UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Learning internationalism : NASA's shift from national security to international cooperation on the space station, 1980-1994 Knowland, Elizabeth Jane


In 1980, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) made its first serious pitch to Congress in support of a permanently manned outpost in low earth orbit. Their initial case for the program’s necessity heavily relied on Cold War logics and military thinking, with international participation functioning as a mere afterthought. Although NASA and its foreign partners now flaunt the evidence of their successful cooperation, the internationalism inherent in the station’s current name and form was the result of station development, not the initial goal of NASA officials. Two major shifts defined NASA’s treatment of the space station over the course of its development. The first was a turn away from collaboration with the military. For previous projects, such as the space shuttle program, NASA had depended on military backing to justify the expense of human spaceflight to Congress. This military backing ensured that NASA’s interactions with international agencies remained shallow. The shift away from the military which occurred with the space station revealed the tension between NASA’s civilian nature and its military ties, and proved the turning point in NASA’s evolution into a truly civilian agency. Of all the international partners, Japan’s involvement was crucial to the changes which took place at NASA through the space station program as, in the moment of truth, Japan’s strident objections to the possibility of Pentagon contributions made military and international involvements incompatible. The second change was a transition towards more substantial international collaborations with foreign space agencies, which NASA increasingly saw as crucial to the success of the project and as a replacement for military backing before Congress. This paper argues that this increasing focus on the international aspects of the space station was driven by the cooling of the relationship between NASA and the military, which left NASA scrambling for funding and supporters for the space station. It was the domestic political situation, not a sense of internationalism, which compelled the internationalization of both the station and the agency.

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