Better Futures host Michael Laine sat down with former NASA chief historian Dr. Roger D. Launius on December 7. They talked about the current state of Space advancement compared to the Cold War.
The Apollo “death struggle”
“Make no mistakes; it was a death struggle. There was going to be a winner and there was going to be a loser,” Dr. Launius said.
Political crises fueled the U.S.-Soviet space race that spanned the 1950s to 1970s. The U.S.-Korea war, the Berlin Wall building, and the Cuban missile crisis were major milestones. Historians point to these events as pressure points of the Space race.
Space innovation winners lead the social domination race. During the Cold War, Dr. Launius explained, a need to be first in innovation power drove the U.S.-Soviet Space race.
Launius explains that, compared with the 50s-70s era, the U.S. and other world powers are “not in a Cold War.” The key differences between the two eras are the goals. The first era sought to define dominance over innovation. This new Space era seeks to define resource accessibility. Launius explains that these fundamental differences change the Space race trajectory.
Space innovation will see both international cooperation and collaboration soon.
Loose legal text will go through refinement. As powers test limits, a clearer path emerges.
Today in Space
America won the 50s-70s Space race. Winning established America as the first Space presence builder. Industry leaders expect America to influence all Space futures.
“I think creating a permanent presence on the Moon will be a good thing. I don’t think it will be a strictly American thing,” said Dr. Launius.
International space presence gains are growing. Earlier this month, South Korea announced its national space strategy. Recent reports state that South Korea also launched a Space defense plan.
As international space efforts grow, key space defense capabilities rise to the fore. In November, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III highlighted the importance of the Space Force.
Space as a Wild Frontier
Artemis-era space exploration has plans for global research efforts. The Artemis Accords lays out a plan for "peaceful” use of Space bodies.
While today's Space race is not as urgent, there is still steep competition. The vague definition of Space terms makes Space a wild frontier.
Artemis details the use of Space law with sometimes vague legal text. This fact has been called out by historians as a repeat of Europe’s Age of Exploration, when explorers sought after the New World. Issues over property rights are expected to strain current Space legal terms.
Likewise, Space has legal gray areas over the use of resources. For example, legal and practical direction on lunar mining has yet to be perfectly defined. Territory claims and resource area contingencies are where rivalries may emerge.
Cooperation and Competition
Space policy includes plans for international cooperation. Yet, the political climate is changing. The trajectory of cooperation in Space is not yet clear because of this.
Dr. Launius compared the Apollo and Artemis space exploration rushes. Apollo’s rat race made rapid progress. Launius attributes this to strict deadlines. The Artemis era is more open with less strict goals. This changes the dynamic of the Space race, with political implications yet to be fully realized.