President Nixon and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin sign the Cooperation in Space Agreement on May 24, 1972
With the end of the Apollo space program in sight two years into his first term, President Nixon knew that his Administration had to rethink the future of space and its place in American foreign policy. NASA’s budgetary demands needed to be curtailed and its vast amounts of resources redirected in order to keep the country’s priorities in line. Nixon’s solution was to bring the United States’ space exploration initiatives into its foreign policy realm by pushing for further cooperation in space with both Europe and amazingly, the Soviet Union. Nixon effectively put an end to the combatant space-race between the U.S. and Soviet Union, which he saw as the source of past mistakes and inefficiencies. Instead Nixon and his Administration ushered in a new era of global cooperation in space science that would benefit the world as a whole.
On May 24, 1972 during his trip to Moscow, President Nixon and Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin signed the Cooperation in Space treaty that committed the United States and Soviet Union to a joint effort in exploring the heavens and conducting space research. The trademark mission of the agreement was the Apollo-Soyuz Test Program which resulted in a successful docking of an American Apollo module carrying 3 NASA astronauts and a Soviet Soyuz module carrying 2 Soviet cosmonauts, the first ever joint mission between two countries’ space programs.
Two NASA astronauts mingle with a Soviet cosmonaut during the successful Apollo-Soyuz Test Program 1975
Additional agreements with the Europeans (and later the Japanese), the Nixon Administration ensured that the future of space would be a collective global initiative in which many countries would contribute in costs and one in which the entire world would benefit from the scientific research made available. It is hard to imagine that such cooperative financial and budgetary commitments on a global scale would ever take place in the world today. It is also hard to imagine that such programs would actually be accomplished at their original budgetary levels as the Space Shuttle program and the international programs had done. More connected cooperation between the United States and Soviet Union in particular greatly contributed to the success of President Nixon’s détente policy and to the success of his foreign policy agenda as a whole. Cooperation in space both improved relations between the U.S. and Soviet Union and brought Western Europe and the United States even closer. Such joint scientific endeavors could be the key to improved relations between the nations of the world and Nixon’s example should be included in the playbook of any current or future world leader.
Through the initiative to make space exploration a shared global endeavor, President Nixon set the stage for 4-plus decades of extraordinary scientific research that greatly contributed to mankind’s understanding of its place in the universe. One could even question if there would be an International Space Station today if it weren’t for Nixon’s space policy.