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Houston Space Policy Summit -- Keynote Address

Houston Space Policy Summit -- Keynote Address

Norman P. Neureiter, Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State Keynote address to Space Policy Summit Houston, Texas October 12, 2002

It s a great pleasure to be here again in Houston and visiting this great university. The Baker Institute, Lockheed Martin, and AIAA are to be commended for convening this Forum of international space leaders. I hope that the discussions at this Summit and the World Space Congress will help move all of you closer to a shared global vision of future space exploration and utilization.

This is a nostalgic visit for me. I used to be an organic chemist, and I began my research career at the Humble Oil Refinery in Baytown, 30 miles from here down the ship channel. At night I was teaching German at the University of Houston -- just down the road. But after Sputnik went up and the U.S. science community suddenly got interested in Soviet science, I was asked by the Physics Department to start teaching Russian as well. Sputnik stirred up lots of things in the U.S., including the creation of NASA.

I still remember that while I was living in Baytown, Albert Thomas, our local Representative on the Appropriations Committee in the Congress and Senator Lyndon Johnson used their collective positions and powers of persuasion to ensure that NASA s Manned Space Flight Center was built in Clear Lake, which I must tell you did not look like much at the time.

Incredibly, it was only 12 years later that I was working in the Nixon White House Science Office and was invited to escort several European Science Ministers in a NASA aircraft to see the launch of Apollo 11. It was unforgettable -- not just to see it, but also to hear and feel the air and earth pulsate as that huge Saturn 5 booster accelerated into the breaking dawn of a Cape Canaveral morning. We then flew here to Houston and in the flight control center listened to those three brave space pioneers on their historic journey to the Moon. And when the LEM landed and Neil Armstrong took that "one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind," I was back in Washington, watching television with my children -- all of us curious to see if he was about to step onto a surface of green cheese.

I also learned to fly near here, with lessons at a little airport just across the ship channel from Baytown. However, when the owner of the small Cessna that I wanted to buy flew it into a telephone wire, killing himself and wrecking the plane, that was the end of my career as a pilot. I lacked the "Right Stuff." But that is how I became a bureaucrat and am standing here today hoping to say something useful about U.S. space policy.

Let me just say a word about my present position at the State Department. This position was first created 2 years ago to focus on expanding the capacity of State to deal with the many foreign policy issues that involve considerations of science, technology, or health. That means I work at the somewhat fuzzy interface of science and technology with foreign policy. But it also lets me contribute directly to developing mutually beneficial scientific and technical cooperation with other countries and thereby strengthen our overall relations with them. I believe strongly in the value of these relationships and find space to be the perfect arena for such cooperation.

It is sometimes useful to look at history to anchor oneself in the present. NASA was created in 1958. Based on a recommendation of President Eisenhower s Science Advisory Committee, it was established as a purely civilian space agency. The legislation also called for cooperation with other nations and groups of nations in space activities, and in the peaceful applications of the results.

That policy of peaceful cooperation in outer space endures to the present day, and has enjoyed a rich history of major contributions to science, and a remarkable record of joint international undertakings of great daring, complexity, and shared responsibilities -- both technical and financial. It is an undeniable fact as we enter the 21st century that space-based systems have become crucial to economic growth, protection of the environment, scientific inquiry, and global security.

Now I was asked to talk today about U.S. space policy. This is a big subject, with pieces to be found in hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of laws, regulations, and statements. For example, Dr. John Logsdon s excellent history of the U.S. civil space program, called Exploring the Unknown, consists of five volumes totaling more than 3,000 pages and is still a work in progress.

What I will try to do is to focus on several aspects of our policies of particular relevance to this international audience. Just as was directed in the original legislation, international cooperation continues to be one of the hallmarks of U.S. space policy. Today, most of the major scientific missions of NASA and NOAA are carried out in collaboration with at least one other country s space agency -- often with several. Let me mention just two outstanding examples of international cooperation -- CEOS and COSPAS-SARSAT.

CEOS is the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites. It is an informal but very active mechanism that enables space agencies around the world to coordinate separate missions to study and monitor global phenomena. Along with other benefits, it helps space agencies avoid carrying out duplicative earth observation missions.

COSPAS-SARSAT is a network of satellites and emergency beacons that assists search-and-rescue operations at sea and in remote corners of the world. Some 37 nations participate. Since 1982, at least 13,000 lives have been saved using COSPAS-SARSAT. We will have a 20th birthday party for this remarkable program at the Department of State next week.

Also in the commercial sector the number and complexity of joint ventures across national boundaries is growing rapidly. One fascinating example of this is Sea Launch, the innovative American-Norwegian-Ukrainian-Russian commercial partnership that has successfully launched several satellites from a converted oil platform towed from Long Beach, California, to the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

The success of CEOS, COSPAS-SARSAT, and Sea Launch, three very different forms of international cooperation, reinforces my belief that the founding fathers of the U.S. space program knew what they were doing. The potential for nations to work together in exploring the heavens and in using space for the betterment of mankind is enormous. I hope that all of you "space policymakers," here will continue to push the envelope to realize the full potential of this great enterprise.

But we must be realistic. Space cooperation can be hard work. Each country has to meld its own policy objectives and program requirements with those of the partners. This takes time and willingness to compromise. But I trust you agree that it is well worth it -- at least most of the time.

The 15-nation International Space Station project shows that even the largest, most complex space programs are possible on a cooperative basis. As of next month, the ISS will have been permanently inhabited for 2 years. Isn t that amazing? But, I don t want to gloss over the difficulties. Each of the partners has had difficulties with its own portion of the program at one time or another. You are all aware that NASA and its counterpart space agencies are currently pursuing an agreed action plan to conduct an effective program that fully comprehends cost accountability, high priority science, and the engineering challenges.

I am convinced that uniting the world s major space powers in this monumental project for peaceful purposes will pay long-term dividends for all involved. Managerial expertise will be enhanced by executing this huge international program. Exciting science will be done in the Station s microgravity labs. New technologies will emerge from building a space facility of this size and complexity. And the use of robotics will be extended to previously unimaginable limits.

Another core principle of U.S. space policy is that our civil space activities should enhance knowledge of the Earth, the solar system, and the universe -- and that this knowledge should be shared for the benefit of all humankind. The universal acceptance of this view is reflected in the Outer Space Treaty and underpins the majority of present civilian space missions.

NASA Administrator Sean O Keefe reflected this principle when he said recently: "NASA s new vision for the future is: To improve life here. To extend life to there. To find life beyond." NASA is focused on serving the needs of humankind.

Let s take the example of remote sensing. Here the U.S. has tried to lead the way, and will continue to do so, by making available data from its earth observation satellites on a non-discriminatory basis and at reasonable cost. Most other spacefaring nations do the same. The U.S. also makes available to the world, free of direct user fees, the civil signals from its constellation of Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites.

We have recently had a very exciting activity that combines earth observation data with GPS and other tools. This is "Geographic Information for Sustainable Development" (GISD). It is a U.S.-initiated, public-private partnership that was showcased in August at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. GISD is a broad international effort that combines decades of remote sensing imagery with GPS positioning information, a variety of high-quality geospatial data streams, and state-of-the-art software to address sustainability issues, such as food security, natural disaster mitigation, and ecosystem management. For instance, African researchers at GISD study sites can receive elevation data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) that is ten-fold higher in resolution than earlier data streams. While the initial focus is on Africa, we want to extend GISD to other developing regions. We think that it can be a big player as the world development community moves into the process we like to call "Beyond Johannesburg". There s much more on the web about GISD at

This is only one of hundreds of GPS applications in use around the world, and I do think this astonishing growth comes in large degree from the U.S. policy of "no-fee, open availability." We intend to maintain this policy. Russia has also gone this route, making signals from its GLONASS navigation satellites freely available. We hope that other countries with plans for navigation satellite systems will also see the wisdom of this approach.

You all know that Europe has decided to build a global navigation satellite system called Galileo. We believe it will be to everyone s benefit if Galileo is developed in such a way as to be compatible and interoperable with GPS. There are some difficult issues that must be resolved to achieve this joint compatibility and interoperability, but I believe there will be manifest benefits to users worldwide from doing so.

We are also continuing our discussions with the European Union on some difficult trade-related issues and policy issues related to satellite navigation. For example, we hope that Europe will not opt to use regulations or system-driven standards to mandate the use of Galileo at the expense of GPS manufacturers, service providers, and users. Our view is that users around the world should be free to choose which system, or combination of systems, best meets their needs. If our talks with Europe go well, the end result, we believe, will be better, more reliable service for users worldwide.

Another fundamental tenet of U.S. space policy since the early 1980s has been to encourage private sector use of space. We have always recognized that a strong U.S. aerospace industry is crucial to our national security and economic wellbeing.

Commercialization of space activities began with communications satellites and then began to spread to other sectors. Today the global market for communications satellite services and products has achieved a genuine level of maturity and "staying power," marked by vigorous competition and a wide range of service providers. These services have been integrated into our daily lives, including even the privatization of previously intergovernmental satellite organizations such as INTELSAT, INMARSAT, and Eutelsat.

Nonetheless, it is now apparent that the annual demand for communications satellites has declined since the market peak in the late 1990s, and there is justifiable concern about the current over-capacity for commercial satellite manufacturing. Still, new and promising satellite services are emerging, such as digital satellite radio and, ultimately, satellite broadband services. We believe that satellite services will continue to play a very important role in global telecom connectivity, particularly in light of their unique transmission advantages.

Certainly there is also an emerging commercial remote sensing industry, both in the U.S. and other countries. It is also of interest to follow the tentative steps being taken in other areas such as space tourism, space mining, and space power.

For the Department of State, space commercialization is exciting, but it also poses challenges with regard to the international legal regime for space activities. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space developed the Outer Space Treaty and three related UN conventions, which serve as the bedrock of international space law. This was an example of multilateral diplomacy at its best; the international rules that were created afford a measure of transparency and accountability for space activities, without constraining national programs. But this body of law was developed during an era when nearly all space activities were carried out by governments. Perhaps it is time to begin thinking about whether it will be adequate for the coming era of space commercialization.

It seems clear that almost nothing would have a more positive impact on the health of the commercial space sector than a two- or three-fold reduction in the cost of access to space. There is also broad agreement that the U.S. must have "assured access" to space for critical civil and national security missions. However, there are differing views on how best to accomplish these space transportation objectives. As a result the U.S. Government has recently begun a review of U.S. space transportation policy to answer the question: where do we want to be in 15-20 years with respect to space transportation?

Let me briefly expand on this topic. We need to change the way we think about getting from here to there when we think about space transportation. I don t just mean a voyage to Mars. I am also talking about how we go from Earth to space; how we re-supply the Space Station; and how we place new satellites in Earth orbit and in positions where they can serve as sentinels around our variable Sun to warn us of adverse space weather.

Practical human space flight to Mars or into deep space will require a much better propulsion technology. We will need a revolution in space propulsion. If we can make that transition, Mars could be in reach, and maybe even interplanetary travel beyond Mars.

NASA has recently announced an important technology initiative to explore the use of nuclear power generation and other advanced propulsion systems for solar system exploration. Drawing on the Energy Department s reactor design experience and earlier NASA research, the goal is to develop systems that can increase travel speeds by a factor of three to the outer planets. That s an exciting prospect.

So far I have talked about U.S. civil and commercial space policy goals that are not very different from those of other spacefaring nations. But I must also say something about national security and space.

It is clear that the U.S. is committed to the peaceful exploration and use of outer space by all nations. This is reflected in our adherence to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. But the peaceful exploration and use of space obviously does not rule out activities in pursuit of national security goals. In fact, the law that established NASA as a civilian agency also gave responsibility for national security space activities to the Department of Defense.

Furthermore, Article 51 of the UN charter makes it clear that all member States have the inherent right of individual and collective self-defense. The global responsibilities of the United States and the new threats facing us in today s world require that that right be exercised both on the Earth and above it. The security and wellbeing of the United States and its allies depend on the ability to operate in space. And we are not alone in having military space programs. Other nations do so as well to serve their security needs.

Free access to space and its use by spacefaring nations are central to the preservation of peace and the protection of civil, commercial, and security interests. For the United States, these interests include improving our ability to support military operations worldwide; to monitor and respond to military threats; and to monitor arms control and nonproliferation agreements.

In terms of policy, the United States sees no need for, and opposes negotiation of, new outer space arms control agreements in the UN Committee on Disarmament or elsewhere. A number of standing agreements already sufficiently regulate military activities in outer space. The Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963 prohibits parties from conducting nuclear weapon test explosions or other nuclear explosions in outer space. The Outer Space Treaty, to which the United States remains firmly committed, puts celestial bodies off limits to all nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction and prohibits States Parties from placing in orbit or stationing such weapons in outer space -- a far-reaching nonproliferation measure in itself. It also provides that celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and prohibits their use for military establishments or maneuvers, or for testing any type of weapons. In addition, the Outer Space Treaty clearly establishes that States Parties retain jurisdiction and control over objects they have launched into outer space, and have international responsibility for national objects in outer space, including whatever damage the launched item may cause.

In sum, there already exists an extensive and comprehensive system for promoting peaceful uses of outer space and for providing a framework for legitimate national security applications.

There will probably always be some dynamic tension between our national security goals on the one hand and our goals for international scientific cooperation and/or commercial activities on the other hand. This may be unavoidable. But since the consummate tragedy of 9/11 the situation has become much more complicated.

That day has changed many things in the United States. In addition to the global war on terrorism, there is an intense focus on homeland security, on border-crossing and visa policies, and on non-proliferation of anything related to weapons of mass destruction and their delivery -- including protection of key technologies. And there are now new laws, new regulations, and new procedures that apply in each of these areas.

I mentioned earlier the space transportation policy review that is currently underway. The Administration is also updating U.S. commercial remote sensing policy to keep pace with this rapidly evolving sector. We recognize that the continued development and advancement of U.S. commercial remote sensing capabilities serves a number of U.S. interests. But, at the same time, we have an obvious desire to prevent our adversaries from gaining access to the highest quality data and imagery. We hope the current policy review will result in an outcome that strikes the right balance, but this is very challenging, because the technical capabilities of potential commercial imagery vendors are rapidly improving both in the United States and abroad.

We are also working hard to improve the processing of export licenses that provide protection for sensitive technology. But export licenses will continue to be required for space technologies that are judged to be sensitive based on objective evaluation. The licensing process is seen as essential to ensure responsible trade in these technologies. And there will be certain critical technologies that will remain fully protected.

Another area presently causing difficulties -- even affecting today s meeting -- are new visa regulations resulting from legislation seeking better controls on entry into the United States. Our consular people at State are working hard to make the new systems function effectively, but unfortunately, there may well continue to be delays and inconvenience for our friends from procedures designed to detect those who should not be allowed to enter. It is not unlike the intense special screening I seem to get on every domestic flight despite my State Department photo ID.

There is also a certain irony in all of this new emphasis on restrictions and controls. One great strength of our nation derives from the diversity and the openness of American society. To the extent that we fail on a timely basis to issue visas for foreign officials to participate in our conferences or for international students to attend our universities, or to the extent that we constrain our companies from doing business with international partners, we risk undermining this very fundamental principle of our society. There are a lot of us in Government working hard today to find the right balance between security and openness.

But I must tell you it is a particular challenge in the area of scientific exchanges, since the perverted use of science today can have such devastating consequences. But science also provides the best tools for countering those who would use science against us. Finding the right balance is essential.

In the space field we should have guidelines that are easily understood and readily implemented by both U.S. and international companies, as well as by universities involved in space programs. We need to find rational approaches, which will balance our security needs with our commercial and scientific objectives. We need to ensure that our partnerships build bridges, not walls. But, achieving this will remain a continuing challenge for the bureaucracy.

Yet it seems obvious that the great space endeavors of this century will be bold, vastly complex, and very expensive -- projects that a single nation will be unwilling or unable to do alone. International cooperation remains a categorical imperative and we must keep these channels open. That is why I am so pleased that the sponsors have convened this forum, where you can freely discuss these important issues.

Let me close with an anecdote. In 1965 I was a scientific attache in the U. S. Embassy in Germany. I still recall the multiple visits of James Webb, the Administrator of NASA at the time. He was a super salesman for space, but also a superb manager. The Germans were still debating the extent to which they should move ahead with a space program. It was Jim Webb s vision of the ultimate benefits that would derive from a space program and from international cooperation on a global basis that I felt were a key part of the final German decision to go forward.

We have moved well beyond Jim Webb s vision of 1965. And it is the people in this room and your colleagues around the world that must now extend the international vision for space into the new and very complex environment of the 21st century. I wish you Godspeed on this splendid mission.


Released on October 22, 2002

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