Obama seeks international cooperation in space

June 30, 2010 11:50:17 AM PDT
Saying the U.S. is no longer "racing against an adversary," President Barack Obama called Monday for greater international cooperation in exploring space.

Obama said in a statement that the U.S. seeks peaceful collaboration with other countries that will ward off conflict and make it easier to expand exploration. The United States must do more to address debris and other hazards in space, he said, and called for a "burgeoning commercial space industry."

Peter Marquez, the White House director of space policy, said the administration is returning to a policy that existed before George W. Bush was president that would entertain the possibility of a treaty to limit space-based weapons. He didn't say the Obama administration would pursue such a treaty, but he wouldn't slam the door against the idea as the previous space policy had.

The language is similar to that adopted by Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Marquez said.

Russia and China in the past have made vague proposals about limiting weapons in space and the U.S. has always opposed it.

No country has deployed space weapons, but there is an issue of attacking satellites from the ground, as China did its own satellite and the U.S. did to a dying satellite in 2008, said Laura Grego, a senior scientist on global security at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The U.S. space program began in the late 1950s as a competition with the Soviet Union, a longtime Cold War enemy. In his statement, Obama said America's imperatives and obligations in space have changed in recent decades.

"No longer are we racing against an adversary," he said. "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."

Most of the civilian side of the space policy was already announced by Obama in February and April, including a dramatic turn for the human space exploration. Instead of aiming for a return to the moon, the Obama space policy is more geared to Mars with a stop first at an asteroid by 2025.

Even the exploration plan has more of a tinge of international cooperation. Officials said they are talking with the Chinese government about including them in U.S. space efforts - such as the International Space Station - but there is nothing concrete yet.

These space policies are usually more formal explanation of where an administration had already started heading. President George W. Bush issued his in 2006, long after starting his return-to-the-moon program that Obama later canceled.

"These policies don't make much difference," said longtime space policy expert John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org.