best does not mean they will not cooperate with other nations on joint space exploration ventures. The fact that they do cooperate supports my main idea, that space exploration encourages international cooperation.
  • Mar 5 2011: Cooperative ventures builds good relations but not for the reasons you claim. Yes space-rating a component and being honest about fail points is important but governments often don't want to disclose their technologies to each other. They will usually put into an agreement the requirement of a "clean interface" where each government develops a whole component on their own without relying on or having access to the technologies from others. Hence why the toilet breakdown a few months ago was such a big deal. If they do share, it's often related to contributing a cost. For instance in the mid-1990's after the USSR collapsed, they had a great space infrastructure in place that they didn't want to go to waste so the US contributed technological expertise to assist with component interfaces. Wanting Russian cooperation was the primary reason the US changed the name from Space Station Freedom to the International Space Station.

    More often than not, advanced nations are concerned about civilian technologies being crossed-over into military applications, and as a result rockets and a lot of other space technologies are subject to export controls. Some even go so far as to claim that rockets are a potential weapon of mass destruction. It's no accident that we had the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty follow on its heels in 1970.

    For now, the vast majority of space "cooperation" deals with negotiating geosynchronous satellite slots and of course the ISS. The real problem comes when we start going beyond exploration missions and begin development. We will either be in a situation where ALL bets will be off (nations that can't afford to go into space are likely to take action on the surface and international order will break down), or, we will devise a new political mechanism that involves an element of cooperation and mutual benefit.
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      Mar 6 2011: Sorry, thought I was replying to your post when I was replying to my own.