Why do few nations truly collaborate, or collaborate at the near-equal level with the U.S. in the civil space arena? (Note: I don’t consider buying space services or getting free/subsidized space services from the U.S. the same as collaboration.) I’m guessing it’s because as the 800 pound space-faring gorilla, the U.S. can be (and often is) a contentious and unreliable partner. Some elements of the United States government make all sorts of promises that other parts of the government are unwilling to pay for. In large part, this is due to a lack of shared vision and because almost everything in the appropriations process is pay-as-you-go and circumstances often change along the way.
One of the items that received warm and glowing reviews in the 2010 National Space Policy was the stated desire to strengthen international collaboration and reinvigorated U.S. leadership. Tone counts, and in that regard, the 2010 policy was heralded vis-à-vis the 2006 policy, even as the effect of the two policies seems cloned.
However, the 2010 ‘cooperation and leadership’ goal did not bother to describe what might be required (or accomplished) beyond clear needs for more U.S.-provided manpower, money, and meetings with the international space-faring community.
If you say policy is generally goodness and conventional wisdom boilerplate (or is it more like cotton candy?), I’ll agree, but even boilerplate can’t be dismissed out of hand. When the stated boilerplate goals aren’t achieved, said goals are certain to be trotted out in an effort to secure additional funding to help make them happen.
Now we have the end of the shuttle program as well as proposed cuts to the James Webb Space Telescope and NASA’s ‘commercial space’ endeavors (also see this link, and especially the comments…smokin’ hot!). What does it all mean? It means that any nation-state with the funding and space wherewithal might well consider looking anywhere but the U.S. for civil space partnerships which require significant commitments of time, treasure, and talent (as well as political capital).
At the end of the day, the lesson (as always) is watch what gets funded and not what gets said. What gets said is often interesting, but without funding, it is wholly insufficient. With the caution light for one of the key 2010 NSP goals illuminated steadily, will the administration engage the Congress?