Short Explanation of Space Policy & History

Short Explanation of Space Policy & History

By Dominique Awis

17 Nov 2016

The United States has the authority and legitimacy to conduct outer space activities because of U.S. space policy; space policy is an integration of both foreign and domestic policy, foreign policy through international law and relations and domestic policy through scientific research, education, and largely technological development. [1]

NASA was effectively established in 1958 when two executive orders by President Eisenhower transferred Department of Defense functions to NASA (Executive Order no. 10783,10793).  The Department of Defense had began space-related research and activities since the 1940s, largely with atmospheric and rocketry science. [2]  NASA integrated itself with other institutions such as NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and various U.S. propulsion laboratories. [2]

NASA’s main goals listed in the unamended National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 Congressional Declaration of Policy and Purpose are to do some combination of the following: a) peaceful purposes of outer space, b) aeronautical and space activities for state security, c) expansion of human knowledge of atmospheres and space, and d) development of aeronautical and space vehicle technologies.  The amended National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 includes Earth science, the commercial use of space, international cooperation of space activities, bioengineering research, ground propulsion systems, and potential hazards of near-Earth objects.


Space policy is a modern phenomena as the US government has grown in complexity over time, and therefore has increased attention to areas once not within the agenda sphere of the U.S. government.  The U.S. government created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, as a result of this increased attention.  NASA was established when the U.S. government began to allocate attention to space, science, and technology policy in the 1950s and was mandated by law to focus attention to this area of policy. [3]  

The increase of attention to space, science, and technology policy, the creation of NASA is also largely credited from the pressures of national defense [2] such that the Space Race was a result of a crisis. Historians Logsdon (1970), Launius (1994), Beschloss (1997) have found that the US initiated the Space Race in the 1960s as a competition with the Soviet Union. [4]  The US is famously the first regime to place a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth in July 1969, effectively “winning” the Cold War Space Race.

  • dA

[1] Steinberg, 2011. Space policy responsiveness: the relationship between public opinion and NASA funding.

[2] Garber and Launius, 2005. A Brief History of NASA: Launching NASA.

[3] Jones and Baumgartner, 2005. The Politics of Attention: How Governments Prioritize Problems.

[4] Kay, 2003. Problem Definitions and Policy Contradictions: JKF and the Space Race.


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