U.S.-Soviet Model Urged For U.S.-China Space Cooperation
As China prepares for another launch to its Tiangong-1 mini-space
station next month (illustration), political scientists with an interest
in space policy see the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) as a
model for bringing China into “the family of space-faring nations.” The
ASTP was a symbolic gesture that encouraged an eventual Cold War thaw,
and was considered as such even before the historic “handshake in space”
between the crews of a U.S. Apollo command module and a Soviet Soyuz
The docking had little technical significance, but it
laid the groundwork for a thaw in U.S.-Soviet relations that extended
into strategic arms control and ultimately led to the merger of the two
superpowers’ space station programs that became the International Space
“It’s a beginning, like the arms control thing,”
President Richard Nixon said of the space-cooperation agreement he and
Premier Alexei Kosygin signed at their May 1972 summit meeting. U.S.
historian John Logsdon discovered the quote on one of Nixon’s infamous
Oval Office tapes as he was researching the former president’s role in
U.S. space policy.
“With respect to space, Richard Nixon was a
pretty strong internationalist from the start,” Logsdon says. “He
suggested, as John Kennedy had suggested in his inaugural address, that
space was an area where countries could cooperate.”
is definitely in force today, as U.S. astronauts take turns with
cosmonauts and space travelers from Canada, Japan and the European Space
Agency in commanding the ISS. But China, the only other nation to orbit
its own crews, is blocked by U.S. law from even visiting the station.
U.S. and China are forbidden to cooperate in civil space on
human-rights grounds, by language Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) attached to
NASA’s appropriations bill. Military space cooperation between the two
nations is actually easier, to the extent that the Pentagon’s Africa
Command has been using Chinese-owned Apstar-7 for commercial
That arrangement raised congressional
eyebrows when it surfaced at a recent House Armed Services Committee
hearing, but it illustrates the kind of cooperation U.S.-China experts
convened by the Stimson Center, a Washington think tank, say could ease
tensions and improve U.S. leadership in space.
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