When a new U.S. president takes office, rewriting national policy governing the full spectrum of space activity typically is not an urgent early agenda item. The administration of former President George W. Bush, for example, did not get around to issuing its comprehensive National Space Policy until well into its second term.
The administration of current President Barack Obama, conversely, completed its rewrite of U.S. space policy June 28, or less than 18 months after taking office. The policy made an immediate splash with its internationalist tone, which stood out in stark contrast to the Bush document and its emphasis on the preservation of U.S. freedom of action in space.
Obama’s policy emphasized international cooperation in general, and said the United States would consider agreements to limit space weaponry, provided they are verifiable and enhance U.S. and allied security. Verification of such agreements is a very tall order, of course, but the message nonetheless resonated with the arms control community.
The new policy also lent recognition to a growing problem that, if unchecked, could threaten all space activity: congestion and debris in Earth orbit. The document calls for measures to combat the problem ranging from better space situational awareness and data sharing to development of debris removal technologies.
Peter Marquez, director of space policy at the White House National Security Council, led the drafting of the document, and took responsibility for ushering it through the dreaded “interagency” process. Also deserving credit is Damon Wells, assistant director of space and aeronautics at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, who worked hand in hand with Marquez to get the policy done.