Outer Space - The record of international cooperation in space

From its inception in 1958 to 2000, NASA concluded nearly 2,000 cooperative agreements with other nations for the conduct of international space projects. While most of these were bilateral in focus—such as the very first, which led to the Alouette mission with Canada in 1962—some, and increasingly so, have been multinational efforts. These agreements resulted in 139 cooperative science projects with European nations between 1962 and 1997: 29 in the earth sciences, 23 in microgravity and life sciences, and 87 in space sciences.

When this development is explored over time there are some interesting trends. First, there were small numbers of projects in the 1960s—something to be expected—but they began to rise precipitously during the late 1960s and peak in the first third of the 1970s. This coincided with the downturn in the NASA budget from a high in 1965 to a low in 1973. In the 1980s and 1990s this trend also accelerated in relation to the political realities of the era.

Is there a correlation between the demise of the NASA budget and increased international cooperative ventures with other nations? Probably, but it is also related to the emphasis on détente and international relations of the Nixon administration in the late 1960s through mid-1970s. This seemed to collapse in the early 1980s, perhaps in relation to the rise of the NASA budget during the Reagan buildup and the renewal of Cold War hostilities. If this is a correct analysis, one would expect the number of cooperative efforts to rise in response to the drastic cuts in the NASA budget undertaken by the Clinton administration in the 1990s. Such was indeed the case, but more in relation to the former Soviet Union than with international partners.

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