Press Release

Academy Sponsors Space Policy Briefing on Capitol Hill


Executive Branch and Congressional Leaders Hear About Academy Space Project

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Participants in the American Academy of Arts & Sciences’ Reconsidering the Rules of Space project briefed Washington policymakers today on options facing the Obama Administration in United States space policy.

The Administration has an opportunity to fundamentally reformulate U.S. space policies that are anchored in Cold War-era mindsets, project leader John Steinbruner of the University of Maryland told the audience. According to Steinbruner, the U.S. needs to set a clear direction that advances the country’s national security, civilian, and commercial interests in space.

At the Capitol Hill briefing, which was attended by federal agency representatives and congressional staff, the Academy also released three new monographs.

Other participants in the Academy project who spoke at briefing were Neal Lane, Rice University professor and former Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; George Abbey, Senior Fellow in Space Policy at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University and former Director of the Johnson Space Center; Nancy Gallagher, Research Director at the Center for International and Security Studies, University of Maryland; and Jeffrey Lewis, Director of the Nuclear Strategy and Nonproliferation Initiative at the New America Foundation. The audience also heard comments from Robie Samanta Roy, Assistant Director for Space and Aeronautics at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The audio from the briefing is available online at

Lane suggested that NASA has a unique opportunity to demonstrate that it’s as relevant today as it was in the days following Sputnik. He said this will require a restructuring of the human spaceflight program, a renewed emphasis on science and aeronautics as top priorities, and a commitment to “focus the agency’s legendary capabilities on some of the nation’s most critical needs, especially in the areas of energy and the environment.” For example, Lane said, NASA should play a major role in advancing solar and fuel cell technologies and in the development of low-carbon fuels.

Abbey expanded on Lane’s prescription for updating NASA’s central mission, especially the agency’s space exploration program. He endorsed continuing to fly the Shuttle until 2015, while enhancing the national commitment to the International Space Station. “The only way you can meet our commitment to our international partners and make science a real activity on board the Space Station is to have up-and-down cargo that the Shuttle can carry,” Abbey said. “Without a Shuttle, that science can’t happen. We need to keep the Shuttle flying.”

In her comments, Gallagher argued that a goal of space dominance, in which the United States unilaterally controls the use of space, is “neither feasible nor desirable.” She advocated for a new guiding principle for U.S. space security policy based on “reassurance rather than deterrence” and urged the administration to initiate negotiations on space security with China, Russia, and other interested parties.

By examining three case studies in the history of China’s space program, Lewis suggested that U.S. policy has mistakenly treated China’s space program solely as a security problem, ignoring China’s civil interests. Rather than competing in a space race, Lewis said, China’s primary goal has been to “join the club” of space-faring nations. “There really is the possibility of cooperation in space,” he concluded. “If it’s not a zero-sum competition, if the idea is becoming a member of the club and then participating actively in the development of the rules, we do have the opportunity to engage the Chinese on a constructive basis and to create rules in space that protect all of our interests.”

The new monographs include:

  • United States Space Policy: Challenges and Opportunities Gone Astray by George Abbey and Neal Lane
  • A Place for One’s Mat: China’s Space Program 1956–2003 by Gregory Kulacki and Jeffrey G. Lewis
  • A European Approach to Space Security by Xavier Pasco

A fourth white paper, Reconsidering the Rules for Space Security by Nancy Gallagher and John D. Steinbruner, was issued last year, and the final paper in the series, The Future of Human Spaceflight: Objectives and Policy Implications in a Global Context, by David A. Mindell, Scott A. Uebelhart, Asif Siddiqi, and Slava Gerovitch, is forthcoming.

All of the project white papers are available online at

The American Academy initiated the Reconsidering the Rules of Space project to examine the implications of U.S. policy in space, and to consider the international rules and principles needed to maintain a balanced use of space over the long term. The project has facilitated discussions between international security experts and leading stakeholders in both commercial development and scientific advancement in space. It was supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Founded in 1780, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. Current Academy research focuses on science and global security; social policy; the humanities and culture; and education. With headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Academy’s work is advanced by its 4,600 elected members, who are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business and public affairs from around the world. (




Reconsidering the Rules of Space

John David Steinbruner