How U.S. Diplomacy Supports the Space Program

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Buzz Aldrin's outer visor and gloves worn while walking on the moon are displayed near a photo of Aldrin at Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission exhibit at the Museum of Flight, April 11, 2019, in Seattle.
Buzz Aldrin's outer visor and gloves worn while walking on the moon are displayed near a photo of Aldrin at Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission exhibit at the Museum of Flight on April 11, 2019, in Seattle.

How U.S. Diplomacy Supports the Space Program

April 12 marks International Day of Human Space Flight, designated by the United Nations General Assembly “to celebrate each year at the international level the beginning of the space era for mankind, reaffirming the important contribution of space science and technology in achieving sustainable development goals and increasing the well-being of States and peoples, as well as ensuring the realization of their aspiration to maintain outer space for peaceful purposes.” 

This year, we are also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, which took place on July 20, 1969.  Throughout the year, the Department of State, in cooperation with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Smithsonian Institution, will celebrate space diplomacy and the future of space exploration while acknowledging the historical contributions the Department has made to the U.S. space program.  From the negotiation of landmark international agreements such as the Outer Space Treaty to the coordination of U.S. policy through the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, American diplomats and the Department of State have played a significant role in determining how the United States and other nations operate in space.

Today, the Department of State continues to play an important role in strengthening U.S. leadership in Space.  The Department’s Office of Space and Advanced Technology (OES/SAT) carries out diplomatic efforts to strengthen understanding of, and support for, U.S. national space policies and programs and to encourage the foreign use of U.S. space capabilities, systems, and services.  OES/SAT has primary responsibility for U.S. representation to the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS), where a wide range of space policy issues are discussed.  Established in 1959, the Committee developed the Outer Space Treaty and three related UN conventions and non-binding principles, which serve as the bedrock of international space governance framework. 

Diplomacy further supports the space program through the International Space Exploration Forum.  The United States organized and hosted the first International Space Exploration Forum at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. on January 9, 2014.  On March 3, 2018, the United States joined approximately 45 countries and international organizations in Tokyo, Japan for the Second International Space Exploration Forum (ISEF2).  This meeting sought strong affirmation among governments that exploration and utilization of space benefits all mankind and, with this recognition, facilitated a productive dialogue about shared principles and goals for international collaboration to enhance effective and efficient space exploration activities.  Space exploration benefits all of us on Earth, and it is essential for governments to work together internationally to advance shared objectives for space exploration.  Such collaboration has facilitated the development of new technologies, realized commercial opportunities, identified opportunities for shared missions such as the International Space Station, and inspired younger generations to undertake the challenge of space exploration.

At the fifth meeting of the National Space Council on March 26, 2019, Vice President Mike Pence announced that the United States would send American astronauts back to the Moon’s South Pole by 2024 in support of President Trump’s Space Policy Directive-1. Space Policy Directive-1 calls on the United States to lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities. 

Recently, the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Department of Commerce also announced that the two agencies will co-host the Space Enterprise Summit in Washington, D.C., June 26-27, 2019. The purpose of this summit is to promote innovation and investment in the commercial space industry. Through this Summit, the U.S. government aims to expand a coalition of like-minded countries to put in place nationally implemented pro-business guidelines promoting economic growth and innovation. This in turn will facilitate U.S. investments and ventures abroad.

As Vice President Pence said in March at the National Space Council, "The United States must remain first in space, in this century as in the last, not just to propel our economy and secure our nation, but above all because the rules and values of space, like every great frontier, will be written by those who have the courage to get there first and the commitment to stay."  American diplomacy will continue to support new journeys of space exploration, to the Moon and beyond.

About the Authors: Sita Farrell, Chris Cannizzaro, and Stephanie Wan serve in the Office of Space and Advanced Technology (SAT) in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES).

Editor's Note: The entry is also published on the U.S. Department of State’s Medium publication.

For more information:

  • Follow the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) on Twitter: @StateDeptOES.
  • Follow the conversation on Twitter using the following hashtags: #ScienceAtState, #SpaceDiplomacy, #Apollo50th.

Sita Farrell
Chris Cannizzaro
Stephanie Wan