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Obama space policy prizes international cooperation

President Obama's national space policy, released Monday, focuses more on international approaches to space issues than previous presidents' policies.

By Staff writer / June 28, 2010

Astronaut Michael Good, STS-132 mission specialist, is seen from the space shuttle Atlantis working during the flight's final space walk at the International Space Station on May 21.



Somewhere, Gene Roddenberry -- whose Star Trek franchise carried multicultural crews to cosmic destinations where no one had gone before -- is smiling.

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President Obama released his administration's national space policy today. It's a document in which international cooperation on issues ranging from controlling space junk to hurling humans beyond low-Earth orbit sits as a cornerstone instead of boiler plate.

In addition, the document focuses on international issues such as arms control in space. The policy expresses the administration's willingness to "consider" arms control agreements in space, a position held by several of Mr. Obama's predecessors, but one dropped during the George W. Bush presidency.

IN PICTURES: Aboard the International Space Station

The policy "is not a revolutionary document," said a senior administration official during a briefing this afternoon. It represents a great deal of continuity with past administrations' national space policies, he said.

Still, some analysts have been struck by both the document's tone and its increased emphasis on international approaches to a range of space-related issues.

That change reflects growth in the number of countries relying on satellites in space for communications, navigation, disaster-relief coordination, as well as national security. And it reflects the growth in spacefaring nations -- those capable of launching satellites and astronauts into orbit. Space is no longer the geopolitical playpen for two cold-war superpowers.

The increased focus on international cooperation "is essential to bringing the benefits of space to the greatest number of people on the planet," says Eliott Pulham, who heads the Space Foundation, a Colorado-based non-partisan organization supporting human expansion into space.

The new policy has some rough edges, he adds – in particular the administration's plan for NASA, which "would defer human exploration of space beyond low Earth orbit for 15 years, to 2025, essentially ceding US leadership in human space exploration."

Still, the document has much to recommend, Pulham says, putting emphasis on beefing up the commercial spaceflight sector, as well as extending US participation in the International Space Station to 2020 instead of cutting it off at 2015, as the Bush administration envisioned.