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John F. Graham, 1995
Photos courtesy NASA

In James Michner's book SPACE he stated that most of man's glorious achievements in peace have their roots in war. The space program is no different. The roots of rocketry as noted in the beginning of the space history was to destroy an enemy with conventional explosives and then to destroy different enemies with nuclear warheads. The space program came along as a very important spinoff from these dark missions.

Space is very important for the military. First it is global. A military organization can watch possible adversaries anywhere on the Earth. If these countries attempt aggression which is not in the interest of the military organization or its country, the aggression can be timely encountered because of the preparation time allowed by the global observation from space. The Iraqi attack against Kuwait is one example. The US Government knew the precise minute when the Iraqis invaded. Another case for globalism is the navigation satellite. A soldier, sailor, or airman can be anywhere in the world and can find his/her way by means of the GPS.

Space is economic. Because of the communications, reconnaissance, warning, and navigation capabilities which space affords, a space faring military no longer needs a large standing army, navy, or air force. The precision and speed which space brings to the battlefield increases the combatants' fighting power.

Space is efficient. Once again, communications, reconnaissance, warning, and navigation can tell a space faring combatant much about the adversary. This permits "force multipliers" to replace ten soldiers by one. Space allows armies to be smaller and more efficient because speed, precision, and superior intelligence provided by space assets make superior decision-making possible. The correct decision made at a crucial time in a battle is the difference between victory and defeat where seconds can dictate an outcome.

Over the centuries soldiers have fought battles in certain ways using certain principles. Even though they may not have realized that they were following certain ideas, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Hannibal, Napoleon, Hitler's Generals, McArthur, and Schwartzkoff fought battle using the Principles of War. Such principles as objective, mass, security, economy of force, maintaining the offensive, surprise, unity of command, maneuver, and simplicity are as important today as they were during these general's days, but some of these have changed.

The element of surprise has always been an extremely important principle of war throughout the ages. The Chinese sage Sun Tzu stated that war demands deception and surprise. Surprise was needed to drive the enemy into making erroneous judgments and taking erroneous actions. This principle was classically used in the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 as the Japanese disabled the entire U.S. Pacific Fleet. Because of the reconnaissance capabilities of today's spacecraft the principle of surprise for two foes with space assets is considerably reduced. The Soviet Union knew precisely how many ICBMs we had and the U.S. knew exactly how many ICBMs the Soviets had. Both countries knew the exact locations of each other's ICBMs. Both countries had warning systems which would relate quickly the launch of an ICBM. Both countries had eavesdropping spacecraft in the form of ELINT spacecraft; each country could monitor radio and telephone traffic to determine whether the other side had increased its alert status. In short, there was no surprise readily available because of space assets.

If a country with space assets fought a country without space assets, then surprise could be enhanced. A classic example of this is the coalition forces left hook as the U.S. led forces totally surrounded the Iraqis in Kuwait and destroyed their armies in less than 100 hours. Of all the Principles of War as used for centuries perhaps the element of Surprise has changed the most due to the introduction of space assets to warfare.


There has always been a need for an army to determine what was over the next hill; was an enemy trying to set an ambush or was there a village worth plundering? Scouts were sent in front of the main body to help the commanders make these determinations. A good example of this was General JEB Stuart during the Battle of Gettysburg. Because of lack of reliable information, General Robert E. Lee got his army into a battle not of his choosing and eventually led to the Confederacy's defeat in 1865. During the U.S. Civil War, the use of balloons for observation was accomplished for the first time and the high ground was moved higher. In World War I balloons and aircraft provided even more information from higher vantage points. Aircraft provided this advanced information until 1960 when the first reconnaissance satellite was recovered.

Ostensibly under the program name "Discoverer" the first reconnaissance satellites were nothing more than cameras in a capsule. After the film was all used in the satellite, the craft was deorbited and its return capsule was recovered by U.S. Air Force aircraft or by U.S. Navy Frogmen. The film was returned to Washington, D.C. to be developed and interpreted. By 1962 the U.S. was aware of how many missiles the Soviet Union possessed. It was this year that the Soviets launched their reconnaissance program and they discovered how many missiles, bombers, and submarines the Americans had.

There were two types of reconnaissance satellites launched initially: (1) wide area surveillance and (2) high resolution spacecraft. The wide area surveillance spacecraft would fly over an area first and photo analysts would choose likely targets from the wide area photographs. The high resolution spacecraft would then photograph the likely targets one at a time until everything in the country was covered. The process was continuously repeated to note changes in the orders of battle especially for strategic missiles, bombers, and submarines.

In 1961 the Kennedy Administration made the American reconnaissance effort one of the most closely guarded secrets since the Manhattan Project of World War II. There were several reasons for this: (1) To keep the CIA and Air Force from fighting over the satellite assets, (2) To prevent the Soviets from determining how much we knew about their capabilities, (3) To give the President some military and foreign policy options without the entire world knowing about what he was going to do, and (4) To keep from embarrassing the Soviets by announcing the U.S. space triumphs; this would prevent the Russians from shooting down our spacecraft. In time, only NASA had an open, public space program.

The U.S. reconnaissance space program has apparently been a factor in keeping the country from war or being drawn into wars several times. In the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the U.S. knew precisely how many nuclear weapons the Soviet Union possessed and were able to cause a backdown. In 1973, U.S. space assets noted that Soviet Paratroopers were boarding aircraft to aid the Egyptians against the Israelis. Again the U.S. caused the Soviets to back down. These are just two of perhaps many unknown examples of how the results of reconnaissance satellites were able to change world events.

As the technology changed over the years since the first reconnaissance satellites, many scientists have been able to determine what the possible U.S. reconnaissance assets may look like and what these spacecraft might determine. One satellite could do both the wide area and high resolution missions. The spacecraft would probably larger than many spacecraft, but the larger size would indicate that there was more fuel for maneuvering the spacecraft. With the invention of charged-coupled-devices (CCDs) many technicians theorized that now the U.S. space assets could probably have extremely high resolutions of around six inches. Newer civilian spacecraft such as Landsat, the NOAA Polar Orbiting weather satellites, and the Hubble Space Telescope, reinforced these ideas.

The Russian introduction of their radar remote sensing spacecraft, Almaz, had most people wondering that if the Russians could build this spacecraft perhaps we also had one which we were not telling anybody about.

The dark curtain which has obscured most military satellite programs from the beginning of the Space Age was raised a little following the end of the Cold War. In February 1995, President Clinton signed an Executive Order which declassified the first satellite reconnaissance programs. In October of 1993 the existence of the National Reconnaissance Office was admitted for the first time. Since the Cold War was done it seemed as a little of the secrecy veil over the reconnaissance program was being lifted for the world to see.


In the early 1960s the U.S. Government had a great concern about the possibility of a sneak missile attack against the U.S. The leaders of the country were from the Pearl Harbor generation. Never again would they let the U.S. be caught with their pants down. For this reason a program to create an effective missile early warning system was begun.

The first early warning system was called MIDAS. It would use infrared sensors looking at the limb of the Earth to determine whether or not a missile had been launched. If several missiles were launched simultaneously this would break a threshold which would determine that a mass missile attack was underway.

There were several minor problems with this system. The IR sensors had to be cryogenically cooled and coolant usually dissipated very quickly in space. The longest the coolant would last in space was ten months. After the coolant was expended the sensor would degrade to disuse within hours. Another problem was that many missile detectors were needed to cover the entire Eastern Hemisphere. A constellation of at least 9 spacecraft were a minimum to accomplish this task. With the coolant being used at fast rates, the launches of early warning spacecraft would be continuous.

In 1972 a spacecraft created by TRW and Aerojet Corporations was launched into GEO. Aboard this spacecraft were two solutions to the above problem. First, one spacecraft could look at an entire hemisphere from GEO; this would keep the requirement of constant launches needed to replenish a system at a far lower rate. Secondly, this spacecraft's focal plane was made of material sensitive to IR, but did not require cryogenic cooling. The use of lead sulfide meant that the weight of the cryogenic fuel, pumps and lines could be discarded and more important sensors and stabilizing equipment could be added. This spacecraft grew into the Defense Support Program (DSP) Satellite Early Warning System which operates today in GEO telling Headquarters Space Command about a missile launch which occurs anywhere in the world.

The DSP system has one satellite watching the Eastern Hemisphere and two spacecraft watching the Western Hemisphere for missile launches. Since there was less warning time associated with a submarine launch from a Soviet boat at the U.S. mainland, there was a great concern that this type of missile must be detected. For that reason much of the potential Soviet submarine patrol areas had double or Dual coverage over them. Normally, the newest spacecraft with the best detectors were posted over the western Hemisphere to detect the low burning sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM). The Eastern Hemisphere spacecraft observed the Soviet ICBM sites, the space launch sites, and the small missile sites for possible missile or space launches. Most of the warnings from a space launch come from DSP.

During the Persian Gulf War in 1991, DSP was used to warn the Coalition Forces fighting in Kuwait about possible SCUD launches from Iraqi territory with targets in Saudi Arabia and Israel. These notifications were extremely timely occurring within two minutes after launch of a SCUD. This allowed air raid sirens to operate, people to take shelter, and Patriot Batteries to launch against the incoming missiles.

The DSP satellite is a spin stabilized spacecraft which rotates six times per minute. It has a long telescope which detects IR radiation from the plume of a rocket exhaust. Inside the telescope a 6000 detector focal plane detects this radiation and relays the information to an on-board processor which relays this to either a large ground station, a simplified processing station, or a mobile ground station. This information is processed by computers, sent to an operations room where the information is relayed via numerous communications nodes to the Cheyenne Mountain Complex in Colorado Springs, Colorado. From there the information goes to the end users. Even though the DSP uses very mature technology it is still very effective and the dedicated USAF, TRW, Aerojet, and Loral personnel keep determining ways to improve the system. DSP will continue to observe and report missile launches for years to come.


Frequently people will say things over the telephone or on a radio which has great intelligence value. How much fuel is on an air base, how good the food is in the dining room, times of shift changes, or location of personnel may not seem too important to the ordinary person, but to an intelligence analyst such information is a gold mine. To take advantage of the many slips of tongue which occur daily on military bases and in government offices the electronic intelligence (ELINT) spacecraft were designed and built.

ELINT spacecraft target as many military bases as it possibly can during a single pass. It collects all signals from telephone, radio, computers, communications lines, and even electric typewriters and gathers them into one big tape which is dumped onto a receiving station. This information is forwarded to a user who runs all of this data through a computer which is programmed to search for key words which imply certain operations may be taking place. If a particularly critical piece of intelligence is noted the computer rings an alarm for a human to look at the transcription. This is an extremely effective intelligence gathering tool. Both the Russians and the Americans are still using these satellite systems.


In the early 1960s Nikita Khrushchev stated emphatically in public that the Soviet spacecraft which carried Gagarin and Titov into orbits around the Earth could very easily have carried atomic warheads. Before the ICBM systems were perfected, this fractional orbital bombardment system (FOBS) was a possibility and the U.S. intended to do something about it.

To combat the FOBS and any other rogue spacecraft launched by the Soviets, the Americans created anti-satellite (ASAT) vehicles. The two types designed were the Nike-Zeus and the Thor spacecraft. Both vehicles were called direct ascent ASATs because they launched directly from the Earth a smashed into their targets in space without going into orbit. To insure that the satellite was killed the Thor used a nuclear warhead.

As time went on and the Soviet space order of battle increased to more than one or two satellites neither the Nike nor the Thor were cost effective for destroying the many Soviet military satellites. The U.S. cancelled both ASAT programs and decided to work on ballistic missile defense.

The Soviets long feared the Chinese. The Soviet leaders knew they could manipulate the Americans by making many noises concerning peace and the Americans would fall into line, but the Chinese were almost hateful of their former Russian allies. As the Chinese started to build their space program behind the "Bamboo Curtain" the Soviets gave them technical advice and even materials, but when the break occurred between the two countries, the Soviets were concerned about the Chinese space capabilities.

In 1968 the Soviets began testing a coorbital ASAT. They would launch a target spacecraft from Plesetsk and two days later they would launch an ASAT from Tyuratam. On the first or second orbit the ASAT would intercept the target and would detonate hitting the target with 100 - 180 pieces of shrapnel. The target would usually not suffer any great structural damage and would often be used for another intercept, but if the target were a real spacecraft it would have been rendered useless by the flying debris.

From 1968 - 1982 the Soviets conducted 20 ASAT tests; the last ASAT test was conducted during a possible test of a nuclear attack scenario using space assets. Since 1982 the Soviets did not conduct another test. The capability was still available, but unlike other weapon systems the Soviets never again tested the ASAT.

During the Carter Administration, the President determined that the ASAT was a threat to peace. He ordered the US military to develop a new ASAT. This was accomplished by using a short range attack missile with an infrared seaker launched from an F-15. The plan called for two F-15 bases stationed at Langley, Virginia and McChord, Washington to launch ASAT strikes as needed from these forty aircraft. This program was cancelled by the US Congress. Currently, the U.S. Army is working on an ASAT in case the need arises to use such a weapon.


One March 25, 1983 President Ronald Reagan announced a program which would establish research to determine if it was possible to render nuclear weapons obsolete. The media promptly named the program "Star Wars" and many aerospace companies lined up to partake of the great amounts of money being sent forth for research into this enterprise.

The problem with ballistic missile defense was first reviewed by Robert McNamara in the 1960s. McNamara declared that ballistic missile defense was not cost effective because the enemy could build more offensive missiles to overwhelm the defense far more cheaply than the ballistic missile defense would cost.

This program was not shelved, but later became the "SAFEGUARD" program and a missile defense site was established at Nekoma and Cavalier, North Dakota to protect the Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota missile fields of Minuteman IIIs. This missile defense site had two basic radars, a perimeter acquisition radar for characterizing the attack at Cavalier and a highly accurate point defense radar at Nekoma. Also stationed at Nekoma were the two types of missiles for the ballistic missile defense. The Spartan missile was to intercept the incoming warheads at a long distance and the Sprint missile was built to intercept the warheads on their final plunge to Earth. Safeguard operated for one day, October 1, 1975 and was then shut down by Congress because of money concerns. The Cavalier radar became a surveillance site for the US Space Command to watch for SLBMs being launched from Hudson's Bay and the site at Nekoma was totally abandoned. It sits today on the prairie like an out-of-place Egyptian pyramid.

The Star Wars had a proper name which was the "Strategic Defense Initiative" or SDI. SDI was headed by Lt. General James Abrahamson. Since this was a very important job for a general, Abrahamson was put before Congress to obtain his fourth star making him a full general, but because of the political climate and control of Congress by the Democratic Party, the general's fourth star was denied.

General Abrahamson didn't let the non-promotion affect his work. He established an organization to determine whether or not a ballistic missile defense system would work and what the options for such a system would be. There are several problems facing the defense planner when faced with a ballistic missile attack. A ballistic missile attack takes place in four separate phases: the boost, the post boost, the mid-course, and reentry.

During the boost phase, the missiles are ignited, they perform a pitch-roll program to obtain the correct direction of flight, and then they fly out of the atmosphere. All of the warheads are on a bus covered by a faring. When the missile gets through the atmosphere, the faring is jettisoned exposing the reentry vehicle bus with its compliment of warheads. The boost phase is the easiest time to see the missile; it is also the time when the missile is most vulnerable to attack.

After main engine cutoff, the missile stage separates from the post boost vehicle bus. Once the bus is free from the missile it obtains a navigational update which it feeds to each reentry vehicle( RV). These RVs are then deployed one at a time for their trip to their own individual targets. Along with the RVs a number of decoys may be deployed to confuse a tracking radar. These are sometimes shapes which reflect radar in a similar manner to RVs or they can be something as simple as tin foil or aerosol dispersions. Before RV deployment the defender may still destroy most of the RVs, but after RV deployment the problem gets very complicated. The defender has to determine which shapes are the real RVs.

The mid-course phase is the longest phase of a ballistic missile's flight. This sometimes lasts from 20 - 25 minutes. At this point all of the RVs and decoys are ballistically travelling to their respective targets. A defender's problem would be to differentiate RVs from decoys. The RVs would have to be destroyed one at a time.

As the RVs start to reenter the Earth's atmosphere they become small balls of fire. In this inferno, the decoys are incinerated and the RVs begin their plunge toward their respective targets. The RVs are spin stabilized for more accurate impacts. The RV then impacts the target, explodes, and destroys the target and most of the surrounding area. The defender's problem at this point is to impact each RV as it enters the Earth's atmosphere. This will be done with some sort of impacting missile. The defender must destroy all of the RVs; any which survive will inflict unacceptable damage.

These were the problems which General Abrahamson and his staff faced as they tried to determine which technologies would best be used for a ballistic missile defense. At first they thought that really exotic technologies such as laser battle stations equipped with x-Ray lasers would accomplish the mission. These were found to be too exotic for the near term. They investigated using a follow-on to DSP called the Boost Surveillance Tracking System (BSTS). BSTS would track the missiles during their initial launch and would send the information to the space-based battle stations which would relay the information to small rockets which would impact the boosting rockets and destroy them. BSTS would also assess the attacks to determine how many RVs got through.

For the post boost and the mid-course phases, the battle plan called for an ultraviolet detection system to look for the post boost vehicle and the RVs. Additionally, Neutral Particle Beam (NPB) vehicles would shoot beams into all of the objects, RVs and Decoys, to determine which emitted atomic particles. Those shapes which emitted the particles would be RVs so they would be destroyed by a chemical laser.

The reentry phase would use some of the less exotic weapons such as missiles impacting into RVs. This is probably the most mature of all the technologies for ballistic missile defense.

Another great problem is computing power to run this equipment which would need decisions made literally at the speed of light. To determine the needs of such a system the National Test Bed was established at Falcon Air Force Base, Colorado. Here, scientists, technicians, and military personnel constantly run various attack scenarios to see if the software will work in such a situation. The big question still looms; will there be enough computing power?

One result of SDI research was the Brilliant Pebbles and the Brilliant Eyes Programs. The Brilliant Pebbles Program will involve launching a number of small rockets into space which will constantly orbit over the enemy's missile fields. If a substantial attack occurs, the Brilliant Pebbles will spring immediately into action attacking the boosters and post boost vehicles immediately. Brilliant Eyes will assess the damage and will update information for further attacks by the Brilliant Pebbles. If the Brilliant Pebble misses during one attack on the vehicle it will keep attacking at precalculated positions until the job is completed. This scenario was the last one run as the entire SDI Program and the Brilliant Pebble Program in particular was cancelled by the Clinton Administration. President Clinton's Secretary of Defense at the time, Les Aspin, changed the program's name from SDI to Ballistic Missile Defense.


John F. Graham, 1995
Photos courtesy NASA

In a poignant scene in the movie version of Tom Wolfe's best seller "The Right Stuff", a savvy newsman looks at Chuck Yeager and Jack Ridley and poses a serious question to the two pilots. "Do you know what makes your rockets go up?" Understanding the question perfectly, Ridley says, "Yeah, but the aerodynamics alone would take the better part of a day to explain it!" The newsman answers, "No! Funding makes the rockets go up. No Bucks, No Buck Rogers!" This minor statement in an outstanding movie tells the entire story of the space program.

Budgeting has been the major player in changing missions, altering spacecraft, and rescheduling launches. Budgeting is everything to an agency like NASA; funding is NASA's life blood and affects everything from how many paper clips a secretary can order to how many external tanks must be constructed for the next five years. To understand the pressure which drives NASA and the rest of the Federal Government as well, one must understand that the United States Space Policy is driven predominantly by money and no coherent, well conceived plan. The process of the budget has now replaced governing the country as the number one concern of the Federal Government. One must become familiar with the offices and the processes which drive the current Federal Budget.


We've already made our acquaintance with NASA and how that agency functions. NASA Headquarters is obviously a very important force in how space policy is implemented. Another force which keeps a low profile is DoD. The U.S. military space budget is entwined with all of the other programs which make up the budgets for the services. The DoD space budget as part of the major military services is larger than NASA's entire budget. The DoD space budget is growing greater every year even as NASA's is shrinking.

The White House is obviously a major driver in space policy. The President sets the tone for his administration and accomplishments in an active space program are frequently high goals. When President Clinton took office he immediately disbanded the National Space Council and referred all space problems to his science advisor. The Office of Science and Technology Policy now runs the U.S. Civilian Space Program. In budget matters, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) are significant players for NASA. When David Stockman headed the OMB during the Reagan Administration, the Space Program in general and NASA in particular were favorite targets for this budget cutter's axe.

The U.S. Congress consists of the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. In addition to these 535 elected officials are 20,000 unelected personnel who make daily decisions about taxpayer's money. These 20,000 people are the congressional staffers who help the Congress over the hurdles of many issues of the day. In a typical two year session the House covers over 16,000 bills! The staffers are needed to help schedule, research, and explain some of these concerns to the Congressmen and women. Sometimes these people get a little carried away with their own importance, but mostly they are extremely dedicated individuals with little monetary goals to gain. Congress receives support from a number of agencies including the Library of Congress, the Congressional Budget Office, the General Accounting Office, and the Office of Technology Assessment. These organizations research the space program, look at the future possibilities for funding, look at the past expenditure of money, and evaluate some of the new technologies being brought forth.


For the civilian space program, all NASA centers submit recommendations to Headquarters NASA. The NASA Administrator's office then submits its budget requests to the OMB each September for the fiscal year which starts one year later on October 1. Then the OMB measures the NASA funding requests with the remainder of the Federal Agencies and presents the President's budget to Congress in January. The NASA portion of this funding is a subset of thirteen different funding bills established by Congress to make the budget process easier.

The respective Budget Committees in each house of Congress set upper limits for the total budget. Both committees meet and produce a Budget resolution which must be voted upon and passed by both houses on April 15. The entire budget process goes through two tracks: the authorization and the appropriations tracks.

Authorization gives an agency legal authority to operate. The funding levels for particular programs serve as a method of establishing policy guidelines. Authorization was intended to occur before the appropriations, but in the real world both processes occur nearly simultaneously. Procedures dictate that an authorization bill be passed by May 15, but very often the results of this track are too late for any great influence on the appropriations process. In the House the NASA budget goes through the Subcommittee on Space Science and Applications. This subcommittee holds hearings and discussions involving key space personnel which will help the legislators to determine which programs to fund.

After much debate the funding bill is sent on to the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. This main committee can either accept the subcommittee's bill or reject it and hold their own hearings. very often amendments are added to the bill that have nothing to do with budget authorization. The Senate's Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space approves the authorization bill and sends it to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation where the bill is accepted or rejected.

Both bills go to their respective full houses for approval. There will be differences which are ironed out in conference committees and returned to the full House and Senate for approval. The bill then goes to the President for signature. If the President signs the bill it becomes law; if not, the Congress can override the veto with a two-thirds majority or rewrite the bill in accordance with the President's wishes.

The appropriations track determines how much money an agency can spend on authorized programs. NASA is part of the bill which includes veterans' affairs, housing and urban development, the National Science Foundation, and the Environmental Protection Agency. The Appropriations Committee sets an upper limit which can be allocated by each subcommittee. This is based largely upon the Budget Resolution approved by the House and the Senate. In NASA's case the subcommittee must appropriate to all sorts of different agencies. Space exploration may have a low priority on some of these legislator's agendas.

After the subcommittee has approved the bill it is sent to the Appropriations Committee. This committee collectively mark up all bills in the FederAl Budget. The bill goes from the Appropriations Committee to the Full House and Senate for approval. A Conference Committee between the two houses once again iron out the differences and the House and Senate vote upon the bill which is sent to the President. Theoretically, this bill must be complete by June 30.

Decisions about space policy and the implementations of the space policy are included in the day-to-day rough and tumble politics as usual atmosphere of Washington, D.C. What is needed is a greater education program so that ordinary people can intelligently engage in a discussion about whether the space program has any value at all and should be continued. The current U.S. Space Policy is simple: it does not exist. The purpose of the current program is not to go into space and explore it, but rather to provide jobs. There has been a definite lack of success over the last decade in moving out into space, and unless words are backed up by support and funding our descendants will be wondering why we stopped after such a great start.


John F. Graham, 1995
Photos courtesy NASA

When the Apollo astronauts went back and forth to the Moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s they remarked about how fragile the Earth looked as it hung like a blue jewel in the blackness of space. They saw only oceans and continents with no national boundaries on the land masses. Today, the most frequently noted quote from the space shuttle and the Mir astronauts is how there is a significant lack of boundaries as seen from space. A concept such as national sovereignty is benign in space, but the inhabitants of Earth still carry on their everyday existence with wars over which boundary is correct, which people should rule a piece of land, and which people should die because they happen to occupy the land.

Ownership is a human trait; it is as common as the air we breath. A person is willing to sacrifice almost everything to be an owner of something; for example a small amount of acreage or a small shop to sell some goods required by other people in society. Very often there are differences as to who should own the property or whether the prices in a shop are too exorbitant. Justice needs to be served. At this point people design governments to ensure that justice based on reasonable laws which in turn are based upon the society's value system are enforced.

Countries are macroscopic models of small communities. If one nation's value system conflicts with another country's when they try to settle their differences over property, land or goods; the countries can take one of two actions: (1) Go to war with the other country or (2) find some arbiter to settle the countries' differences. Even though some countries still choose war, a number of nations have chosen to bring their cases before the United Nations to settle their differences. It is in this backdrop that Space Law was formed.

After the first satellites were launched, there was great concern in the United Nations over whether or not the two military super powers at the time, the United States and the Soviet Union, would fight a final battle for world domination from the heavens. Obviously, nobody wanted geothermal nuclear war being fought over their heads, so the U.N. set up a committee in 1958 to prevent such actions. The committee was called the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS).


COPOUS was first formed as an ad hoc panel in 1958 with eleven member nations. In 1959 COPUOS gained permanent committee status and it began to grow in size. Currently, there are 54 nations in this committee and since treaties dealing with the matters of outer space must be approved by consensus, this process is getting unwieldy. U.N. staff support for COPUOS comes from the Secretariat through the auspices of the Outer Space Affairs Division.

During the early days of the space program consensus was much easier to obtain and with this consensus came some of the most far-reaching international agreements ever formed. The method of drafting a treaty basically starts with a committee such as COPUOS drafting a treaty and passing it. The treaty then goes before the U.N. General Assembly where it is voted upon. A simple majority is required to pass a treaty. There are no vetoes like in the Security Council. If the treaty is passed by the General Assembly it is sent to the appropriate heads of state for ratification.

In the U.S. the treaty goes to the President who signs it and refers the treaty to the U.S. Senate for ratification. After the Senate ratifies the treaty it becomes the Law of the Land in accordance with the procedures of the U.S. Constitution. The treaties take effect in the U.N. after they are ratified by a number of countries as specified in the treaty. These treaties are directed at countries; not at individuals or multinational corporations. The treaties do not impinge upon the sovereign power of the nation state.

COPUOS created five international treaties since the organization was created. These agreements are not very specific, but form a basis upon which to form further international space law. In a way they are very similar to our own U.S. Constitution.


The Treaty on the Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies is also known as the Outer Space Treaty. These are the basic principles governing the behavior of nations in space. The Outer Space Treaty was opened for signature in 1967 and has been ratified by 90 countries. This treaty establishes the basis for all follow-on treaties thus making it the most important of the space treaties.

The Outer Space Treaty states that space is the "province of all mankind." Space is available for the exploration and the use of everyone; no one nation can restrict the access of space to any other nation. This also means that nation states cannot claim sovereignty or expropriate any part of space for its own use. This provision is very similar to the Antarctic Treaty, but it also includes the permission of private companies to perform space exploration.

The Outer Space Treaty makes no attempt to define where space begins. A current definition is the lowest altitude that permits a vehicle to orbit the Earth without entering the earth's atmosphere. That altitude is approximately 100 km (62 miles). Below that altitude, air law with all

of its sovereignty ramifications applies. NORAD has a definition which states that if a space vehicle's period is less than 86 minutes, then the satellite can be considered to be deorbiting. Greater than 86 minutes means the satellite is still in orbit.

The Outer Space Treaty further states that space will be used for only peaceful purposes and that no weapons of mass destruction will be placed in space or on other celestial bodies. The treaty does not deny the military use of space so activities such as reconnaissance, communications, early warning, intelligence gathering, and navigation are permitted. Military personnel are also permitted in space, but they cannot conduct any military maneuvers or build any military base in space or on any celestial body. Verification or the examination of military satellites is not permitted which seems to say that salvage of derelict spacecraft is off limits as well.

Ambassadorial status is provided to all astronauts and cosmonauts in a provision in the Outer Space Treaty. Astronauts are the "envoys of all mankind" and should be given all possible assistance to return to their home countries. In other words if the space shuttle lands in Russia it and the astronauts should be given as much help required to get back to the U.S. The Soviet Union recognized that the U.S. would abide by this portion of the treaty and in the darkest days of the Cold War told their cosmonauts to land in North Dakota if they were unable to land in the central USSR due to an emergency.

The Outer Space Treaty states that launching states are responsible for any spacecraft launched from their soil. The nations state is responsible for any liability which may happen due to an errant space launch or a faulty satellite.


The Agreement on the Rescue and Return of Astronauts, and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space is known simply as the Assistance Agreement or the Astronaut Return Treaty. This treaty was ready for ratification in 1968 and has been ratified by 80 nations. Like the Outer Space Treaty the Astronaut Return Treaty confers ambassadorial status on all astronauts and requires the treaty signatories to render all assistance possible in rescuing astronauts in Earth and space. An example of the possible use of this portion of the treaty was the Apollo 13 mission where all the signatories promised to help the astronauts as much as possible during their disastrous flight.

The Assistance Agreement also establishes rules for returning objects launched into outer space. If the owner of a space object wants it back, they must make a formal request of the country where the satellite deorbited. If asked, the country in which the spacecraft deorbited must return the satellite. At the same time the satellite owner must relay as much information as possible to preclude anyone being injured by certain dangers in the satellite. Another provision states that the satellite owner can't violate another country's sovereignty by retrieving the satellite without permission.


The Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space, the Registration Treaty, was enacted to help the U.N. in assessing liability and to serve as a basis for helping to clean up the space debris when the technology becomes available. The treaty was codified in 1975 and has been ratified by 37 countries.

Launch registries required by this treaty are kept in the launching state and the U.N. Secretary General's Office. The required items include the following:

1. A registration number

2. The name of the launching state

3. The date and site of the launch

4. Initial orbital parameters

5. The general function of the spacecraft

These items are recorded after the spacecraft is launched. In the U.S. the State Department normally collects launch information and submits it to the U.N. in six month intervals. There is no requirement to update orbital parameters when a spacecraft maneuvers; by custom it is not done; however, when a spacecraft deorbits the information is forwarded to the U.N. so that it can be removed from the active registry.

Another custom of the launch states has been to describe secret military launches by some innocuous label which reduces the adversary's intelligence agency to determine the purpose of the satellite. For example, reconnaissance spacecraft may be called simply "Earth Resource satellites" or even "weather observation" mission.


The Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects, the Liability Treaty, sets the minimum standards for establishing the liability for space faring nations for launch or spaceflight activities which could cause health, property, or environmental damage outside the launching state's borders.

The treaty, written in 1972, assigns the liability for a spacecraft causing damage to the Earth or to an airplane to the launching state regardless of fault. Damaged property must be restored to prior condition in accordance with international law and the principles of justice and equity. If a spacecraft collides with another spacecraft in space the liability is assigned based on the determination of negligence or malicious intent and the damages awarded as determined by international law.

If the launching state wishes to contest the damage award with the damaged state, the Liability Treaty states that both nations should go first through diplomatic channels and, if no satisfaction or resolution is achieved, a claims commission can be established. No case has ever gotten to this point. In fact, there has only been one case handled under the Liability Treaty: Cosmos 954.

Cosmos 954 was a Soviet Radar Ocean Reconnaissance Satellite (RORSAT) which was powered by a nuclear reactor. Previous Soviet missions using such technology would split the reactor from the parent body of the spacecraft and boost the radioactive material into a higher orbit where the reactor would remain for more than 600 years which was well beyond the life of the radioactive material. Cosmos 954 had a special problem; it went out of control and the technicians were unable to separate the reactor from the spacecraft's parent body.

In late January 1978, Cosmos 954 came crashing into the Great Slave Lake area of Canada spewing debris along a 500 mile footprint. As luck would have it the radioactive portion of the craft fell near a trapper's camp. The trapper looked at the unusual phenomenon and then left it alone. The Canadian Air Force later found the piece and the trapper and took both back to Yellowknife, N.T. where the trapper was found to be in good health and the reactor pieces were impounded. After the cleanup, the Canadian Government sent a $15 million bill to the Soviets. The Soviets paid less than half of this amount and agreed not to take back the spacecraft. The Canadians were happy with the amount they received and were happier still that the Soviets had acknowledged the spacecraft's existence. The Soviets had abided by the Liability Treaty.


The Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, the Moon Treaty, was codified in 1979. Its basic purpose was to insure that any wealth obtained from the Moon by any space faring nation was to be distributed to all the people of the world. This treaty was the culmination of the time when the world's underdeveloped nations were attempting to use international forums to assert their rights as sovereign nations and to obtain their share of the world's and space's resources.

In the Moon Treaty is a phrase which states that the Moon is the "common heritage of all mankind." The Outer Space Treaty had words which sounded similar - "the common Province of all mankind", but actually meant that no single country could claim outer space or other celestial bodies as colonies, but it permits the use of the resources. "The common heritage of all mankind" is a phrase which means all the resources of space belong to all nations and the use or extraction by one nation is against this treaty. There is also an international organization established to redistribute the wealth returned from the moon and Outer Space. This interpretation of the treaty is disputed and has resulted in the U.S. and Soviet Union/Russia not signing the treaty.

The Moon Treaty has only be ratified by seven countries since its codification in 1979. Neither the U.S. nor Russia have signed it. This treaty brought the international cooperation period to a close. Mistrust of the Northern nations by the Southern nations has become more apparent and there has been less desire to cooperate. Future treaties for the use of outer space may be in doubt even if they are desperately needed.


Other international treaties which may be needed in the future concern three large areas: communications, remote sensing, and space debris.

There is no conflict yet with communications because technology has kept the GEO belt from shrinking to the point where it can't be used. Satellites have been able to operate without interference because of the change in bandwidths and the differences in frequencies. Before there was a difference in these items the international Telegraph Union (ITU) kept the spacecraft separated by 5. As telecommunications techniques improved this was reduced to 2. As these techniques continue to evolve perhaps a 1 separation or even 1/2 separations may be feasible. If there comes a time when separation is no longer feasible, then a treaty will have to be established which justly apportions sections of the GEO belt for use equitably by all nations.

Remote sensing data is becoming more important with each passing year. More nations want to learn about their own natural resources, their own weather, and their own environmental problems without having another nation looking at these items. Because of this desire there may soon be a treaty concerning the remote sensing of other countries without immediately sharing the data or providing a ground station by which sensing may become more feasible. There could be a number of conflicts about data as even more of it is generated.

Space debris is a very real problem which will get worse without international regulation. Every time a rocket is launched with a satellite a number of sections of the rocket may be left in orbit along with the spacecraft. Such items as spacecraft faring, explosive bolts, and solid fuel exhaust will soon pose hazards to even the simplest launch into LEO or GEO. Currently there are approximately 40,000 pieces of debris one centimeter in diameter or bigger in LEO. During the solar maximum which occurs once every 11 years the Earth's atmosphere increases in altitude so that much of the debris decays naturally into the Earth's atmosphere, but as time goes on and more nations launch more spacecraft, the amount of debris may even be too much for the Sun to handle. Orbits which are particularly vulnerable are the GEO and sun synchronous orbits where particularly explosive events have strewn debris throughout the orbits.

What can be done to combat the debris problem? First, have nations use as much reusable technology as possible. This would leave less debris in orbit. Second, when a satellite's mission is finished, retain enough fuel to deorbit it into the Earth's atmosphere. Third, allow either nations or private enterprise to develop methods to scavenge the derelict spacecraft especially from the vulnerable orbits. Spacefaring cannot be done if there is no way to get off the planet without being damaged or destroyed.


John F. Graham, 1995
Photos courtesy NASA

Upon entry into space the first obvious environment an astronaut encounters is weightlessness due to microgravity. The rocket ship and all of its contents are virtually "falling" around the Earth. It's like being in a runaway elevator that never hits the basement floor or being in a perpetual sky dive without hitting the ground.

The human body changes when it encounters weightlessness and several space shuttle missions have been dedicated to determine what happens to the body and whether or not any of the seemingly temporary changes become permanent as explorers venture farther and longer out into space.

There is a more insidious and dangerous part of the space environment which must be studied extensively before humans can journey much beyond our immediate planetary system. Radiation occurs in several different forms. First, there is the normal radiation which is emitted from the Sun and all other stars called electromagnetic radiation (EM). EM can destroy body cells and eventually human life with exposure for even short periods. Cosmic rays are emitted from the rest of the galaxy and are thought to come from super novas or exploding stars. As the space explorer goes farther from the Sun the EM becomes less of a problem and galactic cosmic rays become greater problems. Once again, the unshielded human body becomes extremely vulnerable to radiation.


There are six human body systems which are altered during microgravity exposure. These are the cardiovascular system, the cardiopulmonary system, the renal endocrine system, the blood immune system, the musculo-skeletal system, and the neuro-vestibular system. Two obvious, outward effects take place in microgravity: the face gets very puffy and a person may come down with space sickness.

On Earth the human blood is normally concentrated by gravity in the legs and abdominal cavity; when the body goes into space into a microgravity environment, the blood concentrates in the body's chest and head region. Since 80% of the human body is fluid a person's face gets very puffy as if they had a very bad head cold and the legs get very skinny from lack of fluid.

About 50% of the astronauts are affected by space motion sickness when they encounter microgravity. The second Skylab crew was incapacitated by this condition for about three days. The Russian Cosmonaut Gherman Titov was the first human to experience this condition as he remained space sick for most of his 17 orbits. Experience on the space shuttle has shown that the human body adapts after about two days to microgravity. On STS-40 the Space Lab Life Sciences Mission # 1 made a number of studies on what happens to the human body when it leaves Earth and encounters the various environments of space. They experimented on what happens to the six major systems of the human body. Presented here are some of the ideas as presented in the NASA movie, "All Systems Go".

The Cardiovascular System consists of 96,000 kilometers of blood vessels known as arteries and veins. Blood is driven through these vessels by a pump called the heart which pumps blood at the rate of 60 beats per minute in an average adult. Whether a human is lying horizontally or standing vertically the heart continues to pump and is able to send blood to the body's vital organs.

Several different processes occur when the body goes into space. The upward shift of fluid which occurs in microgravity causes the heart to react as if it received an increased blood supply. Because of this the heart actually stretches to accommodate the extra blood. The brain is notified that there is too much blood and turns off the replenishment of red blood cells accomplished by the bone marrow. Once the blood cells have been reduced the heart no longer has to pump as heart and reduces its size by 1/3. The astronauts aboard the life sciences lab studied this phenomenon by investigated the change in venous pressure occurring around the heart. One astronaut had a catheter installed leading from his forearm into the top of the heart to measure the differences in venous pressure. The results of this experiment are still being studied in life sciences labs. Doctors hope to be able to identify the control mechanism which changes the heart upon entry into space and perhaps use the results to combat heart disease on Earth.

A second system related intimately with the cardiovascular system is the Cardiopulmonary System. This system includes the heart, the blood vessels, and the lungs. On Earth, the red blood cells carry oxygen to the other cells in the body and return with the waste product of carbon dioxide. When the carbon dioxide laden enters the lungs it changes places with oxygen which has just entered the body by way of the lungs. The blood which has just dropped off the carbon dioxide and picked up oxygen now returns to the heart to be pumped to other body cells.

On Earth, most of the blood is located in the bottom of the lungs and most of the air is located in the top of these air sacks. When the body goes into space there is a more even distribution of blood and air in the lungs and they actually become more efficient. The astronauts have used a gas analyzer in space to determine if this gas exchange is indeed more efficient.

The renal/endocrine system regulates the amount of fluid in the body. More than 62% of the body consists of water. Because of the great amount of water needed in the body the level and balance of this fluid is extremely important. The renal system consists of the kidneys while the endocrine system contains several vital glands including the hypothalamus, the pituitary, the thyroid, the pancreas, and the adrenals. These glands emit a hormone to the brain which relates the status of the water balance in the body. If the balance is too low the body gets thirsty and likewise if the level is too high the excess fluid are processed by the kidneys for elimination through the urinary tract.

When the body goes into space the fluid shift tricks the glands into believing that the homeostasis or the water balance in the body is too high. Immediately the kidneys begin to eliminate fluid. Astronauts have to rehydrate themselves frequently especially before they return to Earth to maintain the correct body fluid balance.

Related to the three previous body systems is the Blood and Immune System. This system has three basic components: the red blood cells for transportation; the white blood cells for defense; and plasma which is a liquid which is used to easily convey the cells to the rest of the body. The red blood cells transport oxygen to cells and convey carbon dioxide to the lungs. The white blood cells fight any infection which gets into the body; the most important of these cells are the lymphocytes. Over 40% of the blood is made of these cells the rest is plasma.

When the body goes into space, the fluid shift causes the renal/endocrine system to remove fluid. During this fluid dump some of the plasma is inadvertently reduced and the blood cells make up 45% of the blood stream. In order to reduce the ratio back to 40% the brain stops production of red blood cells in the bone marrow. When the body returns to Earth it suffers from space anemia or lack of red blood cells. Within a few weeks the blood cells are regenerated and the plasma/cell ratio is back to normal. One mystery which has not been solved yet is the missing white blood cells, the lymphocytes. When astronauts go into space the lymphocytes decrease. Where did they go? Do these blood cells decrease even more when a body stays longer in space? What are the implications for space voyages to Mars? Will the body be able to fight infections which may occur. Astronauts who have returned from space have had a tough time fighting infections due to lymphocyte depletions. This is one mystery which has far-reaching implications for long space flight.

The Musculoskeletal System has serious problems when the body goes into space. On Earth bones and muscles become and remain strong because they are always working against gravity. When the body goes into space the muscles and bones don't have to work so hard so they weaken. This is very similar to a patient who breaks an arm or a leg and keeps it in a cast for several weeks; the muscle actually shrinks. The same process occurs when a patient is in constant bedrest, the muscles and the bones weaken. In space the bones have been losing calcium and phosphorus which are needed to build bones. The body has two different cells which constantly work on the bones: the osteoclasts tear down bones and the osteoblasts build up bones. On Earth, the scales are tipped in favor of the osteoblasts; more bones are built up than torn down. In space and the microgravity environment the opposite process appears to be occurring; the osteoclasts are doing more work than the osteoblasts. This phenomenon is similar to that which happens in the elderly people with the onset of osteoporosis. If the problem can be solved in space it will have direct consequence for the sufferers of this dehabilitating disease.

To combat the tear down of muscle and bones the astronauts and cosmonauts constantly exercise. On the Mir space station the cosmonauts exercise for 2 1/2 hours per day and they wear flight suits/jumps suits known as penguin suits. In these penguin suits are extremely strong rubber bands which force the muscles and bones to work. Exercises such as treadmills and stationary bicycles also help to keep the muscles in shape.

The Neurovestibular System helps the body to keep its proper orientation on Earth. Inside the inner ear are thousands of little hairs with small crystals on top of them called otoliths. The otoliths help the hairs to move when our bodies accelerate, tip right, tip left, turn upside down, and when they decelerate. This system creates a stable platform for the major sensory organ, the eyes, to operate. Everyone has been on a carnival ride and undergone total disorientation in the form of dizziness when the ride is finished; this is similar to the queasiness which 50% of the astronauts feel for the first few days in space. Space Motion Sickness is probably caused from severe disorientation to the brain which can't determine which way is up.

The same feeling is obtained from a recent exhibition of the space station Mir which traveled the U.S. to show ordinary American citizens what the Russian space station is like. Upon entering the station the ordinary person has been used to seeing up and down, left and right. The interior of the station is turned in such a way that it is disorienting to the eyes which confuses the brain. On the floor of the mockup are special carpets which removed some of the tactile sense which the feet obtain from gravity. The body is now confused even more. The sponsors of the exhibit warn people that they must be careful if they are prone to motion sickness to avoid walking into this model.


Perhaps the most dangerous problem which the human body faces in space travel is radiation. The main hazards to life are the ionizing radiations and their effect on living cells. By determining the physical changes which occur within a cell can relate to the damage which occurs within the cell. Radiation can alter the chemical composition of cells by creating toxic substances which can kill the cell. If enough cells in an organ die, the organ is destroyed and the human dies. The biological effects of radiation are direct with actual damage to the cell's nucleus or indirect with destruction consisting of enzyme and chemistry changes. The three main organ systems susceptible to radiation include the blood system, the digestive system, and the central nervous system.

The main measuring unit relating radiation effects in biological materials is the radiation absorbed dose or the RAD. One RAD equals the absorption of 100 ergs of energy per gram of living tissue. Tolerance to amounts of radiation is an individual trait; some people can take more some less before they succumb to illness and death. If a population received a dose of 200 RADs of whole body radiation, 60% of that population will become ill within three hours and 100% of the population will be ill with a dose of 300RADs. If the dose increases to 450 RADs then 50% of the population will die while the other half will become ill. Increase the dose to 600 RADs and within 30 days the entire population will be dead.

What kind of RAD doses can be expected in normal operations? This depends entirely upon the environment. With shielding of 10 grams/cm2 the dose levels are small and the exposure occurs over a great length of time: days, weeks, and months. Using a dose exposure level of 100 RADs per career of an astronaut, the USAF Medical Corps has determined that each astronaut could have a flight career of three to five years. This allows short exposure to minimum RADs with one week of rest for each RAD of exposure. This also allows a cushion for exposure to 100 RADs of solar flares if this happens. Hopefully, the use of "storm shelters" during a space flight to Mars and the use of such shelters on the Moon and in interplanetary space will keep the RAD total down to an acceptable point for the astronauts to do their jobs and to explore.


Have you ever camped out with someone for more than a month? Now change that to living with another person in a camping out situation inside a small mobile camper for more than a month. You cannot go outside the structure and the only entertainment you have is your work. Add to this the stress of extreme danger because of the environment and the capability to live three dimensionally in the camper and you have some of the psychological problems which face the cosmonauts today and will face the astronauts in the future as they live aboard a space station.

The Russians have various psychological tests they administer to the cosmonauts to determine which cosmonauts would make the best teams. For example they wouldn't want two philosophers on board because no work would get done. They also wouldn't want two very stringent, by-the-book types on board because they would easily get on each other's nerves. They seemed to like to put the easy-going crewmember with the very nervous energy type person to balance each other's personalities.

In his book Diary of a Cosmonaut: 211 Days in Space, Valentin Lebedev reports that before flight he took the following oath which may reflect on the cosmonauts' attitudes prior to space flight:

I will always remember:

6. In any difficult situation that may occur on board, I must follow my head, not my heart.

7. I won't speak or act hastily.

8. If Tolia (the other cosmonaut) is in the wrong, I will find it in myself to hold out my hand to him; if I'm in the wrong, I will be strong enough to admit it.

9. I will remember that my crewmate also deserves respect because of his hard work. He has a good family, friends, and people who believe in him.

10. In any circumstance I will keep my self-control; I will not speak or act harshly.

11. The success of the mission depends on us, and only by the work we both do will they judge me as a cosmonaut and as a man.

12. I believe that I am a strong-willed, intelligent person and can properly complete this mission - I've come a long way to get here.

This is good advice for someone who is about to spend 211 days in an area smaller than most mobile homes. Lebedev did get through his 211 days opening the door for even longer flights; the longest being Valery Polyakov who spent 438 days in space.

Astronaut Norm Thagard recently returned after spending 110 days in space. He complained about the cultural difference between the Russians and the Americans. The food of pureed meat and canned perch was not to his taste. The controllers spoke Russian all the time during the three months and he missed speaking English to anyone. He also complained about not receiving any news other than what they could gather from mission control in Kaliningrad. The Russians said that Thagard was just whining and pulled into a shell during the missions, and didn't say very much during their news conferences which the mission control at Kaliningrad had set up. There may be lessons here which the International Space Station has to take into account: the different cultures involved in the space station could be a point of friction.