Press Release

Report Warns of Challenges to U.S. Leadership in Space; Long-term Commercial and Scientific Edge at Risk


CAMBRIDGE, MA, June 23, 2005 – The U.S. must bolster the competitiveness of its commercial space industry, expand international cooperation, and refocus on basic science in order to hold on to its traditional leadership position in space, according to the authors of a new paper from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

United States Space Policy: Challenges and Opportunities identifies three important shifts in U.S. plans for space—proposals by the military to place weapons in space, decreased funding for civilian space science, and an unwillingness to collaborate with international partners on space initiatives—as threats to the nation’s long-term scientific interests in space. The study also finds that changes in export control policies, which now require that all satellites be regulated as munitions, have led to significant market share losses for U.S. suppliers in recent years, threatening the long-term viability of the U.S. commercial satellite industry. The paper is available online at:

“America has long been considered by nations around the world to be the unchallenged leader in all aspects of its space program,” according to authors George Abbey, former head of the Johnson Space Center, and Neal Lane, former Assistant to the President on Science and Technology Policy. But, they warn, “the future vitality of America’s space program is in question.”

“Government leaders are making decisions about U.S. space policy that will affect not only national security, but also the ability of the United States to successfully compete with other countries in the commercial use of space and to maintain a leadership role in space exploration, science and engineering, and technology.” Though their assessment reveals significant obstacles to the continued success of the U.S. space industry and space science, Abbey and Lane believe these obstacles are surmountable, and offer recommendations for realigning U.S. space policy to advance U.S. interests.

Foremost among their recommendations are the promotion of international cooperation on space-related activities and the realignment of national objectives for space science and exploration with international agreements. As Abbey and Lane write, “International cooperation in space will be crucial if we are to reap the benefits of scientific research and human exploration.”

United States Space Policy: Challenges and Opportunities is one of several Occasional Papers commissioned as part of the Reconsidering the Rules of Space project, which is directed by the Academy’s Committee on International Security Studies. The project convenes parties with diverse interests to propose an international framework for the future of space use—commercial, scientific, and military. Other papers consider the physical laws governing the pursuit of security in space (published May 2005), Chinese and Russian perspectives on U.S. space plans, and the possible elements of a more comprehensive space security system (forthcoming). The project is supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. More information about the project and about the Committee on International Security Studies is available online.

George Abbey is Senior Fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute. He is former Director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Neal Lane is University Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Senior Fellow at the Baker Institute at Rice University. He is former Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and former Director of the National Science Foundation.

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