Cooperation in Orbit: The Evolution of the International Space Station Program

Cooperation in Orbit: The Evolution of the International Space Station Program

Orbiting the Earth once every 90 minutes from nearly 250 miles up, the International Space Station (ISS) is as much a political achievement as a technological one. The ISS represents the largest peaceful cooperative program human beings have ever conceived and implemented, and it is the most politically complex space program since the space age began in 1957.

Led by the United States, the ISS program started in 1982, with assembly in space beginning in 1998 and the last planned module scheduled for launch this year. The program’s international partners -- space agencies in the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada -- have made a political commitment to coordinate on planning and operations until 2020 in what has become a genuine multinational and multilateral program.

From its conception to its realization, the ISS has been a scientific and technological project with political dynamics, and ISS partner countries continue to give the space station political support for a variety of reasons that bear examining. The ISS also has broader political implications beyond its partner countries, with the examples of Brazil and China being particularly noteworthy. Brazil committed in 1996 to cooperate on the ISS, but did not fulfill its commitment and suffered political consequences as a result. With regard to China, meanwhile, the ISS could play a role in the broader calculus of Sino-American strategic and cooperative relations.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review